Megan Keeling (Nepal)

Megan Keeling is a graduate student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where she is focusing on conflict resolution and security studies. Prior to coming to Fletcher, she worked for a women's health care association in Washington, DC. Her projects included facilitating educational programs on reproductive health and managing and promoting a searchable database of providers of long-acting, reversible contraception. Before that, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in northern Jordan, where she taught English as a second language and developed an environmental education program in her school. Megan earned her bachelor's degree in English and Women's studies at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA.

Transitional justice, near and far

17 Jul

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


  • Laura Stateler

    July 18, 2016


    You posed some great questions and insights in this blog post. I found your discussion about comparisons between countries particularly interesting. “Justice” and “healing” are such broad and vague terms that mean something different in different places. This comes at a particularly difficult with all that is happening in the United States right now. Your post is making me think about how America may define “justice” and how that is different from other places in the world. Cannot wait to hear from you again!

  • Rachael Hughen

    July 19, 2016


    I think you’re right and the “power to name” everything from the degree of reparations needed to the nature of the conflict itself has severe implications on the transitional justice process. Faced with people who refuse to even accept that these disappearances happened, what have you found is the best way to bridge this gap in understanding?

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