Conflict victims on tenterhooks with House term on the verge of expiryThey fear the bill to amend Transitional Justice Act may not be endorsed by Parliament, allowing for an ordinance.
The government on Tuesday rolled back its decision to give continuity to the term of the House of Representatives until the first meeting of the lower house elected after the November 20 elections. The rollback did not necessarily sit well with everyone, conflict victims most notably.
Following widespread criticism, it withdrew the provisions to fix the terms of the lower house and provincial assemblies through amendments in electoral laws. While ministers in the Sher Bahadur Deuba Cabinet claim there is no clarity on how long the existing House can function, the Election Commission and experts on constitutional and parliamentary affairs say it cannot hold meetings after the filing of Proportional Representation (PR) nominations.
Going by their claim, the lower house can function until September 16 as the parties will have to submit the closed list of candidates under the PR system on September 17 and 18. With hardly 10 days to the deadline, there are concerns over the future of vital bills including the one related to the amendment to Enforced Disappearance Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, 2014.
The bill that was registered in Parliament on July 15 is under deliberation in the Law, Justice and Human Rights Committee. The parliamentary committee tasked with finding a meeting point among political parties started discussions with lawmakers only on Wednesday. It plans to consult the victims of the Maoist insurgency on Thursday and with other stakeholders thereafter.
“We want the ongoing parliamentary session to endorse the bill after a consensus among the parties and are working accordingly,” Krishna Bhakta Pokhrel, chairperson of the committee, told the Post. “However, we are running out of time.”
The bill first needs to be endorsed by the House committee and then the entire House. It also needs to get through the National Assembly and consequently be authenticated by the President after the Speaker certifies it, which is a time-consuming process.
The victims say while it is welcome that the committee is holding broad consultations, they fear the bill won’t be presented in the lower house before the expiry of its term.
“We want the House to endorse the bill after a revision,” Janak Raut, a former general secretary of the Conflict Victims Common Platform, told the Post. “If it isn’t endorsed by this House, the government can issue an ordinance with handpicked provisions.”
Raut said there could be corrections if the bill is discussed and endorsed by Parliament but the government has the luxury to issue an ordinance of its liking. The government on July 14 decided to extend the terms of the Commission of the Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission until October 17. A revision in the Act is a must to keep the two transitional justice mechanisms alive after mid-October. If the existing parliament doesn’t endorse the amendment bill, which envisions extending the terms of the two commissions by a maximum of two years, the government will have to issue the ordinance.
“We don’t want the Act to be revised through an ordinance as the government will definitely insert amnesty provisions in it,” Geeta Rasailee, vice-chairperson of the Conflict Victims National Women’s Network, told the Post.
In addition to conflict victims, national and international human rights organisations, rights activists and the lawmakers, mainly from the main opposition CPN-UML, have objected to several provisions in the amendment bill, arguing that they are targeted at shielding perpetrators of grave rights violations from prosecution.
They are lobbying for a revision to the list of non-amnestiable crimes, setting up separate investigation units with the commissions, removing the statute of limitations in insurgency-era crimes and clearing hurdles in appealing the decisions of the Special Court, which is to be formed in the Supreme Court to hear war-era cases of atrocities.
They have also questioned the fairness in the appointments of judges to the Special Court and non-inclusion of the issues of child soldiers used during the insurgency.
The bill says “cruel murder”—murder after torture, rape, enforced disappearances and inhumane or cruel torture committed against unarmed or ordinary people during the insurgency are serious human rights violations—are non-amnestiable. It, however, doesn’t list war crimes and crimes against humanity under serious human rights violations.
The bill has opened the door for amnesty for murder by stating that only “cruel murder” will be non-amnestiable, thus providing a loophole to define all murders as non-cruel, say the victims.
On Wednesday, conflict victims put their concerns before Abeer Hashayka, who looks after the Nepal desk at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva, on her recent Nepal visit.
“Hashakya said her office was closely following the developments in Nepal and promised to convey a clear message to the Nepal government through appropriate channels,” said Raut, who was also present in the meeting.