International rights bodies call on Nepal to stop stalling enforced disappearance inquiriesThree global rights organisations say that international partners should strongly back victims’ needs and credible legal process.
International rights organisations on Monday said that Nepal should promptly enforce Supreme Court rulings and permit the regular courts to try cases of enforced disappearance and other grave international crimes.
Issuing a press statement on the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said that Nepal’s international partners should stand with the victims of serious crimes under international law, including enforced disappearance, and press the Nepali government to uphold its domestic and international legal obligations and carry out the Supreme Court’s rulings.
Pointing out the failure to carry out the Supreme Court orders to investigate gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law during the conflict from 1996 to 2006, ICJ senior international legal adviser for South Asia Mandira Sharma said that the government of Nepal stands in blatant violation of express orders of the apex court.
“The Nepali government stands in blatant violation of express orders of the Supreme Court by failing to conduct a credible, timely transitional justice process,” said Sharma.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said that the government had used a sham transitional justice process that does not provide truth, reconciliation, justice, or accountability but instead shields perpetrators while denying the victims their rights.
“The families of victims of enforced disappearance suffer deep anguish, not knowing what happened to their loved ones, while the Nepali government has used a sham transitional justice process to block their efforts to discover the truth,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The current process does not provide truth, reconciliation, justice, or accountability, but instead shields perpetrators and denies victims their rights.”
The statement further said that despite establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which received over 60,000 complaints of abuses from the conflict era, it has failed to investigate a single case.
The parliament in 2014 had passed the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act that provided a legal framework for the two transitional justice commissions.
However, the act also authorised these commissions to recommend amnesty and mediate cases, even in grave crimes and gross violations of human rights, including enforced disappearances.
The Supreme Court in 2015 struck down these provisions and ordered the government to amend the act, following which, the government petitioned to overturn the ruling. The court rejected the petition in April 2020.
Given how successive governments have failed to amend the law since 2015, the United Nations has also declined to engage with Nepal’s transitional justice bodies because they do not meet basic international legal standards, especially concerning the broad provisions to grant amnesty to perpetrators.
Meanwhile, the victims and civil society organisations have been seeking meaningful consultations and appointments of commissioners only after the amendment of the law.
However, Nepal’s political parties have all, when they were in office, failed to hold consultations with victims, reads the statement.
Dinushika Dissanayake, deputy South Asia director at Amnesty International, said that transitional justice has been treated as a political bargaining chip to be bartered in opaque negotiations between politicians since the war ended 15 years ago.
“A credible process to establish the fate of the disappeared and provide justice, truth, and reparation for these and other crimes needs to earn the trust of victims and place their needs at its heart,” Dissanayake said.
The rights bodies, in the statement, pointing out that Nepal’s 2018 penal code has recognised enforced disappearance as a crime in Nepali domestic law, said that Nepal’s justice system should take up cases of enforced disappearance and prosecute alleged perpetrators where sufficient admissible evidence exists.
“The police in the past have refused to investigate cases, either initially by arguing that acts of enforced disappearance were not criminal offenses under national law, or on the pretext that the transitional justice commissions would investigate. Three years since the penal code criminalized enforced disappearance, nobody has been prosecuted under that law,” reads the statement.
The statement adds that progress toward justice and the rule of law can only be built on transparency, respect for victims’ needs, and enforcement of basic legal principles.
“Nepal’s government should protect human rights and not shield the perpetrators of criminal atrocities. Nepal’s international partners should make it clear that they stand in support of victims’ needs, justice, accountability, and the rule of law,” Sharma said.