Conflict victims have high hopes amid fresh bid to deliver transitional justiceTwo decades since the end of the war, not much has been done to address the concerns of those who faced atrocities at the hands of the state and Maoists.
For the last 19 years, Lila Tamang from Morang has been continuously voicing to know the whereabouts of her husband Tanka, who was forcibly disappeared during the Maoist insurgency.
Tanka was arrested by a team of security forces comprising then Royal Nepal Army and Nepal Police personnel on October 19, 2003 from Sunawarsi Municipality never to be released again.
Lila’s cries to find her husband—or tell the truth about him—for the last two decades have been lost in the din of repeated commitments by politicians.
When the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Person was constituted in 2015, she was hopeful that she would sooner rather than later learn about her husband. It has been seven years since the formation of the commission, and she has not received any information on Tanka. The commission has done precious little, nothing more than collecting the complaints.
The government has now once again started consultations with the victims of the ten-year long “people’s war” in a bid to take the transitional justice process forward and conclude it effectively.
Lila was one the participants in the consultations held in Biratnagar in Province 1.
“This is not the first consultation held by the government, nor is this the first time I have participated in such consultations,” Lila told the Post over the phone from Biratnagar.
She, however, sounded optimistic.
“I sense the government is more serious compared to the past. I hope the government will implement our suggestions this time.”
Some 30 victims and 15 representatives from different organisations from Province 1 provided their feedback at Tuesday’s consultations attended by Minister for Law and Justice Govinda Sharma Bandi.
Such consultations, according to the ministry, will be held in all seven provinces.
Even two decades after the end of the war that led to 13,000 deaths and 1,333 disappearances, victims are still awaiting justice, as Nepali politicians have failed to demonstrate the required political will to conclude the transitional justice process.
International rights bodies including the United Nations have continuously pressed Nepal to address the concerns of the victims and ensure justice to them.
Representatives of the conflict victims, human rights activists and officials from the ministry had prepared questions under four themes—truth seeking, justice delivery, reparation and institutional reform—setting the basis for the consultations. The list of questions includes the suggestion to reform the commissions, change in the jurisdiction of the commissions and basis for reparations.
Suggestions for creating an environment for reconciliation in the cases other than serious human rights violations, and to form the basis for coordination between the National Human Rights Commission and the transitional justice commissions too have been sought from the victims.
Organising a press meet on May 23, Bandi had said the transitional justice process will move ahead by taking the victims into confidence and the consultations were a step towards that direction.
He said Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, 2014 will be amended based on the feedback and the Supreme Court’s verdict.
“We are committed to concluding the transitional justice process. Transitional justice is my only major priority as a minister,” he said. “A bill to amend the Act will be registered in Parliament by mid-July.”
A five-member special bench led by then chief justice Kalyan Shrestha in February 2015, ordered the government to revise the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act-2014 saying that it failed to adhere to the principles of transitional justice and related international practices. The bench struck down almost a dozen provisions in the law and directed the government to ensure amnesty is not granted in cases of serious human rights violations committed during the decade-long insurgency.
However, the successive governments took no concrete steps towards its amendment despite repeated calls from international human rights organisations.
Conflict victims say ever since becoming minister, Bandi has been reaching out to the victims and human rights activists to adopt a credible process to ensure justice.
“We have clearly told the minister that removal of chairpersons and members from both the transitional justice commissions are our bottom line,” Suman Adhikari, founding chairperson of the Conflict Victim’s Common Platform, told the Post. “Seeing him working proactively has made us hopeful. However, it is the result that matters ultimately.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has received 63,718 complaints while the number of cases registered with the disappearance commission stands at 3,223.
Except for recommending reparations in 424 cases, the truth commission hasn’t made any significant progress in investigating the complaints.
The disappearance commission which is conducting investigations into only 2,484 cases saying others do not fall under its jurisdiction too hasn’t made any remarkable progress towards revealing the whereabouts of those forcibly disappeared during the insurgency.
“The government seems serious this time. Let’s hope the commitments from the law minister translate into results,” Charan Prasai, a human rights activist, told the Post. “The transitional justice process will move on a credible path if the Act is amended as per the Supreme Court’s verdict. There is also a need to appoint teams in the two commissions by following a transparent process.”
The conflict victims, who participated in Tuesday’s consultations, say they expect that they don’t have to wait for long for justice now.
“My father was killed by then Maoist cadres on January 16, 2002. I have been fighting for justice for the last two decades,” Krishna Govinda Chemjong from Dhankuta told the Post over the phone. “The consultations have raised hope that we will get justice soon. I want to see the government walk the talk.”
Lila, whose husband was disappeared, said conflict victims have communicated to government officials in no uncertain terms that this is the last time they are participating in the consultation process.
“Victims will lose faith in the transition justice process completely,” Lila told the Post, “if they are betrayed this time again.”