Raped during Nepal’s civil war, survivors seek justice and recognition

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Beaten and raped by police as a child, Mira was among the many victims of sexual violence during the civil war in Nepal and is now one of the few to tell of her ordeal.

Guerrilla attacks and enforced disappearances were daily occurrences on both sides of the decade-long Maoist insurgency in the Himalayan republic.

The conflict ended in 2006 with a peace deal that brought the rebels into government and promised justice for those who had suffered in the fighting.

But 16 years after the end of the war, civilian courts have handed down just two convictions for crimes committed during the civil war, while rape survivors are frustrated that their traumas have been met with official indifference.

After years of waiting for redress, they are now sharing their experiences in a request for recognition.

“They didn’t even mention our cases,” Mira, who asked to use a pseudonym, told AFP. “The least they can do is acknowledge that these incidents happened.”

Mira was just 12 in 1999 when she was arrested for taking part in a cultural awareness program run by Maoist rebels.

She spent months in police custody, during which she said she suffered repeated rapes at the hands of officers who also beat her mercilessly.

“I was unrecognizable. My face was swollen, my body was swollen,” she said. “My stomach keeps hurting, my body keeps hurting, I still have to take medicine.”

More than 17,000 people were killed and several thousand more were forced to flee their homes before the 2006 peace accord.

The settlement included the promise of impartial investigations into wartime atrocities.

But it did not include provisions for victims of sexual violence, who were less willing to report their experiences and who were also excluded from an interim compensation scheme for victims of conflict.

“Cases of rape had taken place during the 10-year war. The government has to admit it and fix it,” Devi Khadka, coordinator of the National Organization for Conflict Rape Victims, told AFP.

The civil war had just started in 1997 when Khadka, then a teenager, was herself raped by security forces in police custody, she said.

She joined the Maoist insurgency, steadily rising through the ranks and served in parliament, but struggled with depression for years.

“I remained silent for a long time, for many reasons. But no one else spoke. I felt I had to raise my voice for all of us,” she said.

“How are we going to punish them? »

Nepali society traditionally links chastity to the honor of women and their homes, and the stigma of rape often forces victims to remain silent.

Already suffering from physical and mental trauma, those who come forward are often ostracized by their families and struggle to support themselves.

“What we need is support for our livelihoods, for our health and for the future of our children,” said Reenu, who was raped by Maoist soldiers during the conflict.

She added that the immediate needs of victims were a higher priority than bringing the perpetrators to justice.

“A lot of women don’t even know who wronged them, so how are we going to punish them?” she asked.

Nepal’s two transitional justice commissions began operations in 2015 but failed to resolve a single case, despite receiving over 60,000 complaints of murder, torture and unexplained disappearances.

More than 300 cases of rape and sexual violence have been recorded by the commission, but activists say official reports represent only a small fraction of the true total.

Survivors are reluctant to come forward because the government has failed to “create a safe environment” for them to do so, said Mandira Sharma, senior legal adviser at the International Commission of Jurists.

“But these are serious crimes,” she told AFP. “The State is obliged to take action against the author.”

“Afraid to do us justice”

Critics say the truth and reconciliation process in Nepal was poorly designed from the start and plagued by chronic funding shortfalls.

It also lacks political support to continue, with former Maoist rebels and political leaders among those accused of presiding over wartime atrocities now in government ranks.

The Minister of Finance announced in June a financial support program for victims of wartime sexual violence, the first compensation of its kind.

But months after the announcement, not a single victim has received any money.

“The older this conflict gets, the more problems there are for women like me,” a 33-year-old woman who said she was raped by security forces as a teenager told AFP.

“The government is aware that women and children suffered sexual violence during the war,” she said. “But he is afraid to do us justice. What if their own people should be punished?

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