Transitional justice commissions remain ineffective for a year without office bearersAlthough government bade farewell to office bearers, it hasn’t filled the posts following delay in revising the Act.
The government on July 3 extended the terms of the two transitional justice commissions that remain ineffective for a year without their office bearers.
Through the seventh extension in their terms, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons have got a new lease of life—their terms have been extended until January 24, 2024. As the law governing the commissions allows only their chairpersons and members to make decisions, the bodies cannot do anything until office bearers are appointed.
The two commissions have around 67,000 complaints in their dockets.
On July 15, 2022, the then Sher Bahadur Deuba government decided to extend the terms of the two commissions by three months, but bade farewell to their chairpersons and members promising that a new leadership would be appointed based on an amended Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act. However, a year since the decision, neither has the Act been amended nor have the commissions got their office bearers.
“Our job is just to guard the office. The bureaucrats don’t have any authority to make decisions on transitional justice,” Rishi Poudel, an information officer at the truth commission, told the Post. “We cannot do anything except wait for the appointment of new office bearers.”
Conflict victims, human rights activists, and domestic and international human rights organisations had been objecting to the previous appointments of the chairpersons and members as they were nominated based on political power-sharing. They had also questioned the competence of the appointees.
Although the government bade farewell to the office bearers last year, it hasn’t filled the vacancies following the delay in revising the Act. However, it is still uncertain when the Act will get amended.
After failed attempts to pass the amendment bill from the previous parliament last year, the government in March registered another bill in the House of Representatives. But around four months since its registration, the House is yet to agree on various provisions of the bill. After a preliminary discussion in the lower house, the amendment bill is now under consideration at the Law, Justice and Human Rights Committee of the House.
The committee also constituted a sub-panel to address the concerns of various quarters regarding the bill before finalising it. It had been given three weeks to accomplish the job, but a month has already passed and it has yet to complete deliberating on the bill.
Dhruba Bahadur Pradhan, who chairs the sub-committee as its seniormost member, said they first need a term extension before the sub-panel resumes its work. “We have had discussions with the stakeholders concerned including the conflict victims,” he told the Post. “We still need discussions with the stakeholders and within the parties before submitting the report.”
Last year, the bill couldn’t get through Parliament because the main opposition CPN-UML, echoing the conflict victims and human rights defenders, stood against the bill demanding that murder should be listed as a serious human rights violation. The present bill also lists murder as just an act of human rights violation, thus amnestiable.
The Supreme Court verdict of 2015 struck down around a dozen amnesty provisions in the Act, directing the government to amend it in line with international standards and practices. It asked for the categorisation of acts of violence as ‘serious’ and ‘non-serious’ and ‘worthy of amnesty’ and ‘unworthy of amnesty’, based on their severity.
Issues like statute of limitations and addressing the concerns of former child combatants and other entities to investigate serious violations of human rights remain unaddressed in the present bill as well. Moreover, victims of conflict-era human rights violations, human rights defenders and human rights organisations at home and abroad too have raised serious concerns about some of the provisions in the bill. “Yes, there are concerns about the bill,” Ramesh Lekhak, Nepali Congress chief whip who also is a member of the sub-committee, told the Post. “The opposition parties also have their reservations. We will sort them out through dialogue.”
Lekhak, who is the party’s key leader on transitional justice negotiations, however, couldn’t say when the bill would get finalised from the House committee and pass Parliament.
It will take at least a couple of months to select the chairs and members of the commissions once the bill is amended. Conflict victims say by extending the terms of the commissions by six months, the government has given a clear message that it is in no rush to get the amendment bill endorsed.
“We are tired of lip service from the government and parties. Every time we sit with them, they say they are very serious about amending the Act and expediting the transitional justice process,” Suman Adhikari, founding chair of the Conflict Victims Common Platform, told the Post. “But their actions suggest something else. We are clear that the Act is not going to be revised anytime soon.”