Nepali state has lied, once again, on transitional justice, conflict victims sayThose awaiting justice write to UN chief, urging him to use his good offices to help conclude stalled peace process.
Nepal has lied, again, before the world.
That’s what the theme of a letter the victims of the decade-long Maoist insurgency have sent to Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations.
Addressing the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Monday, Nepal’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Narayan Khadka said that the government is committed to concluding the transitional justice process through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons. He also said there will be no blanket amnesty in the cases of serious violation of human rights.
“As a member elected for the second term to the UN Human Rights Council, we continue to add value through a political and impartial approach to human rights,” said Khadka before the UN General Assembly, the only platform where all 193 member states have their representation.
Conflict victims, however, have taken exception to Khadka’s statement.
According to them, Khadka, like his predecessors, has once again made a hollow promise before the international community, as the Nepali state has done next to nothing to conclude the remaining tasks of the peace process—that is addressing the concerns of victims—even 15 years after the insurgency ended.
It has already been more than six years since the two transitional justice bodies were set up.
In February 2019, the then foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali had made a similar commitment while addressing the 40th session of the Human Rights Council.
In their letter to Guterres, sent through the United Nations country office in Nepal, the conflict victims have made one explicit request—“don’t believe the claims” made by Nepali ministers.
The victims have said that successive governments in Nepal have for long done nothing but paid lip service and made false commitments at international forums, including the United Nations, on transitional justice.
“We would like to request you to take with a pinch of salt what our foreign minister has remarked at the General Assembly, and to take steps in leveraging your influence to the Nepal government so that Nepal’s long-stalled transitional justice issue is addressed and thousands of victims served truth and justice,” reads the letter, a copy of which was seen by the Post.
Through the letter, the victims have requested Guterres to remind the Nepal government of its obligation to amend the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act 2014, appoint new leaderships to the transitional justice commissions and make public a comprehensive roadmap with a timeline to conclude the transitional justice process.
“We have heard the same lies again and again over the years. Successive governments have been making similar commitments at the national and international forums but they have done nothing substantial,” Suman Adhikari, former chairperson of the Conflict Victims Common Platform, told the Post.
“The ruling parties are saying the transitional justice process will be concluded soon but they don’t know how and when. They might be thinking they will end the process by providing a relief package without a prosecution in the cases related to them. But we won’t let that happen.”
Revision to the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act and concluding the remaining tasks of the peace process by equipping the two commissions with resources are included in the Common Minimum Programme of the current ruling alliance made public on August 9.
On Thursday, the CPN (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal said that concluding the transitional justice process is a priority as “we have been continuously cornered” over the issue.
“We have been cornered for the last 15 years... since the Comprehensive Peace Accord,” said Dahal at a function organised by Sahid Pratisthan, an organisation close to his party. “We will activate the transitional justice commissions and work to provide relief to the victims’ families while also working to conclude the peace process.”
Those who have closely followed Nepal’s transitional justice process say when the leaders say “concluding the transitional justice process” without making efforts to amend the Act, it gives a meaning that they want to wrap it up in a way to skip prosecution.
The Supreme Court in 2015 had directed the government to amend the amnesty provisions in the Act.
Integration of the Maoist combatants in the security forces and rehabilitation of those who aren’t integrated; socio-political transformation of the country and justice for the victims of human rights violations were the three broad goals envisioned by the Comprehensive Peace Accord signed in 2006, which brought then CPN (Maoist) to mainstream politics.
Though the first two goals have largely been fulfilled, justice continues to elude thousands of insurgency victims even 15 years after the peace deal was signed.
Now with the Sher Bahadur Deuba government in place, backed by the Maoist Centre, there are talks about concluding the remaining tasks of the peace process. But only time will tell whether the government can translate its promise into action.
“The ruling parties might be thinking that they can push the transitional justice process in the way that favours them,” Lokendra Mallick, former chairperson of the disappearance commission, told the Post. “If the transitional justice process is pushed through without amending the Act and without having a clear roadmap, it will be ill-intentioned.”
Thousands of cases have been filed at the two commissions.
Along with Dahal, cases have been filed against Prime Minister Deuba. The highest numbers of cases of disappearance were reported when Deuba was prime minister. The government led by Deuba had imposed an emergency on November 26, 2001.
The fact that Deuba was prime minister most of the time during the insurgency, he and Dahal are the major stakeholders when it comes to transitional justice.
As Deuba plans to expand his Cabinet, Govinda Bandi, a human rights lawyer, is being tipped as the next law minister, with a view to concluding the peace process at the earliest.
Since Bandi is not a member of any of the houses of the federal parliament, he can, if appointed, serve as a minister only for six months.
Bandi has fought several cases on behalf of the conflict victims and has a sound understanding of transitional justice.
He declined to comment.
Sources familiar with the development, however, say Bandi has for long maintained a position that he won’t compromise on the ruling of the 2015 Supreme Court order and international principles on human rights.
“It looks like the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre believe that if the transitional justice process is concluded when they are in power, they can avoid prosecution,” Gopal Shah, chairperson of Conflict Victims National Network who is also a Congress leader, told the Post. “However, transitional justice is a complex process and this government doesn’t have a long life.”
Nepali Congress leader Deuba was appointed prime minister on July 13, a day after the Supreme Court overturned erstwhile prime minister KP Sharma Oli’s decision to dissolve the House and it defenestrated Oli from office over his misadventures. Deuba has the backing of the Maoist Centre. Even if the current government continues until next elections, its life is just about a little over a year.
Commissioners at the transitional commissions say it will take four to five years to conclude the remaining tasks of the peace process, as no work has been done to investigate the complaints and recommend actions.
“Investigation into cases that took place more than 15 years ago is not easy,” said Gangadhar Adhikari, spokesperson for the disappearance commission, told the Post. “We need at least four to five years to complete the job.”