Rights body wants transitional justice process to address minors’ issueBill to amend law fails to take cognisance of the use of children in insurgency, rights activists say.
Amid reluctance of successive governments to include the issues of minor combatants of the Maoist insurgency in the transitional justice process, the National Human Rights Commission has recommended that the government address the issue based on international humanitarian law.
Expressing its reservation over the amendment bill to Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, 2014, the constitutional human rights watchdog has presented a 12-point recommendation calling for addressing the issues of the child combatants, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The bill to amend the Act registered in Parliament on July 15 has received widespread criticism with allegations that it favours the perpetrators with a larger motive to grant them amnesty.
Despite several protests from the former minor combatants, the transitional justice process has failed to take cognisance of their issues. The amendment bill also remains silent on the issue of use of minors in the insurgency that lasted from 1996 to 2006.
“The amendment bill needs to be revised at par with international law and practices,” said Top Bahadur Magar, chairperson of the human rights commission, at a press meet on Sunday. “Crimes against humanity and use of minor combatants during the insurgency must be studied and addressed based on the principle of transitional justice.”
He said that the commission has forwarded the recommendations to the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Law and Justice, and the Parliament Secretariat.
Former minor combatants say they have strongly demanded that the government bring their issues under the transitional justice process.
Lenin Bista, coordinator of the Discharged People's Liberation Army Struggle Committee, said the committee has asked Minister for Law and Justice Govinda Sharma Bandi to include their issues in the amendment bill.
“The government seems to be in a bid to wrap up the transitional justice process by providing reparations and compensations to the victims,” Bista told the Post. “However, the use of minors is a war crime. The perpetrators must be booked.”
Different international humanitarian laws—treaties and customs—prohibit the recruitment and use of children under the age of 15 as soldiers, and are defined as a war crime by the International Criminal Court.
Bista said the Nepal government and the political parties have remained silent though the United Nations has said minors were used during the decade-long Maoist insurgency.
As many as 4,008 combatants were disqualified during the verification by the United Nations Mission in Nepal.
The UN mission said 2,973 of them were minors, while 1,035 were disqualified as they were recruited after the first ceasefire of May 26, 2006—six months before the peace deal was signed.
“Thousands of minor combatants were used during the insurgency and this was established during the UN verification process. This is clearly a war crime,” Govinda Sharma Paudyal, a former member of the human rights commission, told the Post. “However, the government has always tried to downplay the issue and failed to include it in the transitional justice process.”
The commission has recommended actions in several cases of serious violations of human rights during the insurgency. Though the commission has taken decisions regarding the minor combatants after the then CPN-Maoist joined the peace process in November 2006, it doesn’t say whether it is a war crime.
In June 2008, the commission directed the government to take the minor combatants out of the camps, where they were taking shelter after the peace process began, and rehabilitate them in their communities ensuring education, training and jobs for them.
Different human rights organisations and associations of the conflict victims too have made several recommendations for a revision of the bill, including listing the use of minor combatants as a human rights violation.
“The use of minors is definitely a violation of international human rights law, and a war crime,” Nirajan Thapaliya, executive director of Amnesty International Nepal, told the Post. “However, attempts have always been made not to include them in the transitional justice process.”
The government maintained that no cases of war crimes or crimes against humanity occurred during the insurgency. However, in its different decisions the constitutional human rights watchdog has said that such crimes did take place.
In its investigation report on the Bandarmudhe incident, the commission said it was the case of violation of international human rights law. Thirty-nine people were killed and 72 others were injured when then Maoist rebels ambushed a crowded bus at Bandarmudhe in Madi, Chitwan, on June 6, 2005.
“Violation of the international human rights law means it is a case of crime against humanity,” Khimananda Basyal, who oversees the transitional justice section at the commission, told the Post.
The commission had a similar observation in the Doramba incident. As many as 21 Maoists were killed by the then Royal Nepal Army after capture in Doramba of Ramechhap district on August 17, 2003.
The former child combatants say the transitional justice process will remain incomplete unless their issues are addressed. They have also warned the political leadership not to forget that war crimes fall under universal jurisdiction, which could be prosecuted in other countries as well.
“The use of minors is a serious issue,” Sagar Limbu, a former child combatant, told the Post. “Our political leadership must understand that transitional justice will be incomplete unless our issues are addressed.”
Man Bahadur Aryal, a joint secretary at the Ministry of Law, said the ministry has received suggestions from the human rights commission and victims’ organisations to include the issue of former child combatants in the amendment bill.
“We are in a discussion phase,” he told the Post. “The government is yet to form its position on the matter.”