Conflict victims ask lawmakers to get transitional justice bill right this timeThey fear the government will use the bill to give amnesty for murders.
As the Law, Justice and Human Rights Committee of the House of Representatives starts the process of finalising the bill to amend the transitional justice Act, conflict victims are demanding clear assurances against amnesty in serious human rights violations.
The bill to amend the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act registered in the lower house in March is under consideration in Parliament. On May 19, the House had formed an 11-member subcommittee to find out meeting points among the parties after discussions on the revision proposals on the bill. As many as 28 amendments have been proposed, many of which incorporate the demands raised by the victims and the national and international human rights communities.
Organising an interaction in the Capital on Sunday, conflict victims and human rights defenders asked lawmakers from the Parliament’s human rights committee to make sure the Act is amended only after it ensures revelation of the truth in atrocities, proper reparations and prosecution of perpetrators of heinous crimes.
“We have already waited very long. I urge you [lawmakers] to make sure the victims aren’t deceived this time,” said Gopal Shah, chairman of the Conflict Victims National Network, asking the parties not to use the law as a bargaining tool to serve their vested interests.
The victims said a generation has been wasted in the quest for justice and they don’t have the patience to wait any more. A person who was born when the Maoist insurgency started in 1996 is 27 years old now, and one born in 2006, the year of the signing of the peace accord, is around 17 years old.
The 2006 Comprehensive Peace Accord explicitly stipulated that both sides—the state and the Maoists—would make public, within 60 days of the accord’s signing, information about the real names, castes, and addresses of those who disappeared or were killed during the insurgency, and would inform their family members. The government and the Maoist party also agreed to initiate the transitional justice process in six months.
However, the victims of the atrocities from the security forces and the Maoists still await justice, they said.
“Pledge is what we have got all these years, we want delivery now. This is possible only when the Act is amended incorporating the international norms and the Supreme Court’s ruling from 2015,” said Suman Adhikari, a former chairperson of the Conflict Victims Common Platform whose father was killed by then Maoist fighters in 2002.
The apex court in 2015 had directed the government to amend the Act revising the amnesty provisions. However, the amended bill has provisions targeted at shielding the perpetrators of serious human rights violations.
The bill has listed ‘cruel murder’ or murder after torture, rape, enforced disappearances and inhuman and cruel torture as a serious rights violation. But ‘murder’ is just a human rights violation, therefore amnestiable, according to the bill. The victims and human rights defenders fear the government will use the provision as a means to provide amnesty in murder cases. As many as 17,000 people lost their lives at the hands of security forces and then Maoist fighters.
Addressing the interaction, cross-party lawmakers said they will work to revise the bill with the aim of doing justice to the victims. Ammar Bahadur Thapa of the CPN (Unified Socialist) said his party believes transitional justice must be victim-driven and the existing law cannot ensure justice to the victims. “I have proposed amendments to the bill to make it victim-centric,” the lawmaker said. “I commit to make every effort to revise the Act to make it on par with international practice.”
On Sunday, the sub-committee also sought suggestions from the National Human Rights Commission for the Act’s revision. The commission suggested that any revision in the Act must start with the categorisation of ‘human rights violations’ and ‘serious violations of human rights.’
“We also suggested making sure there is representation of victims in the selection of chairpersons and members of the two transitional justice bodies,” Surya Dhungel, a member of the constitutional human rights watchdog, told the Post. The commission also suggested having a provision in the Act explaining what happens if the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on the Enforced Disappeared Persons fail to complete the work within the stipulated time.
The bill envisions giving the commissions two years to accomplish their jobs. There are over 66,000 complaints in their combined dockets.
“We have also demanded a public apology from the leaders of the major parties for delaying justice,” said Dhungel.
Mahesh Bartaula, a member of the sub-committee and a CPN-UML whip, said even though the government wants to rush the bill they still want to consult all stakeholders before giving it a full shape. “We will also consult victims, human rights experts and other stakeholders. We are in no mood to hurry,” he told the Post.
The victims say the Parliament’s human rights committee has a chance to correct the faults in the previous law in favour of victims. “There is an opportunity for the House committee to correct the faulty provisions in the bill once and for all. Let’s see how well it uses the opportunity,” said Maina Karki, a Nepali Congress lawmaker who is also a conflict victim.