International rights bodies warn Nepal’s conflict victims could seek justice in foreign courtsRecent appointments to transitional justice commissions and nomination of a person accused of killing as Speaker undermined transitional justice, the rights orgsanisations say.
Four international human rights organisations said on Saturday that recent decisions by the Nepali government and political parties to appoint officials to the transtional justice commissions without proper consultations and to nominate a murder accused as House Speaker undermined the transitional justice process.
The tendency to promote impunity will compel the victims and human rights activists to seek justice internationally under the universal jurisdiction, they have warned.
In a statement on Saturday, International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International said the recent steps taken by the Nepal government and the parties are a serious setback for the transitional justice process.
The government in March last year formed a committee led by Om Prakash Mishra, a former chief justice, to recommend officials for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons.
But the ruling and opposition parties rendered it toothless, and 10 months after its formation, they decided officials for the two commissions.
On January 18, the recommendation committee picked two chairpersons and eight members as per the parties’ wish. The following day, the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) selected Agni Sapkota, who is accused of the abduction and murder of Arjun Lama from Kavreplanchok in 2005. With no candidate from the opposition Nepali Congress, Sapkota is all but certain to become the next Speaker of the House of Representatives, unless the Supreme Court intervenes, by Sunday’s voting.
“The government and the political parties in Nepal are increasingly showing that they are unwilling and incapable to deliver truth, justice and reparations to the conflict victims domestically,” the statement quoted Biraj Patnaik, South Asia director at Amnesty International, as saying. “Their signal of impunity will further push the victims and activists to seek justice internationally under universal jurisdiction.”
Instead of putting those suspected of criminal responsibility into positions of power, the government should bring them to justice in fair trials, said Patnaik.
The four international human rights watchdog for long have asked Nepal government to have constructive and meaningful consultations with the conflict victims and the concerned parties before making any decisions regarding transitional justice.
They are also for amendments to the Enforced Disappearance Enquiry and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act-2o14, to make it consistent with international human rights law and the rulings by the Supreme Court before the appointment.
But the government is yet to amend the Act. Recent consultations held by the government in the seven provinces were described by the conflict victims as farce and a mere formality rather than a genuine effort to collect their feedback.
“The government’s decision to carry out another rushed and secretive set of consultations fails to give due respect to the long-standing demands of victims and civil society,” the statement quoted Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Asia-Pacific director, as saying. “It also makes it very difficult to take seriously the statements of political leaders that they are committed to supporting a victim-centred and human rights compliant process.”
Despite repeated calls by the international community and rights defenders, Nepal’s political parties and successive governments over the last decade have done precious little to ensure justice to conflict victims, except making promises at home and abroad.
In March last year, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali said that Nepal was committed to concluding the transitional justice process by holding wider consultations and amending the Transitional Justice Act. Addressing the 40th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, he said there would be no blanket amnesty in the cases of serious human rights violations committed during the decade-long Maoist insurgency.
But a lack of political will has been evident.
The appointments to the two commissions and recommendation of Sapkota for Speaker came days after Pushpa Kamal Dahal, now executive chairman of the ruling party who led the decade-long war, made a public statement, saying he would take the responsibility for only 5,000 conflict deaths. Addressing the Maghi festival of the Tharu people in the Capital on January 15, Dahal said that the state had killed 12,000 of the total 17,000 dead.
There has been no concrete statement from Dahal, who has become the prime minister twice, on how he wishes to make the transitional justice process credible and how he is going to ensure justice to the conflict victims.
Instead, the appointments to the commissions were made at the behest of political parties, much to the chagrin of conflict victims and rights defenders.
Of the five officials in the truth commission, two including chairman Ganesh Datta Bhatta were appointed on Nepali Congress quota and three on the ruling Nepal Communist Party’s quota. Chairman Yubraj Subedi and a member in the disappearance commission are from the ruling party while three were picked from the congress quota.
International rights defenders have said Nepali political parties have ignored the conflict victims while trying to protect those responsible for abuses.
“Nepal’s political leaders know that a transparent process is essential to ensure justice and accountability for egregious rights violations during the conflict, but they keep trying to protect those responsible for the abuses,” the Saturday statement quotes Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, as saying. “If the political leadership continues to evade responsibility, they leave little choice but for victims to approach courts outside the country.”
Human rights defenders say the international community makes perceptions about Nepal based on the observations of credible human rights organisations, like the ones that issued the statement on Saturday. The recent acts of the government and the political parties have eroded the country’s image in the international arena, according to them.
“The world will now question Nepal’s position on human rights,” Kapil Shrestha, a former member of the National Human Rights Commission, told the Post.
Shrestha described the statement by four international rights bodies as a wake-up call for the government and the parties.
According to Shrestha, if Sapkota is appointed Speaker, ignoring reservations from human rights bodies, they could lobby internationally against travel visa to him, which would mean he could be barred from going abroad to participate in meetings, including of the International Parliamentary Union.
In 2010, Australia and the United States had rejected Sapkota’s visa applications in light of the allegations of serious human rights violations.
When Sapkota was appointed information and communication minister in May 2011, the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had issued a statement, saying that the state has a responsibility “to ensure that the name of a person is fully cleared following a thorough investigation before any appointment to a high public office is announced”.
Sapkota was denied a visa to the US by its embassy in Kathmandu on June 26, 2010, citing "serious and specific human rights allegations associated with his conduct during the insurgency".
A few days after the US embassy’s decision, the Human Rights Watch on July 1 said governments of India, China, the United Kingdom, the European Union and Japan, among others, should follow the example set by the United States and deny visas to persons charged with serious crimes and for which there has been no investigation.
Raju Chapagain, a human rights lawyer, said the statement from the four international rights bodies clearly suggests that the world is not going to ignore the wrongdoings of Nepali parties and government.
“This could lead to a legitimacy crisis for the Speaker,” said Chapagain, “and the entire transitional justice process.”