Transitional Justice Conflict Victims Still Cry Foul
More than 12 years elapsed since the then interim government and CPN-Maoist signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2006 to address the conflict-related cases that occurred during the decade-long Maoist insurgency. As per the deal, two commissions will be formed in six months to find truth about the conflict victims, give justice to them and punish the perpetrators. Despite the commitment of both political parties and the then rebels, they have sorely failedto deliver transitional justice, leaving the conflict victims crying foul.
The government formed Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CEIDP) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2015 six years after the landmark peace deal was struck. The terms of the both commissions had ended in February, 2019 and the government has extended their tenure for another year. Nowit is in process to appoint the new commissioners and members of the commissions.
In their four-year terms, both the commissions made little headway in ensuring justice and making post-conflict reconciliation except for collecting the cases of disappearances and rights violation. They were mandated to take initiative of truth-telling, investigate into the cases registered with them, study the nature and pattern of human rights abuse, identify individuals involved in grave rights violation, sexual violence and rape of women and girls, and recommend for the reparations to the victims and the institutional reforms of transitional justice system.
The lack of political will on the part of successive governments and the major political parties and prolongedinstability largely prevented the conflict victims from getting justice.Delayed justice is justice denied. Inordinate delay in granting justice has frustrated the victims. They are living with their wounds that seem to be never cured.
Conflict victims who have been relentlessly fighting for justice have been calling for restructuring of the two commissions and not extending the tenure of their officials. Though the government did not extend the office-bearers’ terms, the victims have blamed the concerned officials and political parties for failing to follow due process such as meaningful and democratic consultation with victims.
“Nepali politicians are trying to force the conflict victims into accepting the transitional justice process designed largely to protect those responsible for the serious abuses and rights violation”, said Suman Adhikari, a conflict victim engaged in transitional justice campaign. Adhikari suggests holding consultations withthe victims to make sure that the state respects their feelings and is committed to meeting their demands.
Meanwhile, the United Nations that has been keenly observing Nepal’s transitional justice process asked the government to amend Truth and Reconciliation Act-2015 as per the Supreme Court verdict.
In 2015, the SC issued an order stipulating that the TRC should investigate the conflict era cases. If the TRC decides that the case must be filed in the courts, then, it will recommend this through the Attorney General, not through the Ministry of Law as mentioned in the Act. The Apex Court has thus tried to limit the role of the government.Likewise, the verdict underlines that victims’ consent is a must for both reconciliation and amnesty to the alleged perpetrators. And, the TRC has no right to investigate the cases that are sub judice before the court.
In their joint letter to Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali sometime ago, the UN special rapporteurs have expressed their concern about the slow progress in granting transitional justice to the conflict victims.
They urged the government to urgently initiate a process to amend the Act in line with international standards, therebysetting the mandate and appointing the members of commissions accordingly. “Such anamendment prepares a ground for holdingconsultation with victims and the National Human Rights Commission,” they said.
Around 58,052 complaints have been filed at the TRC while the CIEDP received 3,197 cases of disappearances and held consultation with the victims in 64 districts to inquire about the disappeared persons. Around 17,000 persons lost their lives during the violent Maoist campaign. Hundreds of people were forcefully disappeared and their fate and whereabouts are still unknown.
Prem Kumar Shrestha, joint-secretary at the CEIDP, said though the commissions were formed in 2015, they hit the roadblocks from the very outset. The political parties were preoccupied with post-quake reconstruction, statute-making and three-tier elections. As a result, the commissions failed to get due priority.
Shrestha said that the would-be commissioners should resume soliciting the views of victims and perpetrators as well from the remaining districts.
“The new commissioners are supposed to recommend to the government taking action against the culprit and providing reparation to the victims.However, the perpetrators are unlikely to reveal their crimes until the state provides security to them. Therefore, a broader national consensus is essential to resolve this trickier part of comprehensive peace agreement,” he said, adding that the CIEDP could complete its assigned task in a year if it was allowed to work without any interference.
Motive under scrutiny
The conflict victims look askance at some ‘players’ involved in the campaign for the transitional justice. The motive of various INGOs, NGOs and even the leaders of conflict groups has come under scrutiny.
“It seems that many NGOs/INGOs and so-called victims’ leaders are doing politics in the name of healing the wounds of conflict victims,” said Sharmila Tripathi, the widow of student leader Gyanendra Tripathi, who disappeared during the Maoist insurgency.
Venting her ire, she said that many NGOs/INGOs were using the victims to meet their own vested interest and not serious about their concerns. “I have lost interest in attending the programmes related to the issues of conflict victims. Even the political leaders are reluctant to address our plight as theyare afraid of legal action against themselves.”
Due to delay in the delivery of transitional justice, some schemes of reparation such as scholarship to the children of victims have become irrelevant. The victims feel betrayed by the political parties and their leaders. They are deeply sceptical about the competence of two commissions in dealing with the most sensitive component of the peace process that is hailed as a model in the world.
(Dhakal is a TRN journalist)
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