With no House, amendment to transitional justice law, as per court order, remains uncertainThe government is, instead, preparing to extend the terms of the commissioners assigned to look into conflict-era cases. Why not bring an ordinance to amend the Act, victims ask.
The wait for justice for the victims of decade-long armed conflict between 1996 and 2006 has already been a long one.
Now, it seems certain that the wait will continue.
Ministers from the KP Sharma Oli government had been promising representatives of the conflict victims to table a bill to amend the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Act-2014 in the winter session of the federal parliament to revise the law as directed by the Supreme Court. But Oli has dissolved Parliament after he was unable to face opposition from his own Nepal Communist Party.
Soon after the law was enacted in 2015, the Supreme Court, ruling on a writ petition, had directed the government to amend the Act saying that mass pardon cannot be given to perpetrators of gross human rights violations like enforced disappearances, rapes, tourtures and extrajudicial killings.
The existing Act has several provisions that give the transitional justice commissions room for amnesty even in serious cases of human rights violations. However, since then no government has taken any concrete steps toward amending the Act as directed by the Supreme Court.
According to a member of the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons, one of the two transitional justice commissions, amending the law is imperative for delivering justice to the victims.
“It is not possible to deliver justice to the victims without revising the Act,” Sunil Ranjan Singh, a member of the disappearance commission, told the Post. “We, along with the victims, urge the government to revise the Act through an ordinance.”
Earlier on November 29, during a meeting with the office-bearers of the Conflict Victims Common Platform, then Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe had said that the government was working sincerely to revise the law during the winter session of Parliament. Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Gyawali had made similar commitments during his interaction with the victims on December 13.
In his questionable Cabinet reshuffle, Oli appointed a new law minister and he does not think that an amendment will happen.
“We need a broader consensus to amend the Act as per the court’s ruling,” newly appointed Law Minister Lilanath Shrestha told the Post.
According to Minister Shrestha, as the Nepali Congress and then Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) are the major stakeholders of the transitional justice, consent from Sher Bahadur Deuba, president of the main opposition, and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, co-chair of Nepal Communist Party, is necessary to amend the Act as per court’s order.
Dahal’s Maoist party, after factions of it broke away, became the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre) and this new version merged with the CPN-UML to form the Nepal Communist Party in 2017.
The government seems to be focused on extending the terms of the commissioners of the disappearance inquiry commission and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which expires on February 9 despite the commissions making little progress since they were formed in 2015.
The two commissions were given two years to complete the investigation into the conflict-era cases of human rights violations and recommend actions against the perpetrators. But their terms were extended by two more years in 2017, through an amendment in the Act, as they couldn’t complete even the process to collect the complaints. In January 2019, the government amended the Act once again to extend the terms of the two commissions by a year with the possibility of extension by another year.
So far, the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons has completed preliminary investigations into 2,506 cases while the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has completed preliminary investigations on 3,500 of the 63,718 cases that have been filed to it.
Talking to the Post, newly appointed Law Minister Shrestha said he is aware of the need to revise the Act to extend the tenure of the commissions.
“I can tell you about the term extension. I have already started a preparation to issue an ordinance for it,” Shrestha said.
The new teams of the chairpersons and members of the two commissions were appointed in January. This will be a third revision to the Act to extend the tenure of the commissions if the ordinance is issued as planned.
Victims are not surprised.
“I had a little hope even when Tumbahangphe and Gyawali assured us,” Deb Bahadur Maharjan, general secretary of the Conflict Victims Common Platform, told the Post. “The dissolution of the House has further dashed our hopes.”
The conflict victims say that Shrestha’s argument that it cannot revise the Act without consensus is nothing but an excuse to delay justice.
“The Oli government, if it is sincere towards the victims, can incorporate the directives of the Supreme Court through an ordinance,” Suman Adhikari, whose father Muktinath was shot dead by Maoist rebels in Lamjung after tying him to a tree in 2002, told the Post. “I fail to believe the government, which can dissolve Parliament abruptly, cannot revise the transitional justice Act without consensus.”