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interview with Mandira Sharma

The PakistanCIA The World Factbook

YI: What would you say was the most difficult case of human rights abuse you faced that you had to solve in the past?

Mandira Sharma: All the cases were very difficult in the sense that we had to face a strong culture of impunity. We have documented hundreds of cases of extra judicial executions, forced disappearances, rapes of women, but not a single case has been brought to justice. Not only us, we had the Office of the High Commissioner (for Human Rights) here in Nepal and they had had also been documenting a similar number of cases of extra-judiciary killings, disappearances. Not a single perpetrator has been brought to justice. This is very difficult because there is no accountability, zero accountability and there is such a strong culture of impunity. When you ask personally when I was involved in documenting these investigations, we knew because the victims told us how they were arrested and raped repeatedly in detention. One of the girls were injured, got sick and then were kicked out. Another girl had severe psychological problems and their families were not in a situation to resist because they were threatened not to tell the story to anyone. And when we documented this case and investigated it, the family wanted the raise the case so the perpetrators could get punished and they could get justice. But they were pressured and forced to retract their information in front of the television, which was aired again and again. So when you see the victim being forced to retract their information, time and again, when not only one member but the whole family members get threatened, they have to retract. That was difficult. That was what happened.

YI: A peace agreement has recently been signed between the rebels and the government. The rebels have agreed now to take part in the political process. Are you optimistic about this?

Mandira Sharma: Yes, we are cautiously optimistic. We have hopes that things will be better than what is happening now. Certainly, it's now a question of justice and the question of human rights issues, the rule of law. We haven't seen that much progress. For example, the comprehensive peace agreement talks about setting up a truth and reconciliation commission. Among others, we really want to attract interest towards the victims who have waited for so long, in the hopes that the democratic process will provide them justice for what happened in the past. And that would really create conditions for a reconciliation. But there is a tendency of the government, all the political parties because they are part of the past, somehow they are linked to that and they really don't want to lose their impunity. What they have been trying is to force people to forget what happened in the past, in the name of peace, and forgetting the pain of the victims. So, recently, there was the decision of the Supreme Court. It took us like seven years to get to that decision because there is no recourse for the victims of the past. I don't know whether anything will be done to the cases of 2003-2004 in Nepal. So in spite of all this progress, there is no relief for the victims of the past. So, we have brought a number of complaints to the Supreme Court. Recently, the Supreme Court said that there was a need for a comprehensive legislation to outlaw disappearances and they also said there was a need for a commission to deal with these investigations. But the Supreme Court said there has to be a new legislation to set up this commission. But what the government did is to form a commission without observing the decision of the Supreme Court. There are a number of incidents like this. So, there is no respect for the rule of law. So, that really scares us. And when there is an attempt to force people to forget what happened in the past, in a way that seems undeveloped, they don't consult with the victims groups, they don't consult with civil society in their decisions, the don't even publish reports on the commission. So that presents a gloomy picture of Nepal and its future. Unless we address the issue of justice, unless we account the deaths and unless we do a thorough investigation of those who disappeared, it will be very difficult to envision a democratic Nepal.

YI: But, you will be having a referendum, do you think the country is going in the right direction?

Mandira Sharma: In some respects yes, there is reason to be hopeful. For example, for the first time in the history of Nepal we are going to have elections for the constituent assembly. People will draft the constitution, but we still have fear because those who were involved in the violations in the past, if they are not vetted now, will be the same people, through the elections, who will be drafting the constitution, who will be in power. We don't want to see that happening, we want ways to prevent these perpetrators to be part of drafting the constitution or be in power in the future, so that we'll be assured that history will not be repeated, because there is no reason not to believe history will be repeated, because we saw in the 1990s when we fought for democracy in Nepal. There was a huge outcry then for investigations and a movement. But the government decided not to take any action against those involved in the violations. So what happened later on was that the very same people were brought in, in 2005 and 2006. You have seen the effect of not making people accountable for the things that they do, so that's the reason why it's very important for us to really bring those perpetrators to justice.

YI: So let's say that you are cautiously optimistic.

Mandira Sharma: Yes, I will say I am cautiously optimistic.

YI: If you had heroes, who would they be, and why would you choose them?

Mandira Sharma: I really don't have any role models right now in my mind. But I would readily call them heroes, those who have been threatened with violence, but whose dignity and self-respect has remained intact, and addressed issues of justice in Nepal. I admire them. I would call these people heroes, because the issue of justice is something that really affects Nepal's very seriously. People have never felt that the system, the law protects them equally. It's the women who always face the persecution. It's always poor people who have to go to prison. Why not a single person who is in power get persecuted? We have not seen a single case where the violators get punished. So, those who have do get these people persecuted or get them to justice, I will call them heroes. I have not seen any person in Nepal do this, but I hope that there will be somebody in the future.

YI: What would you say to young Nepalese who are facing their future? How can they contribute towards their country?

Mandira Sharma: I think it's the Maoist youth who can contribute towards the future of Nepal. I know that we should continue to fight for our rights. As an example, it was not easy when I first started this advocacy forum. I knew we could make a difference, make changes. We were the ones who put Nepal in the place of the world community. I remember in 2002 when I went to a Commission meeting in Geneva. I was shocked to find out how little information there was at the international level about Nepal. At that time, we already had in 2002, a state of emergency, there was no rule of law and human rights violations were skyrocketing. But people had no knowledge about that. Yet we had documented cases, following the UN system, so they would be forced to read about Nepal. And that was the reason why we had the Office of the UN Human Rights Commission in Nepal. That also brought attention to our situation. That really boosted our confidence, so we were encouraged to carry on with our activities. So, if we continuously work without giving up hope, we can make a change, bring a difference. But we must continuously fight for that and we should not be pessimistic. One has to be optimistic and I am optimistic. The day will come and it will be the youth who can set the future.

YI: On that note, Mandira, thank you very much for your time and all the best in all your efforts.

Mandira Sharma: Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share with you the activities that we are involved in.

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