Transitional justice is once again being used as a tool for political one-upmanship, conflict victims sayAfter reminding Dahal that transitional justice is ‘a very sensitive issue’, Oli government reaches out to victims. But victims and analysts wonder if it is just a ploy to threaten his opponent.
In May 2016, when KP Sharma Oli—then chairman of the CPN-UML—was prime minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s CPN (Maoist Centre) was his coalition partner. When the coalition was on the verge of a breakdown, the two parties forged a nine-point agreement.
The agreement included initiating amendment to the transitional justice law within 15 days. It also committed to providing free medical treatment, protection and livelihoods for those who sustained injuries during the conflict and the 2006 people’s movement that effectively ended the 240-year-old monarchy.
But the alliance did not last long. In the second week of July 2016, the Maoists pulled out their support to Oli. Days before withdrawing the support, Dahal had inquired with Oli about the status of the nine-point agreement.
The Oli government collapsed.
Dahal became the prime minister in August that year with support from the Nepali Congress and Madhes-based parties. The following year, he gave up his position as agreed, making way for Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba to lead the election government.
Transitional justice never became a priority for these two administrations.
More than four and a half years later, Oli and Dahal are in the same party today—they both chair the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) which was formed in May 2018 after the merger of their UML and Maoist Centre.
The Nepal Communist Party is in a deep crisis, with Dahal upping his ante against Oli, just like the way he did back in 2016. But unlike in the past, Dahal does not have the luxury to simply walk out. Last time he was a coalition partner; today he is the chair of the party that is leading the government.
And suddenly, transitional justice has become an issue—this time Oli appears to be using it as a tool against Dahal.
Presenting his rebuttal to Dahal at the party Secretariat meeting on Saturday, Oli said that transitional justice is linked with Nepal’s “commitment and credibility and sensitivity of the victims and the international community has its interest and concerns”.
“Don’t make the mistake of taking it [transitional justice process] lightly,” said Oli, addressing Dahal.
Conflict victims, who have been awaiting justice for the last 14 years, say political parties have repeatedly employed transitional justice to play the game of one-upmanship.
“This time also Oli is trying to use transitional justice as a tool to pressurise the Dahal faction,” said Suman Adhikari, founding chairperson of the Conflict Victims Common Platform.
At the height of the internal crisis in August this year, a six-member panel was formed to recommend suggestions to resolve the dispute.
Among the suggestions was forming a political mechanism to oversee the transitional justice process and conclude it within a year devising a favourable law. It suggested adopting a fast-track approach prioritising reconciliation. No work, however, was done as per the suggestions.
Just like in July 2016, through his political paper, presented at the November 13 Secretariat, Dahal accused Oli of failing to take necessary steps to conclude the transitional justice process.
Oli did offer a rebuttal to Dahal’s charges, but with veiled threats.
As he was preparing his rebuttal, the Oli Cabinet on November 25 decided to provide free treatment for the injured from the decade-long armed conflict at government hospitals.
“What had stopped the Oli government from announcing free treatment all these years?” said Adhikari. “It’s just a messaging by Oli to the former Maoists in his party.”
On November 29, a day after Oli’s political document, Minister for Law and Justice Shiva Maya Tumbahanghe invited the representatives of conflict victims and said that the government wants to see the transitional justice process concluded without delay.
Tumbahanghe told the victims’ groups that the government is ready to extend any support to conclude the transitional justice process.
According to Adhikari, who was present in the meeting, she said the process was delayed due to the lack of consensus among the concerned parties.
“All these claims that the government is committed to concluding the transitional justice process are nothing but an eyewash,” said Gopal Shah, chairperson of the Conflict Victim’s National Platform. “The government is reaching out to the victims now not because it is worried about them. It is trying to placate the victims to remind Dahal that the transitional justice could invite trouble for him.”
Since its formation in 2015, the transitional justice bodies have not completed a single investigation of thousands of cases.
The Supreme Court order to the government in 2015 to amend the Enforced Disappearances, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act to remove the provision of amnesty in cases of gross human rights violations continues to be ignored.
The truth commission has received 63,718 complaints and completed a preliminary investigation that involved recording of statements from only 3,787 of the complainants. Similarly, the disappearance commission received 3,223 complaints from family members saying their loved ones had disappeared during the decade-long conflict. Of these, the commission is investigating only 2,506 complaints saying other cases didn’t fall under its jurisdiction. The commission has, so far, completed preliminary investigation into the complaints from 67 districts.
The commissions have received complaints against Dahal, who was the commander of the rebel force, and Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, under whose prime ministership an emergency was imposed in the country at the height of the conflict. The highest number of enforced disappearances was reported during Deuba’s tenure.
Human rights activists say the government announcement to provide free treatment for the victims is a positive move. But it’s not doing a favour to the victims and there seem to be some malafide intentions behind it, according to them.
“It is clear that Oli is trying to use transitional justice to threaten Dahal,” said Charan Prasain, a human rights activist. “The bill to amend the transitional justice Act would have been endorsed by Parliament now had Oli been really concerned about the victims.”
If what happened at Tuesday’s Secretariat meeting of the ruling party is anything to go by, a conciliation between the two chairs is nowhere in sight.
Oli on Wednesday skipped the Secretariat meeting, saying he has more pressing issues to mind. Second rung leaders in the party have been making efforts to effect a patch-up between Oli and Dahal. However, according to insiders, none appears to be in a mood to make concessions.
Political analysts say there are concerns that transitional justice could fall victim to the growing conflict in the ruling party.
According to Shyam Shrestha, a political commentator who follows the left politics closely, Oli is using every means to retain his superiority in the party and transitional justice is one of them.
“Whenever Oli lands in trouble in the party, he uses transitional justice as a bargaining tool against the Maoists,” said Shrestha. “He is playing the same trick now, albeit in a more visible manner.”