Too scared to talkConflict victims face a number challenges and receive threats when giving testimony
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) have collected testimonies on serious human rights violations that occurred during the 10-year-long armed conflict. The number of testimonies received so far from conflict victims is not satisfactory in comparison to the available data about them. The Conflict Victims Common Platform (CVCP), in collaboration with the Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC) and the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), monitored the collection of testimonies and carried out interactions with conflict victims from 45 districts and rights activists from 15 districts besides interviewing the secretaries of five local peace committees (LPCs) focusing on status, challenges and the steps to be adopted to receive quality testimony from all the conflict victims.
Conflict victims face a number challenges and receive threats when giving testimony. The TRC and the CIEDP called for testimonies through LPCs without due preparation. There is no proper coordination between government institutions and civil society networks to disseminate clear information to the village development committee level. The LPCs do not have enough resources to coordinate their actions and they have not been mobilised adequately. They have been trying to disseminate information using the annual grants provided by the government.
Erosion of trust
Many conflict victims do not have clear information about the difference between applying for relief in the past and giving testimony for truth, justice and reparation to the TRC and the CIEDP presently. The victims who had applied for relief and were rejected are asking why they should apply again to the LPCs. Many victims have not submitted testimony because they think that they will have to return the interim relief they have received if they do so. Others think that only those who were left out previously should apply. At the same time, victims do not believe that the TRC and the CIEDP, without essential laws, structures, resources, experts, staff and coordination will reveal the truth about the violations and ensure truth, justice and non-recurrence. Revelations about internal disputes within the commissions, admission about their own insecurity, lack of sufficient staff and funding and insensitivity towards the victims have also eroded public trust.
Many victims are busy farming and have to spend three to four days and Rs6,000-7,000 to get to the LPCs to give their testimony. They are not provided travel expenses or accommodation. Conflict victims can see the form they have to fill out only at the district headquarters which are very far in many districts. They only find out what documents they have to submit when giving their testimony, so they are not able to produce them immediately. No special provision is provided to the disabled, elderly, members of indigenous communities and victims of sexual violence even though required by regulation.
Many victims are confused by the technical terms used in the form like serious human rights violations and reparation. They are not told why they should give their testimony and what will happen after that. They are not aware about the different ways to give their testimony such as toll free telephone, post office and courier. They do not know that they can give their testimony through another district if they do not trust their own or mail it directly to the commissions. Some victims have complained that they did not get proper response when they called the commissions on the phone.
Meanwhile, many victims have even forgotten the date and do not have sufficient information, evidence, pictures or the names of the perpetrators and witnesses. They have only heard about disappearance, killing and torture, but they have no proof and do not know whether the Maoists or the security forces committed them. Many violations occurred in the night when it was too dark to see anything, and the victims do not know the perpetrators and cannot identify their voices. There are many conflict victims across the country in a similar situation, and they do not know whether they should testify or not.
The LPCs are not only politically dominated but many of them have alleged perpetrators as members. Hence, the victims feel insecure and are scared to give testimony. Instead of coordination, local political leaders in some districts have even discouraged victims from giving testimony saying that nothing will happen and that it might even be risky. Many victims have received threats not to testify and they are afraid someone will see them going to the LPC. Some of them have even been boycotted socially. The wives of alleged perpetrators have tried to sweet-talk potential complainants against giving testimony. The victims who have given testimony have suffered panic attacks, but they receive no counselling.
Many victims feel uncomfortable and insecure and cannot express their pain openly as there is no privacy, and passersby often stop to listen. Some victims have complained that they gave a long account of their experiences but the secretaries wrote only two-three lines. Some have complained that their forms were filled out without asking them, and that they were not read out to them so they have no idea what has been written. The complainants do not get proper information from the secretaries when they ask them when they should come back for further action or what happens to the paperwork. The TRC and the CIEDP should thus extend the deadline for giving testimony, implement the lessons learnt to resolve problems and adopt measures to build trust among the conflict victims and ensure truth, justice, reparation and non-recurrence.
Adhikari is the chairperson of the Conflict Victims Common Platform