The Truth and Reconciliation Committee may Materialize in Few Weeks: Dr. Bhattarai
Nepal’s former Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai in an exclusive Interview with The Oslo Times International News Network’s, Nepal Affairs Director Prabalta Rijal, in Kathmandu on Saturday.
Dr.Baburam Bhattarai, Nepal’s most loved former Prime Minister, has been a key player and an architect behind the country’s peace process, from coordinating it before the insurgency ended to nurturing it even at the most critical hours before was first Constituent Assembly was dissolved in 2012.
Today he heads the Constitutional Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee, which plays a vital role in dragging out unsolved issues on to the table for discussions in an effort to come to a consensus.
The former Prime Minister had just stepped out of one such meeting, when The Oslo Times International News Network’s, Nepal Affairs Director- Prabalta Rijal and photojournalist Bikash Dware met him at his office in Singha Durbar on 30 August 2014 for an exclusive interview.
The excerpts below are a concise and edited version of the interesting talk that followed:
Dr. Bhattarai, it was under your Prime Ministership that the first Constituent Assembly was dissolved, despite your assurance to the that a new constitution would be formed, why wasn’t it formed?
Firstly, let me clarify, the Constituent Assembly was not dissolved by the parliament. It got dissolved due a disputed ruling of the supreme court, which had fixed the date of expiry of the elected assembly, which generally does not happen in a democracy. So due to this on 29th May 2012 the Constituent Assembly was automatically dissolved and we had to go for another election.
Secondly, the reason we couldn’t draft the constitution on time was because the major parties were unable to agree on important issues like state restructuring on federal basis and the form of governance. So, even till the wee hours of d-day, we tried for a compromise but we were unable to come to one, that was the major reason we couldn’t give the country its new constitution on time.
What do you think were the mistakes UCPN(Maoist) made after coming into power?
It is not a question of making mistakes only after coming into power, because we want a radical transformation of society including the political, social, economic and cultural sphere of the state, we made several mistakes. This is what we call revolution, revolution is an ongoing process and it doesn’t happen just overnight, so mistakes are inevitable.
After joining the peace process and signing the peace agreement we wanted a progressive restructuring of state and society and this was to be institutionalized by the constituent assembly. However, the constitution through the first CA never materialized.
Another thing is that the government we had joined was not the old government we joined a transitional government designed on the basis of an interim constitution, we wanted to bring over some radical reforms through the state. So, to some extent we did reasonably well, but the power balance was not in our favor. The government we formed was not a majority government and we had to make a compromise with other parties, so because of that we could not introduce some of the radical reforms we had planned to introduce. But we don’t regret that because this is an interim transitional period. Never-the-less, we have learned our lesson and we hope people give us an opportunity to continue the good works we have started and through certain radical reforms we will prepare a ground for an overall transformation of society.
Do you think this time round the CA will be able to overcome their problems and release an all inclusive Constitution?
Yes, because the new constitution will be formed on the basis of the 12-point comprehensive peace agreement, the interim constitution and certain agreements reached with the Madhesi and Janajaati (ethnic) groups.
So this is the basis of the new constitution. The basic difference from the old constitution is that this democracy will be inclusive where the representation of all the oppressed classes, gender, nationalities, caste will be ensured in various organs of the state.
So, I am confident that all the major political parties will come to an agreement and the new constitution will incorporate all these features.
Can you explain how UCPN(Maoist) looks at the nature of the state in this transitional period?
Since the entire society is going through a transition, naturally the entire is state is also going through a transitional stage too, from an old autocratic centralised Monarchial state the country is being transformed into a republican federal secular democratic state.
Right now the state is in a form of transition from feudalism to capitalism or in other words- from autocracy to democracy. I think we are doing our utmost, from the radical left perspective, as we want to make the state more democratic and I am not talking about the traditional formal democracy but an inclusive democracy where the participation of the poor, women of the oppressed class and the minority and oppressed nationalities is ensured in various organs of the state. We would like to create this type of inclusive participatory democratic state.
The state of Press Freedom in Nepal is better than in other South Asian countries, even then, there have been cases of media intimidation. How do you think Nepal can ensure a broader regime of freedom of expression and its corollaries?
Press freedom is a part of an evolving democratic process, since we are passing from an autocratic feudal society to a democratic republican society, even the question of press freedom is in transition. Though formally we have ensured press freedom and freedom of expression in the interim constitution, there are certain problems when it comes to the implementation of these laws. Over time things are improving and after the promulgation of the new full-fledged constitution we think the question of press freedom will be further developed and ensured in society.
What is the state of transitional justice in Nepal?
According to the comprehensive peace agreement we were to form the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the disappearance commission within six months but, unfortunately, we have not been able to constitute it so far. So right now we are in the process of constituting the TRC and the disappearance commission and all the cases of violence during the insurgency will be sent to the TRC to be resolved. Right now there have been certain voices from the victims that the transitional justice has been delayed so our party being a part of the insurgency would like to expedite this process.
We feel the TRC should be formed as soon as possible and all the cases of death and disappearances during the insurgency should be resolved through it. Also, one achievement that I would like to mention here is that, despite our problems, Nepal is the only country in the world where the people’s army has been assimilated into the national army without foreign indulgence and bloodshed.
Like you pointed out, people have been long awaiting justice and reconciliation against wartime crimes, so why has there been a delay in the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC)?
We are also worried that this is getting delayed. We have tried to form the commission a number of times, but every time someone would appeal to the court and the court would give a stay order against it and so, it was difficult to form and bring TRC to life. But, finally we have reached an agreement among the major political parties and we have passed a legislation through consensus and the process of the formation of the TRC has moved ahead. So, in the next few weeks we hope the TRC will materialize.
After the formation of the TRC, will there be avenues for complaints against attempts to undermine cases of grave human rights violations?
Of course, because the TRC has the jurisdiction to look into all the cases. And the cases of serious violation of Human Rights, will be identified and will be sent for prosecution in accordance to the law. This provision is there in the TRC.
Despite growing awareness against Violence Against Women (VAW) the figures of reported cases of gender-based violence in Nepal is shocking, In fact according to reports by Informal Sector Service Center and other not-for-profit-organizations over 3,000 women and children were subjected to violence against last year alone and there have been 411 cases of reported violence against women between April and May 2014, what do you think are the root causes of this, could please give us your views on how to mitigate this problem?
Violence against women and children is a very serious problem in our society, I think the basic reason for this is that we live in a society with a very paternalist attitude that belongs to a feudal society. Due to this attitude, women are treated like they are born second-class citizens. So, men generally feel that it is their right to indulge in violence against women. Therefore, this attitude has to be changed.
Secondly our women do not enjoy property rights, though in recent years we have tried to introduce certain laws that ensure property rights to women. Till women don’t own property practically mitigating this problem will be difficult, and thirdly most of our women in the rural, as well as urban areas, indulge in domestic or household work which is not considered as productive labor, because of this they are totally dependent on their male counterparts for a living.
So, because of these cultural and economic factors there has been domination, exploitation and violence against women. Our movement for a radical change in society is directed towards changing this situation and improving the condition of women in our society, by giving them equal rights in all spheres of life.
The state of health affairs in Nepal is the worst among all South Asian countries, this is especially true in terms of women’s health. What steps has your party taken to improve the state of Public Health in Nepal?
I agree that the state of health is really not satisfactory in the country. Not only health, health education, sanitation, water supply and food supply, we have not been able to provide the general population all these basic necessities. This the sad part but this is one of the reasons we had to wage a war against the old state.
But, during this transitional period we have introduced certain reforms like we proclaimed health as a fundamental right of the people in the interim constitution and we have tried to provide essential health services to all the people, including free basic medication. We also tried to introduce health insurance schemes to bring all the population including the poorest of the poor under one umbrella. So, these are some of the positive steps we tried to take during our tenure in the government.
I however feel that this is not enough, a radical restructuring of health services in the country is required.
Unified Communist Party Maoist has always talked about restructuring of the state, how are you planning to do this and how will it benefit inclusive democracy in Nepal?
Our peoples war or insurgency was waged for a radical restructuring of the state by that we meant we want a new type of state where the participation of the workers, peasants, women, Dalits, oppressed nationalities will be ensured in all organs of the state. We want a participatory democracy where these people who have been deprived of their rights will be ensured of their rights in practicality. Not just in paper but in practice too.
The Indian PM Narendra Modi has talked about strengthening regional ties to alleviate poverty through his Independence Day speech, what do have to say about this and Do you think India will be able to live up to its promises made to Nepal?
We do appreciate the Indian PM Modi’s emphasis on strengthening ties with neighboring countries including Nepal. But since India itself is passing through a transition and poverty, unemployment, social deprivation and inequality is a nagging problem there, the Indian government already has a lot on its plate. However, I think all the countries in the SAARC region should cooperate with each other to alleviate poverty and ensure democratic rights to all sections of the people.
How would you define the current relationship your party has with India?
We want a cordial relationship with all our neighbors including India. But we have certain historical problems in our relations with India some of the treaties like the 1950 treaty have been seen as being unequal against Nepal, so one of the issue we have raising is that this treaty needs to be changed and it should be replaced by a new treaty on the basis of full sovereignty and equality. Only after such a treaty is signed between the two countries that we can lay a basis for new relations between India and Nepal.
How will the UCPN Maoist as a major opposition party, work in ensuring that the new constitution addresses the needs of every citizen?
The constitution has to be made through a consensus so here whether the party is in opposition or not does not really make a difference. According to the interim constitution, the major constitution issues will be decided through the consensus. Our party has a very important say in the CA. An example of this is that I am personally heading one crucial committee- The Constitutional Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee- that discusses all consensus issues brought up by the CA and settles them, so our party is playing a very crucial role in making the constitution.
So, the new constitution will address the needs of every citizen.
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