Transitional justiceThis time around, the government must not go back on its promise.
The federal government has announced that it will begin consultations with stakeholders to revive the comatose transitional justice process. The move, to begin on January 13, specifically run by the Law Ministry, will collect comments and feedback at the provincial level before forming a national-level commission and hammering out a bill to amend the Transitional Justice Act.
On paper, this seems like positive news. Though already late, by nearly five full years, it is imperative that the two transitional justice bodies—the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP)—satisfactorily complete their task. And for the commissions to work acceptably, the laws governing them must be amended to align with international practices and the Supreme Court ruling of 2015. But such promises have been announced before, only to be left unfulfilled.
This time around, the government must not go back on its promise. Law Minister Pradeep Gyawali has, in his capacity as foreign minister, made commitments to the international community about his administration’s resolve to see this process through. Moreover, as a member of the cabinet when the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed, his tenure as law minister is an opportune time to finally amend the Transitional Justice Act to reflect the spirit of the peace accord.
When Nepal was elected a member of the UN Human Rights Council in late 2017, many wondered how a country that had dragged its own peace process along for over a decade deserved a seat. For far too long, Nepal’s transitional justice process has been held hostage due to political machinations and insincerity. First, the commissions did not have the teeth to push forward all investigations. Then, government after government went on ignoring the wishes of the conflict victims, their kin, various human rights groups, and even the directive of the Supreme Court—which in February 2015 had negated any provisions in the law that would have allowed for a blanket amnesty, and had said that the victims’ consent was necessary for any reconciliation, among other strong directions.
When this government formed a committee under former chief justice Om Prakash Mishra in early 2019, hope remained that the new membership in the commissions would make the process more impartial and active—even with the bodies still being hampered with an inadequate mandate. Yet, it was soon clear that the new commissions would be highly politicised, the committee not being able to independently recommend any names without political consultations. The situation was so worrying, four international rights groups penned a joint letter that showed the international community’s reservations.
Amidst all this, Pradeep Gyawali has been vocal, both nationally and internationally, about this government’s commitment to a fair end to the transitional justice process. He addressed the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, saying how Nepal was capable and committed to completing the process impartially, and on its own. He also promised, in an interview with the Post, how the government would abide by the Supreme Court’s verdict.
Ensuring that the centrality of victims is fully respected is the first step towards reconciliation and closure. The onus is on Gyawali now to see that the government pushes forward the transitional justice mechanism. He has delivered his promises on multiple platforms, and now he must ensure that they are kept. And, as Nepal’s tenure in the UN Human Rights Council ends on December 31 this year, it is hoped that the country’s membership will end in satisfactory progress on the domestic front, and not with another failure in the transitional justice process.
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