29 Apr – 5 May 2016 #806
A group of former Maoist combatants is demanding action against the Maoist leadership for exploiting them as child soldiers
THE DISQUALIFIED: Lenin Bista joined the Maoists at 12 and served four years in the Maoist army before being disqualified by the UN. He now heads an organisation of former child soldiers demanding action against the Maoist leadership.
As the first anniversary of the great earthquake filled millions with trepidation, reports of progress made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and less poetically named Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) offer a glimmer of hope, delusional or otherwise. Both organisations began registering complaints as of mid-April, a year after their formation and 10 years after the conflict ended, indicating the government has finally run out of excuses to delay the process any longer.
Newspapers carried heart-rending tales of sons and husbands murdered by Maoists or disappeared by the army, reminding us of the Pointless War’s tragic impact on so many families, many of whom still wait and pray for justice.
Events took an unexpected turn when a group called the Discharged People’s Liberation Army Struggle Committee filed a complaint with the TRC, demanding action against the Maoist leadership for exploiting them as child soldiers. Known as the Disqualified, they represent the 4,000 ‘fighters’ refused entry into the UN camps for being underage.
It’s well known that many ‘Mao kiddies’ were rounded up by the party, given a few days training and an old pressure cooker ‘bomb’, and presented to UNMIN as bona fide combatants. This highly cynical ploy to inflate PLA numbers, which Prachanda bragged about in the leaked Shaktikhor tapes, made a fool of both the UN and government. Worse still, while many imposters were accepted into the camps some of those rejected were actually battle-hardened soldiers.
Lenin Bista, the group’s aptly named spokesman, was recruited in 2002 at the age of 12 and served 4 years in the PLA before being disqualified by the UN and ditched by the party he fought for. If he couldn’t earn $1 a day in the camps, with the party claiming half, the Politburo had no further use for him and promises of government help typically never materialised.
Spreading the blame further, the group accuses both the government and UN of willful negligence for ignoring the PLA’s rampant use of minors.
International protocols on child rights oblige the authorities to arrest anyone breaking such laws, yet nothing was done. UNMIN’s mandate in 2006 was limited but didn’t preclude condemning the use of child-soldiers and demanding action against those responsible.
The group’s request for recognition, reparations and security is a courageous step that’s sure to upset some very powerful people. Your columnist fears any extra attention may bring trouble, but Lenin Bista has already been front page news and many share his group’s view that exposing this terrible abuse of power to the world could help ensure Nepal’s children never get used as soldiers again.
Though it’s no surprise that the only ones seeking justice are the victims and their families the complete lack of support for the process from any of the political parties, either in government or opposition, reeks of high level collusion.
How can the NC, UML and RPP-N forget their many party members murdered by the Maoists, who, for their part, seem to share this collective amnesia towards their own cadre tortured and disappeared by the army? Wouldn’t it make sense for the governing UML to empower the commissions and finally bring closure to an agonising chapter in the country’s history, especially since so many of the slain were their own?
Logically speaking, the opposition NC should be demanding justice but instead stays quiet, perhaps because most of the war crimes committed by the state took place while Girija Prasad Koirala was PM.
Another explanation for this conspiracy of silence is most of the victims were poor villagers, mere pawns in the game, and how can we expect those so willing to forget their own fallen comrades to give a damn about the thousands of nameless dead?
While the Maoists have gone to extraordinary lengths to place their high ranking members in lucrative posts while shielding them from prosecution, no such concern was ever shown for their rank and file. Perhaps they should have been kinder, considering the leadership now stands accused of crimes against humanity by its own troops, a charge that takes irony to new heights.
Both commissions can expect more resistance, obstruction and pressure from all quarters as the cases evolve.
The army’s immediate demand that the CIEPD furnish a list of complainants is menacing, especially since they have no legal right to do so, and suggests the military plans to actively undermine the commission however they can.
The Maoists, meanwhile, are feverishly trying to shift cases against their cadre from civil courts to the TRC, where they must believe their chances of achieving a whitewash are greater.
It’s clearly not going to be easy, especially since history shows Nepal’s political and military brass consider themselves to be firmly above the law. None can be trusted to pursue justice, most can be expected to obstruct it, and all are actively colluding in this pursuit. Perhaps the only hope lies with the international community and donors, who can leverage their influence ($) to ensure the cases proceed without interference. Otherwise, this historic exercise, supposed to bring closure for the victims and help heal the nation, risks degenerating into yet another shabby travesty of justice. If our leaders manage to pull that off the impunity they’ve grown so fond of will be theirs forever.