Two transitional justice commissions getting another term extensionBut conflict victims say the commissions have done very little to deserve added tenure.
While extending the terms of the two transitional justice commissions by around six months in February, the government had said the existing legal hurdles in the transitional justice process will be cleared by the time of another extension as a new elected government would be in place.
The KP Sharma Oli government, which had dissolved the House of Representatives and announced snap polls a couple of months earlier, had issued an ordinance to extend the terms of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons till July 15.
But on February 23, the Supreme Court reinstated the lower house, shutting down the prospect of snap polls called for April and May. A new elected government is not in place, as announced by Prime Minister Oli, and the legal hurdles in the transitional justice process remain.
The terms of the two transitional justice bodies and their office-bearers will expire in less than a month from now, and the government is once again preparing to extend their terms.
“There is no option other than term extension,” Minister for Law and Justice Lila Nath Shreshta, told the Post. “We wish we could revise the transitional justice Act as directed by the Supreme Court, but the government alone cannot do it.”
On February 26, 2015, the Supreme Court had directed the government to amend around half a dozen provisions in the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Act, 2014—the provisions that allowed amnesty even in cases of serious human rights violation.
Amending the Act is a must to prosecute the incidents of serious crimes and human rights violations that were perpetrated by the Maoist rebels and the state security forces during the decade-long Maoist insurgency.
But despite the court’s order and calls from conflict victims and human rights organisations to amend the Act, subsequent governments since the Maoists joined peaceful politics in 2006 and political parties have paid lip service to the concerns of the conflict victims.
The two transitional justice bodies were formed in 2015 with a mandate to investigate and prosecute the conflict-era crimes within two years. Over the years, they have undergone several term extensions, with another one imminent, and accomplished very little of their mandate.
“The government plans to issue an ordinance within next two weeks to extend the terms of the two transitional justice bodies,” Law Minister Shrestha said.
He did not say how long the terms would be extended this time.
Concerning the pending amendment to the transitional justice Act, the minister said he could not build a consensus with the Nepali Congress and the CPN (Maoist Centre).
Meanwhile, conflict victims have said that the two transitional justice commissions have done nothing tangible towards providing justice to thousands of victims and that they don’t deserve another term extension.
“The commissions were formed to provide justice to the victims but their roles have been limited to providing jobs to some people,” Maina Karki, chairperson of Conflict Victims’ Common Platform, told the Post. “The present leaderships in both the commissions are no better than the previous ones.”
The government in January last year had appointed new teams in both the commissions relieving the previous leaderships that had failed to accomplish the expected goals even after working for more than four years.
Around one and half years in, the present leaderships of the two commissions too haven’t achieved much.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has severely affected our performance,” Ganga Dhar Adhikari, spokesperson for the disappearance commission, told the Post. “Despite the challenges we have accomplished some remarkable tasks like issuing identity cards to the victims and completing the preliminary investigations of all cases.”
Among the 3,223 cases filed with the two commissions, the disappearance commission has shortlisted 2,510 cases that it says fall under its jurisdiction. The previous team in the commission, led by Lokendra Mallick, had completed the preliminary investigations filed from most parts of the country, except from 10 districts.
The incumbent leadership of the commission under Yubraj Subedi carried out the preliminary investigations in the remaining districts and issued identity cards to some 500 victims.
“We could have started the exhumation work in some potential burial sites had the situation been normal,” Subedi said.
He added that it would take at least six more months to start detailed investigations of the cases filed with the commission.
The truth commission too has limited its works to issuing identity cards and conducting preliminary studies of the recorded cases. Of the 63,718 cases filed with the commission, it has completed preliminary investigations of only 5,000 cases—3,500 cases were studied under the previous leadership.
“Both the commissions are highlighting distribution of identity cards as their significant work,” Surendra Khatri, general secretary of the Conflict Victims’ National Network, told the Post. “The cards are useless unless they can be used to access state facilities and subsidies.”
Bishnu Pokharel, a member of the truth commission, said they are preparing to carry out detailed investigations into the cases that are ready.
“We are also preparing to recommend reparation and compensation to the victims very soon,” she told the Post. “We are doing the best we can. We hope we will have something to show by the time our tenure expires.”
The conflict victims have no faith in the commissions and their officials though. They have accused the commissions of keeping them in the dark.
The pandemic is just an excuse, they say.
“We have wasted a crucial time of our lives fighting for justice,” said Karki, whose husband was killed by the Maoists in 2004. “I have no hope that my family will get justice in my lifetime. But I will continue to raise my voice until my last breath.”