The goal of a truth commission is to help a barbarous society become minimally decent.* Nepal’s truth commission and the commission on disappearances have the enormous task of looking at the barbarity that took place during the civil war. After they collect testimonies, they will write a report about what Nepal needs to do to become minimally decent.
Ram has written extensively about what a minimally decent Nepal should look like. In a decent society, justice is not a privilege of the few. Families of the missing struggle against the impunity of those responsible for the disappearances. By denying the families the truth of what happened, the perpetrators deny that a crime even occurred at all. Families of the missing are now seeking recognition from the commission that their loved one’s lives matter enough to acknowledge the grave violation that was committed against them.
It’s impossible to spend so much time thinking about justice in Nepal without considering what’s happening in the United States. Many of the questions being asked by Nepal’s truth commissions and activists are the same questions Americans are asking themselves right now. Who decides who is a victim? Who determines what is an injustice? Whose stories matter? Whose dignity? Whose lives?
Truth commissions are just one way to answer these questions. They can offer victims of injustice a platform from which to identify the crimes committed against them. But meaningful change toward a more decent society doesn’t only come when victims speak out; more often than not, they have been speaking out for as long as they have endured the barbarity. For change to happen, the perpetrators, beneficiaries, and bystanders in an unjust system need to actually listen to what its victims have to say.
Meaningful comparisons between any two societies in the process of healing from their pasts are difficult to make. Nepal is not Peru is not Bosnia is not South Africa is not the United States. What I can take from the juxtaposition of my work here to what’s happening back home is a reminder of complexity. The transition from barbarous to decent seems simple, inevitable even, from a distance. This is true for Americans looking at other countries as well as at our own history. Up close, the process is messier, scarier, and far less certain; it is a tremendous responsibility to respond with courage and empathy rather than violence and fear.
*Phrase borrowed from Rajeev Bhargava’s essay “Restoring Decency to Barbaric Societies” in Truth vs. Justice: The Morality of Truth Commissions.
Posted By Megan Keeling (Nepal)
Posted Jul 17th, 2016