Murdering with Impunity

In Nepal, the recent case of Resham Chaudhary illustrates the dangers of presidential amnesty, including the risk of impunity, the weakening of the rule of law, and the criminalisation of politics.

By Gulnaz Nawaz | August 2023

The idea of a presidential amnesty has been the subject of fervent debate, especially in nations transitioning out of conflict or experiencing political instability. As Nepal continues to recover from a decade of civil unrest and work toward stable governance, the president of Nepal has announced an amnesty to address historical human rights violations.

Many believe amnesty strengthens the rule of law and promotes criminal behaviour, while others believe it helps bring people together and sustain peace. The impact of amnesty on justice and accountability in Nepal has been brought up again in light of the recent case of former MP Resham Chaudhary.

Despite being the “mastermind” of the 2015 Tikapur massacre, the president granted Chaudhary amnesty. With the president’s pardon of a mass murderer, concerns have been raised about the influence of politics on the legal system. Some have hypothesised that Chaudhary was given amnesty because of his ties to the ruling coalition and, more particularly, because his party backed Poudel for president. This creates issues concerning the politics of crime since it makes people nervous that criminals would try to escape their crimes by allying themselves with powerful politicians.

Those found guilty of murder should not be offered amnesty because it undermines justice and accountability. Section 159 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) does not allow for the commutation, suspension, modification, or reduction of sentences for heinous offences like murder.

The significance of the president of Nepal’s amnesty can only be appreciated in light of its historical context. The government and Maoist guerrillas fought it out for years (1996–2006), and both sides committed human rights violations. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2006 aimed, among other things, to facilitate a conflict-free transition to democracy. This agreement led to the formation of many human rights groups, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP).

Those who advocate for a presidential amnesty argue it is necessary for national unity and stability. They argue that granting ex-combatants amnesty would help them readjust to civilian life and become productive members of society who would help advance the country.

One strategy for getting abusers to talk is to offer them amnesty in exchange for information about their victims. Those who advocate for this approach argue it’s crucial for understanding what’s really at the heart of the issue. Supporters of presidential amnesty further argue that it deters former fighters from taking violent retribution. Governments that grant amnesty show they are serious about moving on, ending threats of retaliation, and encouraging a culture of forgiveness. Furthermore, they say the judicial system’s limited resources are best used to address ongoing human rights breaches and guarantee efficient operation.

Presidential amnesty has been criticised because it fosters a culture of impunity and weakens the rule of law. They contend that amnesty compromises victims’ rights to the truth, justice, and restitution. Governments that provide amnesty to those who have committed serious human rights violations contribute to a culture of impunity and perpetuate a vicious cycle of violence. Others worry that amnesty will make building lasting peace in the region more difficult. Allowing wrongdoers to avoid punishment leaves unresolved complaints, which may stoke tensions and even spark new confrontations.

Moreover, amnesty may encourage a culture of silence, which is harmful since it prevents victims from coming forward and slows down the healing and reconciliation process. There are also questions regarding the amnesty process’s accountability and openness. Amnesty has been used as a political tactic in the past, usually to shield powerful people or hide wrongdoing by the state. This kind of selective application harms the credibility of the amnesty process and the integrity of the legal system.

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