Differences over definition of murder killing key TJ billAs parties dispute over amnestiable and non-amnestiable crimes in parliamentary committee, the term of the House of Representatives expires at midnight Saturday.
The government was all prepared to present the disputed amendment bill on the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
The Law, Justice and Human Rights Committee of the parliament was expected to finalise the bill in the morning and it was to be presented in the lower house in the afternoon. Interestingly, CPN (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who rarely participates in House committee meetings, was also present at Wednesday’s meeting.
The committee couldn’t finalise the bill following differences among the ruling and opposition parties, mainly over whether to list murder as a serious violation of human rights. The ruling Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre said murder cannot be listed as non-amnestiable crime, while the CPN-UML said it was a serious human rights violation and the perpetrators involved in such crimes must be prosecuted.
After failing to find consensus on the issue, a seven-member taskforce was formed to work out a meeting point by Wednesday evening. However, the taskforce also couldn’t reach a conclusion with the parties sticking to their respective stances. “How can a murder not be serious violation of human rights?” asked Sher Bahadur Tamang, a member of the taskforce from the UML. “The ruling parties want to list it as an amnestiable crime. We didn’t agree.”
The bill says “cruel murder” or murder after torture, rape, enforced disappearances and inhumane or cruel torture committed against unarmed or ordinary people during the insurgency were serious human rights violations and are non-amnestiable.
The bill has opened the door for amnesty for murder by saying only “cruel murder” will be non-amnestiable, thus providing a loophole to define all murders as non-cruel and grant amnesty in all such cases, according to human rights activists.
The victims from the Maoist insurgency (1996-2006) have been objecting to the provision. So have the human rights activists and national and international human rights organisations.
However, the Congress, which was in government leadership during most of the insurgency years and the Maoist Centre, which launched the insurgency, want murder listed just as a violation of the human rights.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Barsha Man Pun, a Maoist Centre leader said they were ready to rename ‘cruel murder’ to ‘arbitrary murder’ but the CPN-UML disagreed.
“It seems the UML doesn’t want the bill to be endorsed by the current parliament. It is showing no flexibility,” Atahar Kamal Musalman, a member of the taskforce from the Congress, told the Post. “It is because of the UML that we couldn’t resolve the matter.”
Along with the issue of murder, there is also a dispute among the ruling and opposition parties over a provision in the bill to transfer insurgency-related cases that are sub judice in district and high courts to the Special Court, which will be formed to hear cases recommended by transitional justice commissions.
“We want the bill to be in line with international laws and practices and want to incorporate the concerns of the conflict victims and human rights organisations,” said Tamang. “However, the sole motive of the ruling parties is to amend the Act in a way that ensures amnesty even for the heinous crimes. It is simply unacceptable.”
In addition to their demand for listing murder as a serious violation of human rights, conflict victims and human rights organisations are also lobbying for setting up separate investigation units under the commissions, removing the statute of limitations on insurgency-era crimes, and clearing hurdles to appealing the decisions of the Special Court at the Supreme Court. They have also expressed doubts that the process to select judges for the Special Court would be fair and dissatisfaction over the bill’s exclusion of the concerns of child soldiers used by the Maoists.
They also want war crimes and crimes against humanity to be listed under serious human rights violations. Even though there has been an agreement among parties to allow appeal of the Special Court’s decision at the Supreme Court, the parties are reluctant to mention the terms “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” in the bill.
Conflict victims say they will reject any law that fails to address their concerns. “We want a victim-centric law but the government and the parties want to make the transitional justice process favourable to perpetrators,” Suman Adhikari, the founding chairperson of the Conflict Victims Common Platform, told the Post. Adhikari’s father was killed by the then Maoists in 2002.
“We want to see the amendment bill incorporate our concerns and the incumbent House to pass it.”
However, the dispute among the parties over the bill has increased the chances of the current House expiring without amending the transitional justice law. The term of the lower house ends in three days–at midnight on Saturday.
Krishna Bhakta Pokhrel, chairperson of the House committee, said he tried his best to forge consensus among the parties by Wednesday but did not succeed.
“I told the Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs that I would call a committee meeting on Wednesday evening and take a decision through majority votes if he wishes. But he said he doesn’t want to push the bill without consensus,” Pokhrel told the Post. “Now the bill’s fate hangs in the balance.”