Where is peace without justice?Successive governments and the major political parties have failed to prioritise justice to the victims.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement, 2006 (CPA) that declared the end of the 10-year armed conflict in Nepal had acknowledged and given hope of justice to the victims of gross human rights violation. The CPA committed to ensuring socio-economic transformation through the new constitution to be promulgated through a Constituent Assembly, and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants. The agreement also committed to investigating crimes committed during the conflict, revealing the truth, providing justice and reparation to the victims, putting an end to impunity and ensuring non-recurrence in the future.
The formation of a new constitution was accomplished in 2015 through the second Constituent Assembly. Since the Maoist combatants with weapons residing in temporary camps were considered a threat to the state and political parties, the process of integrating and rehabilitating them was completed with due priority. However, the third commitment—to address the injustice caused by human rights violations—continues to be shelved 15 years after the peace agreement. Healing the pain of the victims of the conflict remains a matter of false commitment as successive governments and the major political parties have failed to prioritise the issue.
Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka recently reiterated the Nepal government’s commitment to conclude the transitional justice process through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) at the 76th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations in September this year. He further insisted that there would be no blanket amnesty in cases of serious violation of human rights. However, such commitments have been made every year by successive prime ministers and foreign ministers at different international forums, including the Human Rights Council, with little result to show.
Waiting for investigation
The government has violated its own commitments made in the peace agreement and at international forums. The victims and their families await a fair investigation into human rights violations, truth, justice and reparations since the end of conflict in 2006. Each successive government has made commitments to amend the transitional justice law, adopt credible procedures, end impunity and ensure justice to the victims. The Supreme Court's order issued on July 12, 2021, to appoint Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister was implemented within two days. But why is the order of the same Supreme Court issued on February 26, 2015, to amend the transitional justice law, not implemented even after six and a half years? Successive governments have lacked sensitivity towards the unrest of the victims, will power and accountability. Hence, the transitional justice process in Nepal does not have any clear road map and work plan. As with others, this government has not taken any solid steps to ensure justice, and neither have the two commissions.
The victims, human rights and international communities, and the UN have asked the government to adopt meaningful consultations and transparent processes, amend the transitional justice law complying with the Supreme Court rulings of 2015 to ensure there is no amnesty for gross violations of human rights, and appoint commissioners through a credible process. These longstanding concerns have been overlooked till date with the strategy of delaying and diluting the process, and ultimately granting immunity to the perpetrators. The controlled TRC and CIEDP were established in 2015 by appointing loyal cadres of the political parties to create an illusion that they are working. Despite reservations over the mandate in the law and the appointment of the commissioners, the conflict victims gave the benefit of the doubt to the commissions, and submitted complaints to test them. Instead of speaking about the victims, the TRC started raising the issue of Colonel Kumar Lama who was accused and arrested in the United Kingdom on the charge of torturing civilians during the armed conflict.
The two commissions held meetings with the conflict victims, the prime stakeholders, after six months of their formation. The commissions' regulations and working procedures were developed without any consultation with the victims. The TRC had developed a complaint-withheld guideline, but it was quashed by an order of the Supreme Court in response to a writ registered by the victims. The CIEDP, having the responsibility to investigate and make public the whereabouts of disappeared persons, declared 414 persons to be dead, and sent a report to the TRC without conducting any investigation and sent letters to the families without sensitivity.
Creating an illusion
The TRC and the CIEDP are distributing so-called identity cards to the conflict victims without the name of the killed and disappeared persons to show their work and create an illusion. No facilities or services have been announced for the identity card bearers. The Transitional Justice Act does not mention reparation as a right of the victims, but only as a service and facility. The commissions have neither revealed the truth of any cases nor recommended any sort of reparation and prosecution of the perpetrators. Millions of rupees and over six years have been spent in the name of the commissions, truth, justice and reparation. The commissions have registered over 65,000 cases, but they have completely failed to deliver any solid result to the victims.
The central, provincial and local governments, political parties, civil society and international communities are gradually forgetting the pain, trauma and loss of the victims. Government authorities pretend as if there is nothing to address to give justice to the victims. A number of torture victims like Mohan Oli and Darbari Tharu have lost their lives due to the pain and lack of treatment and care. A majority of the victims and their families are enduring socio-economic hardships, lack of guardianship, educational opportunities and career development, psychosocial trauma, employment, social security and medical difficulties. The families of the disappeared are anguished over their whereabouts as they have been missing for decades, problems in property transfer and the question of conducting death rituals as per their culture if they have actually been killed. The victims of sexual violence have not even received their identity cards and are deprived of treatment.
The government cannot be rid of the responsibility of ensuring the right to justice of the conflict victims. The failures of the past have proved that adopting trustworthy procedures and implementing true collaboration with all stakeholders only can lead to a logical conclusion of transitional justice. Thus, the government has to prepare a clear and comprehensive roadmap with a timeline in order to guide the entangled transitional justice process on to the right track. The transitional justice law should be amended by holding meaningful consultations and complying with Supreme Court rulings. New commissions should be formed through a transparent and credible process only after the amendment to the law, and financial and human resources should be ensured.