Waiting and waitingConflict victims have been demanding a fair investigation, but it is nowhere in sight
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) were formed in 2015 with an initial term period of two years. More than 60,000 complaints have been registered with them officially. Considering the ongoing investigations and the end of the transitional period, the government extended their terms, but without legal reforms and the resources necessary to produce good outcomes. Conflict victims welcomed the extension, but remain dissatisfied with their role.
The National Network of Families of Disappeared and Missing Persons (NEFAD), a victims’ network, said in a statement, “NEFAD welcomes the extension if the transitional justice (TJ) bodies come up with a clear roadmap for a full investigation of every case, establishing truth to give a satisfactory answer to the families, creating an environment for justice, protecting evidence and framing comprehensive reparation measures considering family profiles and needs.” If the commissions again fail to fulfil the victims’ demands for truth and justice, people will lose faith in them, and this will raise serious questions about credibility for the future course of justice.
Following the elections, the official narrative surrounding the Nepali peace process is one of completion and success. Both national and international actors have declared that the political transition has ended, and that the country is moving forward towards stability and development. Before leaving the country at the end of his term, Swiss Ambassador to Nepal Jörg Giovanni Frieden expressed happiness at the political shift and transformation in Nepal, and urged the country to focus on development projects.
Left alliance leaders Pushpa Kamal Dahal and KP Oli stated, “It’s a big shift from a complex transition, and Nepal is successfully moving towards a democratic future.” Both leaders agree that the existing TJ commissions will deal with past human rights violations and maintain political reconciliation. Both coalition leaders have reconciled with the security leadership, and they have been promoting and defending senior officials who were involved in past abuses. Hundreds of alleged perpetrators are serving in political and security institutions, but the TJ bodies have not been able to investigate fairly as they are controlled by the state forces and major political parties.
Failure to address legitimate demands
Thousands of conflict victims continue to demand a fair investigation, truth and justice for all, but this is becoming a distant dream in a new system that maintains top-level political compromise with close ties between the security institutions and government agencies and an unspoken agreement not to blame each another. Nepal has been debating legal reforms in the act based on Supreme Court directives that recommended criminalising enforced disappearance, torture and rape, forming a special court to deal with conflict related cases and providing reparations to the victims. But the government failed to address the victims’ needs and did not carry out the necessary legal reforms to deal with conflict-era crimes.
Both TJ commissions are loyal to the major political parties and are continuing their work without maintaining a level of independence and competence. On February 5, the government, without doing a proper assessment, declared the security members and government officials killed by the Maoists during the conflict as martyrs. TRC Commissioner Manchala Jha said, “I condemn such a unilateral political decision that interferes with the commission’s role.”
The government has intentionally been playing a role to divide the actors to benefit politically. “Family associations and activists are against such political manipulation that will further weaken the commission’s process and strengthen the role of perpetrators who are under investigation by the commissions,” said Gita Rasaili, a victims’ advocate based in Kathmandu.
Too close to politics
In this complex situation, both TJ commissions, instead of raising a collective voice with the victims’ community, have been in consultation with the major political party leaders who played a role in derailing the process to delay justice and defending alleged perpetrators since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2006. As a prime example, outgoing Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who served as premier during the conflict, often denies past crimes and the need to criminalise enforced disappearance to serve the interest of the security forces.
During the height of the conflict in November 2001, the then prime minister Deuba declared a state of emergency, and hundreds of citizens were disappeared, tortured, raped, killed and displaced. The disappeared’s families still wait for truth. Those who were killed by the state and sacrificed their lives for political change and social justice are still not recognised by the new political system.
The existing TJ commissions have a very limited mandate so they cannot address the structural and past political violence. The result is that the alleged perpetrators and architects of the violence still serve in positions of power. After 20 years and more than a decade since the peace agreement, the same faces rule the country, both in political institutions and the security forces.
This clearly indicates that the political leadership and the security institutions are fully obstructing transitional justice and harming the possibility of justice to the victims. Both the government and the security forces have broken the norms of the CPA. The two TJ commissions must stand for truth. They have a big responsibility to contribute significantly through constructive engagement to reconstruct a history of our recent past by creating a real partnership with the wider victims’ community to benefit them in the whole process.
Bhandari is an activist and a PhD researcher at NOVA Law School, New University of Lisbon