Transitional Justice in Nepal: Interests, Victims and Agency

Transitional Justice in Nepal: Interests, Victims and Agency

Transitional Justice in Nepal: Interests, Victims and Agency has recently been published by Routledge as part of the Routledge/Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) South Asian Series.

In the Maoist heartland in Rolpa I met a female ex-combatant from the People’s Liberation Army (the Maoist rebels’ army). She explained to me that before the conflict she was active in student politics. Initially she did not know much about Marxism and Leninism but, as she saw ‘educated people’ leaving their jobs to join the Maoists, she came to believe the party was ‘the greatest party with greatest slogans’. She and her friends became ‘diehard supporters’ and she told me: ‘We and the leaders had so many dreams for the people. Now we realise where have those dreams gone?’ This ex-combatant and other Maoist supporters I spoke with explained to me that they felt frustrated with the way the Maoist leaders had joined mainstream politics and become like the politicians and political parties against which they had waged the insurgency. An analogy offered by a Maoist guerrilla was that the resulting/post-war political situation was like a ‘farmer who worked the whole day every day and then reaped nothing.’

The civil conflict in Nepal (1996 – 2006) resulted in an estimated 15,000 deaths, 1,300 disappearances, along with other serious human rights and humanitarian law violations. In the wake of the conflict there have been major changes in the social and political landscape in Nepal. However, the transitional justice process has remained deeply contentious and fragmented. As the first in-depth case study on transitional justice in Nepal, this book makes a timely contribution to discussions in Nepal regarding the processes and mechanisms used to address the violence that occurred during the civil conflict.

I examine who are the actors involved in transitional justice in Nepal and what are their aims and interests. A related focus is mapping the way transitional justice has unfolded in Nepal nationally and locally and unpacking what this can this tell us about transitional justice in other post-conflict contexts. Drawing on interviews with victims, ex-combatants, community members, human rights advocates, journalists and representatives from diplomatic missions, international organisations and the donor community, the study provides an in-depth analysis of the differing viewpoints, knowledge, attitudes and preferences about transitional justice and other post-conflict issues in Nepal. It also explores the politics versus justice binary, the concept of victimhood and participatory activities and in doing so makes a theoretical and empirical contribution to transitional justice research in Nepal and the Asia-Pacific more broadly.

I argue that transitional justice is both a producer and a product of politics, however too often transitional justice is employed with little appreciation of the politics in the post-conflict landscape. I develop an actor typology which identifies four main groups of transitional justice actors ­­– experts (those who produce transitional justice discourse and knowledge); brokers (those who operationalise transitional justice on the ground); implementers (those who implement transitional justice on the ground); and, victims – and highlights who is making claims and on behalf of whom. I also develop an action spectrum, based on contentious politics literature and resistance literature, which identifies the range of actions (including contestation, negotiation and resistance) actors use to engage with, mould and impact the trajectory of transitional justice. I demonstrate that actors frequently seek to advance their interests and make claims utilising the process, institutions and language of transitional justice and between these actors considerable political activity takes place that challenges transitional justice on multiple levels.

The book also examines the ways victims have articulated their needs in Nepal and highlights transitional justice actors’ differing conceptions of justice. I reveal that the approach adopted by transitional justice experts, implementers and brokers often perpetuates the victim/perpetrator binary, which does not reflect lived realities on the ground. I also highlight that people’s religious understandings often shape a range of issues related to victimisation. This includes people’s attitudes about why harm occurred, who/what was responsible, punishment and peace.=

I conclude that at the heart of transitional justice is the need to compromise, something that is often ignored or dismissed by various actors. These compromises could include thinking about alternative transitional justice processes based on localised conceptions of transitional justice rather than the official transitional justice process – which is largely state-centric and often remote from the affected communities – and recognising that for communities the material dimensions of life can be the priority of their post-conflict realities rather than revisiting the violence they have lived through. While doing so may lead to practical challenges and produce situations that are normatively undesirable for some actors, particularly when certain political parties and national actors seem to ‘hijack’ transitional justice, remaining uncritically committed to the dominant transitional justice approach is also undesirable.

I also contend that dealing with the legacy of violence in a manner that resonates with victims and affected community members requires a meaningful participatory process that goes beyond information sharing and consultation. Although the multitude of voices at the local level may complicate current transitional justice approaches, I suggest that if they are heeded they will provide greater potential for addressing victims’ concerns and everyday needs and this will ensure that transitional justice is more victim-centric and context-specific.

Transitional Justice in Nepal: Interests, Victims and Agency will be of interest to a wide range of practitioners and scholars in the study of transitional justice, peace and conflict studies, human rights, sociology, political science, criminology, law, anthropology and South Asian Studies, as well as for policymakers and NGOs.


A 20% discount is available using the discount code FLR40 at checkout.

Featured image taken by author.

Yvette Selim is a Senior Research Associate and Lecturer at the Institute for Public Policy and Governance, University of Technology Sydney, Australia.

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