It takes twoThe transitional justice commissions must treat conflict victims as key partners
The recently established Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission for Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) have limited themselves to meeting with line ministries and politicians to win their trust. The commissions have squandered a significant amount of time cosying up to those in power, including alleged perpetrators, which has given conflict victims more reasons to be suspicious of them. The two commissions that were set up to heal the wounds from the conflict are not talking to their important constituency—the victims and their associations. Therefore, a drastic shift is needed to ensure that the approach of the commissions’ is victim-centric.
The TRC officials are still to make an effort to consult with the conflict victims about their concerns. They have never made a public statement in favour of criminalising torture and disappearance and demanded amendment of the problematic provision in the Transitional Justice Act either. Additionally, the victims were appalled by the way the commissioners presented themselves in their recent district visits. Members of the Conflict Victims’ Common Platfrom (CVCP) have reported a general lack of decency and knowledge of conflict cases in the commissioners. In about two dozen districts, the TRC commissioners treated Platform members poorly and this has compelled the victims to question the commissioners’ credibility and the commissions themselves.
When the commissioners do not listen to victims, they expose themselves as politically biased and it becomes impossible to effectively deal with the past. In Rolpa, a member of the CVCP and the Local Peace Committee said, “I was eager to see the commissioners in the district but when I did meet them, I was very disappointed. They acted as divisive player instead of facilitators. How can they win the confidence of the victims?” CVCP members from other districts have also submitted similar reports. If such interactions continue during the testimony collection phase and potential public hearings, many victims may not be comfortable participating in such an exercise.
Clearly, the commissioners need to be trained to become victim-friendly. Ultimately, a commission process devoid of proper testimony from victims will be incomplete. So far, the commissions have failed to demonstrate that they are committed to a victim-centered approach. They drafted regulations without consulting with the victims, and then asked for their comments on a readymade draft. This not only insulted the victims but also failed to adopt transitional justice principles, UN guidelines, EU framework on transitional justice and ignored the recent verdict of Supreme Court.
Furthermore, without criminalising disappearances and torture in line with the (June 1, 2007, January 2, 2014 and February 26, 2015) Supreme Court verdicts, it will be difficult for the commissions to gain the victims’ trust. It will also be challenging for the commissions to reassure victims and other agencies working in this area to share information already gathered by them such as the National Human Rights Commission’s investigations. If this persists, the commissions might not be able to create a trustworthy environment in which victims and survivors are able to tell the truth without feeling re-traumatised.
To address all of these issues, the CVCP requested for an official meeting with the commissions on July 27 in Kathmandu. Its purpose was to inform the Commissions about the Platform’s position and its key demands—which was an outcome of the CVCP’s nationwide consultation—and to listen to what both the commissions had to say. Victims’ representatives from across the country have raised genuine concerns over their participation; the commissions’ objectives and mission statements and their budgeting
and staffing process; the definition of a victim-centric approach; the outreach policy, data collection, protection of evidence and archiving policy, witness and victims protection; the coordination mechanism between the two commissions; the publication of report and the role of victims in the entire process.
The good thing is that a dialogue has started between the Victims’ Platform and the commissions. But the CVCP feels that the commissions still perceive the victims’ group to be a threat. This could discontinue victims’ critical engagement in the process. The Platform demands that the commissions complement the criminal justice system as these commissions are not judicial inquiries. They should clarify their limitations to disclose the truth, establish the facts on causes of conflict and recommend fair reparations measures.
As of now, there is no clarity on when the commissions plan to begin their investigations, the methods they plans to use to gather evidence and how they plan to process and produce a strong report. As a result, there is little hope that both the commissions will be able to accomplish their mandated tasks within the two-year deadline.
It seems unlikely that the commissions will be able to address the existing challenges and bridge the gaps between victims and the commissions and the government. Worse still, the constitution-drafting process has also managed to completely ignore victims’ concerns—it does not have any provision on retrospective laws or transformative justice to the conflict victims. Nepal has thus failed to recognise victims’ right to truth and reparation quashing victims’ expectations and the international norms of transitional justice. The commissions should, therefore, begin consultations with the victims and let them participate in the process from drafting regulations to every step of implementation.
Furthermore, there are serious flaws in the Transitional Justice Act. As a result, the commissions cannot effectively do their work without amending the Act. Even the chair of the Disappearance Commission has publicly mentioned that the current Act must be amended at a programme organised by the families of the disappeared. But the commissions’ hands are tied as they can only follow the act, not amend it. This requires the victims and the commissions to jointly put pressure on the government so that the errors in the laws and the Supreme Court verdict can be amended to push for a victim-centric approach. Coordination and collaboration among various stakeholders is a must to ensure the success of both the commissions. Above all, conflict victims must play a significant role in the commissions’ processes. Both the commissions should recognise the victims as key partners during the commissions’ life and beyond to implement their recommendations for the future course of justice in Nepal.
Bhandari is General Secretary of Conflict Victims’ Common Platform