Conflict victims worried as fate of transitional justice commissions hangs in the balanceTerms of Truth and Reconciliation and Enforced Disappeared Persons commissions expire on October 17.
On July 15, the government decided to extend the terms of two transitional justice commissions by three months hoping that the bill to amend the Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons and Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act 2014, would be endorsed by the federal parliament.
The government registered the amendment bill at the Parliament secretariat on the same day. However, the bill couldn’t get through the parliament following strong objections by the victims of the decade-long Maoist insurgency, human rights defenders and human rights organisations. Along with the revisions of several provisions of the Act, the bill envisioned extending the terms of the two transitional justice mechanisms by two years at the maximum.
But the bill has turned null and void with the expiry of the term of the House of Representatives on September 20. As the terms of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons expire on October 17, it is unclear what will happen of the transitional justice process.
“We had hoped that the Act would be revised by Parliament after incorporating our concerns. But that didn’t happen,” Janak Raut, a victim of torture at the hands of [then Royal] Nepal Army and the former general secretary of the Conflict Victims’ Common Platform, told the Post. “The victims want the continuation of the commissions where their complaints have been registered. They need to remain alive even for the safekeeping of our complaints.”
The truth commission has received 63,718 complaints while the disappearance commission has 3,223 complaints in its database. Formed in February 2015, the two transitional justice commissions have completed seven years, the commissions have not been able to make any significant progress towards investigating the complaints and providing justice to the victims.
The officials at the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs say there is a common understanding that both the commissions must get continuation. “The commissions cannot be dissolved without completing their jobs,” Phanindra Gautam, spokesperson at the ministry, told the Post. “However, we are yet to ascertain how the terms can be extended.”
Those, who have closely followed the transitional justice process, say there are two options before the government to extend the commission’s terms: first, by issuing an ordinance and second, using the authority to ‘remove difficulties.’
On July 15, the government extended the terms as per Section 42 of the Commission for the Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons and Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act 2014, which authorises the Nepal government to ‘remove difficulties.’
This provision, however, requires the government to present an ordinance in Parliament within 30 days. “As per my understanding so far, the government is in no mood to issue an ordinance,” said an official at the ministry who wished to remain anonymous. “The terms will be extended using the authority delegated by Section 42. The decision will be tabled once the new House comes into existence.”
Even if the terms of the commissions are extended, they will remain defunct in lack of leadership. Three months back, the government gave continuity to the commissions while bidding farewell to their chairpersons and members saying they failed to perform effectively. The five-member team led by Ganesh Datta Bhatta at the truth commission and Yubraj Subedi at the disappearance commission retired on July 16.
The amendment bill envisions appointing chairpersons and members in the commissions through a consultative process. The victims for the past several years have been demanding that they should be consulted while filling the leadership positions at the commissions.
“We have no option but to wait until the new House decides on the amendment bill,” said Raut. “Let’s hope the to-be-elected lawmakers feel the pain of the victims.”