The road less travelledDahal govt has forgotten its early promises to give credible closure to conflict-era cases
Soon after Pushpa Kamal Dahal became the prime minister a little over three months ago, he met with conflict victims’ groups and human rights activists to hear their concerns. Initially, activists were surprised that Dahal appeared open to their concerns; after all, for many years he had strongly opposed prosecution of rights violations committed during the conflict.
Still, the new prime minister assured them that he was keen to see the transitional justice process completed in a way that satisfied all groups, that he was willing to do whatever he could to enable the process. In particular, his government agreed to amend the transitional justice legislation according to the Supreme Court judgment of 2015; this ruling prevents the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) from offering amnesties. The government also appeared willing to pass legislation criminalising torture and disappearance, which is essential if the transitional justice process is to enjoy credibility. Furthermore, the government revealed draft legislation that would enable the establishment of a Special Court to prosecute human rights violations.
Unsurprisingly, these steps brought renewed optimism to everyone involved in the transitional justice process. There was a feeling that the CPN (Maoist Centre), which had long remained opposed to all prosecutions, had gained knowledge of transitional justice and was becoming more comfortable with the idea of establishing institutions according to the ruling of the Supreme Court and in keeping with international norms on human rights. The government seemed keen to demonstrate its good faith to the international community in the aftermath of Nepal Army Officer Col Kumar Lama’s arrest in London.
But inexplicably, all movement on transitional justice has now come to a halt. Victims’ groups, who were taken in by Dahal’s promises, are once again sceptical that the government will do anything. It is unclear why the government lost interest in this issue after taking so many preliminary steps to amend existing legislation and formulate new laws. Perhaps the government felt that it no longer had to placate the international community since Col Lama’s case has been dismissed in the London court due to the lack of evidence. Perhaps, it does not know how to respond to the Supreme Court’s comment that the draft legislation on the Special Court is unacceptable since it does not allow any higher court to review its judgments. Or perhaps the government became distracted due to various other issues such as negotiations with the Madhesi parties and the impeachment of Lokman Singh Karki.
Whatever the case, the indications are that the transitional justice process is likely to drag on for some time—months or even years. It would be a mistake, however, if the government thinks that demands for justice for conflict-era crimes will simply go away. If these demands are not addressed now, they could well be raised in more extreme forms in the future. It is in the interests of the government, and indeed all of Nepal, to amend the existing laws, criminalise torture and disappearance, enable the TRC and the CIEDP to complete their work effectively, and provide a sense of closure to the conflict-era cases.