Act responsiblyTRC and CIEDP won’t be able to function as long as parties exercise control
There is no easy road to post-conflict reconciliation, as international experience has clearly shown. From Johannesburg to Kigali, Phnom Penh to Lima, and Buenos Aires to Bogota, the lesson has largely been that all countries must fashion their own route to reconciliation. Yet, the pursuit of the ‘truth’—the investigation and acknowledgement of the past— will aid in healing a fractured society and provide a roadmap for fundamental change. That is the most common approach to most of these transitional justice cases.
During the 10-year Maoist insurgency, scores of people lost their lives, became dismembered, were displaced and disappeared. Young girls and women were subjected to rape, youth and children were abducted, indoctrinated, conscripted, and compelled to commit acts of killing and disappearances.
To establish the accountability of political and military leaders, and to publicly acknowledge the previously silenced stories of victims, in February 2015, two commissions, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) were formed with a two-year mandate.
The TRC received some 63,000 complaints while around 3,200 cases had been registered with the CIEDP. For the initial two years, both commissions didn’t do anything but solicit complaints from conflict victims. Consequently, the government extended the terms of two commissions in February. And now, three-and-a-half years since its formation, the TRC has completed a preliminary investigation into barely 2,800 cases among the 63,000 filed till date, without even entering into a single detailed probe.
With this, the core function of the commission—to investigate, identify victims and perpetrators, and determine violations and abuses remains to be fully realised. Moreover, victims are seriously concerned if justice will ever be delivered, should the government continue to dither.
The work of the TRC has so far been half-hearted. A lack of revision in the existing Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act 2014, too had impaired the transitional justice process. Although the government has finally prepared a draft for amending the Act, governing the two transitional justice bodies, chances that things will change anytime soon are slim.
To be fair, this is not entirely the fault of the TRC. Its commissioners blame the government, and their criticisms make a great deal of sense. The ruling parties, no matter who is heading the government, have never shown interest in the transitional justice commissions, and they have starved it of funds and necessary human resources. For example, at present, too, although the commission has hired experts as consultants to support the investigation, owing to lack of funds, it has not been able to employ them.
More often than not, transitional justice institutions have been misused by the political elite where the interests of the alleged perpetrators and beneficiaries of the armed conflict are usually protected. This is regrettable. The TRC and the CIEDP document the crimes committed and carry the voices of atrocity survivors. By helping them adapt and retool, these commissions then become an important process in rebuilding the nation.
To ensure accountability for human rights abuses committed during the armed conflict, the commitment has to come from the government—regardless of the political party in power. These mechanisms will not be able to discharge their duties effectively as long as political parties continue to exercise control over them.