Can Bandi bring the transitional justice process on track?Victims and rights activists say it is possible if he doesn’t compromise on the stand that he has so far been taking.
When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was vacant in 2020, then ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) wanted to appoint advocate Govinda Sharma Bandi as its chair. Having had an understanding of the transitional justice process, the KP Sharma Oli government wanted him to lead the commission.
However, the Nepali Congress stood against the idea while some leaders from then CPN (Maoist Centre) faction too were not positive about his name. As a result Ganesh Datta Bhatta, an associate professor at Nepal Law Campus, became the chairperson of the commission.
Two years later, on Thursday Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, also the president of the Congress, appointed him the minister for law, justice and parliamentary affairs with the prime responsibility to facilitate the conclusion of the transitional justice process. The law and justice is the liaison ministry of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of the Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons.
Congress leaders say Deuba wanted to appoint him a minister months ago but the situation was not favourable.
Min Bishwakarma, a Congress Central Working Committee member close to Deuba, said Bandi was rewarded for his role in resolving the legal complexities whenever they surfaced. Bandi was actively involved in fighting a legal battle against the erstwhile KP Sharma Oli government’s decisions to dissolve the House of Representatives twice. Leaders from the ruling alliance were particularly happy with him as he was one of the persons who conceptualised the interpretative declaration to get the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact ratified.
“The ruling parties and the prime minister believe that he will play an instrumental role in concluding the long pending transitional justice process,” Bishwakarma told the Post. “He has a deep understanding of the matter.”
Considered close to Madhav Kumar Nepal, chairperson of the CPN (Unified Socialist), Bandi was a student leader of the CPN-UML-affiliated All Nepal National Free Students Union. He is also a former vice-chairperson of the Nepal Bar Association.
“Bandi is a common candidate of the ruling parties,” Haribol Gajurel, a central committee member of the Maoist Centre, told the Post. “He should have become a minister long ago. We are confident that the transitional justice process will head towards its conclusion with him leading the Law Ministry.”
It’s been more than 15 years since the Comprehensive Peace Accord was signed and seven years since the two transitional justice commissions were formed, but not much has been done to provide justice to thousands of victims of the decade-long Maoist insurgency.
The truth commission has received 63,792 complaints since its formation in February 2015. In the last seven years, the commission has recommended reparation and relief in 523 cases. Of which only 29 families have received reparation and relief worth Rs2.5 million.
The commission hasn’t recommended prosecution in a single complaint so far.
The performance of the disappearance commissions is not up to the mark either. The commission has received 3,223 complaints of enforced disappearances at the hands of state security forces and the Maoists. After a preliminary investigation, the commission has identified 2,484 cases as genuine although the International Committee of the Red Cross says 1,333 people are still missing in connection with the armed conflict.
The commission hasn’t concluded an investigation even in a single case.
While taking charge as the law minister on Thursday afternoon, Bandi said Prime Minister Deuba, in consultation with other ruling parties, has tasked him with concluding the transitional justice process.
“Transitional justice is an important issue that has been dragging on for years. My top priority is to take it towards the logical end,” he told the media. “It cannot move forward without amending the transitional justice Act based on the Supreme Court’s verdict.”
The Supreme Court in February 2015 directed the government to revise around half a dozen amnesty provisions in the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Act and make the law compatible with international standards. However, no government has taken the order seriously.
Bandi’s appointment coincides with calls from 49 organisations of conflict victims for amending the Act and concluding the transitional justice process at the earliest.
Issuing the Kathmandu Declaration, conflict victims have said they don't have faith in the existing transitional justice commissions where the leadership was appointed without meaningful consultations with the victims. In the 24-point declaration, they have demanded that the existing commissions be scrapped and capable chairpersons and members be appointed after a proper consultation.
Organising a press meet in the Capital on Thursday, they also demanded that victims be engaged in every process—from the revision to the Act to the appointments of the chairpersons and members to the commission.
They have also called for parties not to field human rights violators as candidates in the local elections.
Conflict victims say they are hopeful that Bandi, who in the past fought court cases on their behalf, as law minister, would take concrete initiatives to conclude the transitional justice process.
“We hope that he won’t make any compromises,” Maina Karki, chairperson of the Conflict Victims Common Platform, told the Post. “We urge him to move the ongoing process forward in consultation with the conflict victims.”
Bandi can serve for a maximum of six months as minister as he is not a member of parliament.
A person who is not a member of the House of the Representatives or the National Assembly can be appointed a minister only for six months. To continue as minister beyond six months, such an appointee needs to be elected a member of either the lower house or the upper house.
Bishwakarma said though no agreement has been made yet, there are chances that Bandi could be appointed to the National Assembly. “A position is vacant in the upper house and there are possibilities that Bandi finds a place there,” he said. “I believe he will be minister until the present government lasts.”
Rights activists who have long been pressing the government and political parties to conclude the transitional justice process say they too hope an honest effort from parties and the new law minister.
“We hope the new law minister does not get influenced by political parties,” Charan Prasain, a human rights activist, told the Post. “He has become a minister for a short period but he can still build a foundation to streamline the process.”