Conflict victims want new leaders in two commissions as their terms near endJustice continues to elude victims of the decade-long war because of multiple reasons including a lack of will on the part of politicians.
The Ministry of Law and Justice has completed consultations with conflict victims and civil society members in seven provinces. It will finalise the bill to amend the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, 2014 after final consultation in Kathmandu within a week.
While revising the amnesty provisions in the existing law is the major focus of the amendment bill, it is crucial to deciding the tenure of two transitional justice commissions—the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The two transitional commissions were formed in February 2015 with a two-year mandate to complete investigations into the conflict-era cases of human rights violations and recommend reparations and measures for non-repetition of such crimes after digging out the reasons of the conflict. However, the commissions couldn’t even collect the complaints during the period. The government, through a revision in the Act, extended their terms by another two years.
In its four years of tenure, the commissions gathered 63,718 complaints with little progress in investigating the cases. Between 2015 and 2019, the disappearance commission received 3,223 complaints from family members saying their loved ones had disappeared during the decade-long conflict.
As the truth commission led by Surya Kiran Gurung and the Lokendra Mallick-led disappearance commission failed to act effectively to investigate the complaints and provide justice, the government in January 2019 revised the Act, clearing the path to remove the teams led by them. The revision in the Act made it possible to extend the terms of the commissions by two years though the teams led by Gurung and Mallick got extension only till April 15, 2019 opening doors to appoint new leaderships.
The new teams led by Ganesh Datta Bhatta and Yubraj Subedi were appointed in January 2020 to the truth and the disappearance commissions, respectively, despite reservations from the victims, civil society and international human rights commissions. As they complete more than two years, the Bhatta- and Subedi-led teams too have been blamed for following what previous committees did.
“Removal of the existing teams from both the commissions and appointment of the new leadership following a transparent process is our bottom line. Our friends have given similar suggestions in all the consultations so far,” Suman Adhikari, whose father was killed by the Maoists in 2002, told the Post. “I am hopeful that the Act is amended accordingly and also gets implemented.”
The tenure of the existing commission ends on July 16. The Act needs to be amended to extend the tenure of the commissions. Minister for Law and Justice Govinda Sharma Bandi has said that he was inducted to the Sher Bahadur Deuba Cabinet to conclude the transitional justice process. Talking to the Post, he said the amendment bill will be registered in Parliament before mid-July.
“The amendment bill will be drafted incorporating the feedback from the consultations, the 2015 verdict of the Supreme Court and international practices,” he said.
The Supreme Court in February 2015 struck down around a dozen amnesty provisions in the Act and directed the government to revise it ensuring that there would be no amnesty in serious cases of human rights violations such as rape, murder, enforced disappearances and torture.
Bandi, however, said he was not sure whether the existing leadership in the two transitional justice commissions will get their term extended. “Let us first complete all the consultations. We will reach a conclusion before giving a final shape to the amendment bill,” he said.
The conflict victims and civil society leaders say the government must appoint teams to both commissions with a proper consultation so that every stakeholder takes ownership of the transitional justice process.
“We have no faith in the existing leadership,” Gopal Shah, chairperson of the Conflict Victims’ National Platform, told the Post. “Appointment of the new leadership is a starting point for a credible transitional justice process.”
Leaders from both the commissions claim that despite the Covid pandemic, lack of legal amendment and a human resource crunch, they have made some progress with preliminary investigation into the complaints and providing reparations and relief to the victims.
“We have worked relentlessly. Sorting out over 60,000 complaints is time consuming. Despite that, we have provided identity cards to hundreds of victims and recommended reparations in more than 600 cases,” Bhatta told the Post. “We are happy to leave the commission any day. Our only concern is in the name of revamping the process, we might end up losing all the achievements made so far.”
As their tenure nears end, both the commissions are preparing their reports incorporating their achievements for submission to the government before they wrap up.
“It is wrong to say we haven’t done anything,” Bhatta said. “The disappearance commission has completed preliminary investigation in all the cases while it is preparing for a detailed investigation. We have already started identifying the perpetrators. Even if we don’t get an extension, the new team will have an easy way ahead because we have created a good foundation for the final investigation.”