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Narrative Journalism: Handbook for Conflict Victims

Two handbooks documenting the voices of conflict victims and featuring information useful for them were released at a function in the capital Thursday

The books, in Nepali and in English, present 10 first-hand accounts by victims in the form of narrative profiles written by journalists. They represent a cross-section of victims, including those killed, disappeared, disabled and displaced, during Nepal's internal conflict between 1996 and 2006.

The stories show that progress has been painfully slow in dealing with past human rights atrocities and healing the wounds of war.

Ghauma Malam, and its English version Healing the Wounds, show that so far, government's efforts in transitional justice remain confined to interim reparation with remedies elusive for more than 16,000 people who lost lives and many others who suffered during the conflict.

Compiled and published by the Media Foundation, with support from UN Peace Fund Nepal and OHCHR Nepal, the books include facts about post-conflict situations, transitional justice, and the human costs of wars globally and in Nepal. They also include information on what relief measures are available to conflict victims, and how they can seek help or access justice.

Media Foundation chairman Bharat Dutta Koirala said the book release and discussion event aimed at drawing attention to the sufferings of the victims and the work of journalists who took time and heard the tales of woes from the victims.

Senior photo journalist Gopal Chitrakar read excerpts in Nepali from the narrative of Durga Maya Magar, 55, who became permanently disabled in the Badarmudhe bus ambush in June 2005. Chitrakar had covered the incident as a news event.

General Secretary at the Foundation Dharma Adhikari, who oversaw the research process for the publications, said the materials were designed as handbooks for victims. "But we also hope these stories will add some impetus to narrative journalism in the country," he said.

Journalists said this was a good initiative to revisit stories of people trapped in the conflict situation. Yagya Shahi, representing OHCHR Nepal, said there are several untold stories which the journalists with interest and commitment can bring out.

Story authors, journalists themselves, described their experiences in reporting the stories in the words of the victims.


The following is the Introduction to the book:

The Comprehensive Peace Accord agreed by the Government of Nepal and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) on 21 November 2006 declared that the armed war that began in 1996 had come to an end. The document envisaged far-reaching changes in the country, upheld Human Rights, Fundamental Rights and Humanitarian Law, and laid the provision for setting up a mechanism of dispute settlement and implementation. One and a half years later, in April 2008, the CPA's commitment to hold the historic Constituent Assembly elections was fulfilled.

The CA paved the way for a republican order and in principle Nepal appeared to be on its way to becoming a more peaceful and a democratic country. However, due to continued political disagreements over the nature of future government and the state, the form of army integration as well as the writing of the new constitution, the peace process remains incomplete.

In particular, progress has been painfully slow in dealing with past human rights atrocities and healing the wounds of war. Remedies for the 16,278 people who lost their lives and the millions who suffered during the conflict remain largely elusive. So far, government's efforts in transitional justice remain confined to interim reparation. The government has issued the draft Truth and Reconciliation Commission Bill (July 2007) and the draft Disappearances (Crime and Punishment) Bill (November 2008). However, these bills are under review and they are yet to be approved by the parliament. It is only when they come into effect that trials can be conducted, and, hopefully, reconciliation, acknowledgement, full reparation and institutional reforms will become possible.

Although some materials in this book highlight the state of the peace process and the institutional efforts in transitional justice, the focus here is on the victims themselves, their traumatic experiences and their perspectives on the justice process. This is one small effort at documenting their voices and compiling useful information in the form of a victims' booklet. The stories are presented in a narrative journalistic format.

Narrative story telling has long been used as a therapeutic means to reframe traumatic experiences of conflict. While regular news reporting and feature stories dictated by deadlines and space constraints highlight facts of war and the plight of victims, narrative techniques help to capture the lived realities of victims and speak directly to the individual human conditions. They involve both recalling the traumatic past by the victims and an empathic listening by the storytellers; in this case the journalists. This process enables to reframe their lives in a more holistic and integrative way.

This book presents ten such narrative stories focused on individuals. Cases were randomly selected in terms of the nature of victimization, such as killed, disappeared, disabled and displaced. They do not reflect the magnitude of the entire conflict; and are at best representative of the wounds suffered by ordinary victims of conflict and the support available to them. These are stories about victims from the most excluded sections of the society rather than the cases already widely publicized. Stories are complemented by factual and contextual materials as well as utility information, summarized and compiled from a variety of credible sources.

The stories were reported and written by journalists based in various parts of the country. The transitional justice process--truth-seeking, persecution, reparation and institutional reform--served as the editorial framework of these narratives. As the stories show, a common thread runs across the experiences of the victims: frustration over the lack acknowledgement, the state of impunity, and above all, economic hardship. An overriding theme is the general state of ignorance among the victims, where to turn to for help or support.

A number of people have contributed to making this book a reality. We would especially like to thank journalists who took time to do field reporting and one-to-one interviews with individual victims. We believe their efforts have added some impetus to narrative journalism in the country.

Dr. Dharma Adhikari offered the overall direction to the research process. He also reviewed the book. Jagadish Pokhrel helped edit the English version. Punita Rimal coordinated the editorial tasks. The Nepali version was edited by Chhabi Adhikari. Prabhat Kiran Koirala offered research assistance and logistical support. Part of the translation task was carried out by Shekhar KC and Bhrikuti Rai. Support for the book came from the UN Peace Building Fund through UN Peace Fund for Nepal and OHCHR Nepal.

We hope this book fills up the void in the literature that speaks to the experiences of ordinary victims and their needs. Errors, substantive and typographical, are unavoidable, especially for a time-specific project like this book. We regret any such error.

From Healing the Wounds: Stories from Nepal's Transitional Justice Process (Kathmandu: Media Foundation), pp G-H.


Posted by Editor on July 14, 2011 8:35 AM