Transitional Justice as an Elite Discourse
Human Rights Practice Where the Global Meets the Local in Post-Conflict Nepal
Author: Simon Robins
Nepal's Maoist insurgency emerged out of a highly unequal society in which indigenous, lower castes, and women were subject to systematic social, political, and economic exclusion. This study seeks to understand how post-conflict agendas to address Nepal's violent past emerge, and it compares the agendas articulated by indigenous victims of the conflict from a remote rural district with the agenda of civil society, which is dominated by Kathmandu-based elites and uses the language of "transitional justice." An empirical study has been made of the needs of transition of families of those disappeared during the conflict in the midwestern district of Bardiya, the worst affected by disappearances during the insurgency. The agenda of families that surfaces from this study is then compared and contrasted with that articulated by those leading advocacy for transitional justice in Nepal, namely, national and international human rights agencies. Indigenous rural victims remain ignorant of rights and articulate an agenda of addressing basic needs and demanding political change that empowers them. Elite-led civil society, notably human rights agencies, has adopted a legalistic agenda that coincides with the dominant global rights discourse in which prosecutorial process is prioritized and the inequalities that led to conflict are considered to be beyond the remit of transitional justice; issues of social and economic rights are ignored. Victims remain marginalized from both the transitional process and from those agencies that purport to represent them. The author argues that a global rights agenda that uses the language of giving agency to the marginalized actually serves to maintain a status quo that guarantees the position of ethnic and caste-based elites.