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Prime Minister Prachanda’s alleged involvement in mass murders in focus as hearing begins in Nepal’s top court

Nepal’s Prime Minister is in court facing charges of mass murders during Nepal’s civil war

KATHMANDU: Nepal’s Supreme Court started hearing a petition on Friday which seeks the immediate arrest of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda and launch probe into his Maoist party leadership during the ten-year conflict (1996-2006) that killed around 17000 people.

The hearing began at a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Ishwar Prasad Khatiwada. It is not clear how long the court will take to make its final verdict on the case.

The hearing is taking place five days after the apex court received two writ petitions against Prime Minister Prachanda for admitting that he would take the responsibility for 5000 of the total 17,000 deaths during the bloody insurgency.

In their writ, 14 petitioners mostly conflict victims have demanded the immediate arrest of Prachanda since he has publicly admitted that he would take the responsibility for the 5000 deaths during the conflict era.

In January 2020, Prachanda at a public event had remarked that he was ready to bear responsibility for 5,000 deaths during the armed conflict while accusing the then state forces for the remaining fatalities.

Prime Minister Prachanda, who is now heading an eight-party coalition government backed by the Nepali Congress, the largest party in parliament, and six other political parties, has faced trouble for the same remarks.

The ruling alliance dominated by the Maoist and Congress parties was quick to defend the prime minister. In a statement earlier this week, the alliance said that all the conflict-era cases should be handled by the transitional justice mechanisms.

The court hearing has injected some sort of uncertainty and fragility in the ruling alliance which came into being only two weeks ago after Prachanda severed ties with KP Sharma Oli, chairman of the CPN (UML) over differences on the country’s presidential nominee.

Oli’s party withdrew support to the government while recalling its cabinet ministers in response to “Prachanda’s betrayal”.  Prachanda had come to power with the support of the CPN (UML) in December last year after he ditched Sher Bahadur Deuba of Nepali Congress. However, in a dramatic turn of events, Prachanda chose to support the Congress candidate Ramchandra Poudel for the country’s presidency while breaking alliance with the UML.

A day ahead of the Supreme Court’s hearing on Friday, the Prachanda-led government tabled a new bill to amend the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Act at the House of Representatives, lower house of parliament. The bill seeks to constitute a Special Court to hear the conflict-era cases of atrocities.

The bill, which is now available on the official website of parliament, states that a separate bench will be constituted at the Supreme Court where victims can challenge the decisions of the Special Court. Human rights activists, however, say that the bill is inadequate to address the grievances of the conflict victims.

Apart from the Maoist party, various splinter groups of the Maoist party also have joined hands with Prachanda. The groups along with Maoists said they were ready to counter any activity that is against the spirit of the Comprehensive Peace Accord signed between the then rebel Maoists and the state in 2006. They believe that all those who were in state power during the armed conflict should equally be held responsible for the human rights abuses.

It is still not clear what sort of ruling the Supreme Court will deliver in response to the writ petition against Prachanda.

If the apex court decides to go ahead with the case, Prime Minister Prachanda will have to step down on moral grounds, say constitutional experts.

If the court passes verdict against Prachanda, it may ruin not only the current power equation but also adversely affect the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) signed between the then rebel Maoists and the state that paved the way for Nepal’s new federal republican set-up in 2006.

The CPA envisaged that Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP)—which are known as transitional justice mechanisms—would be formed within six months of its promulgation and work to investigate, identify and punish the guilty of human right violations during the conflict.

However, these two commissions came into being only in 2015 and have so far been unable to function due to lack of required support from mainstream parties including the Maoists, Nepali Congress and the CPN (UML).

(Santosh Ghimire is India Narrative’s Nepal Correspondent based in Kathmandu)

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