Toothless tigersConflict victims are not fully convinced by the truth and disappearance commissions
The much awaited Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons were formed two and half years ago. These two commissions are still controversial. Petitions have been filed with the Supreme Court challenging their legality. Human rights activists and civil society have declared their non-cooperation with these commissions as they do not comply with the Supreme Court mandamus and state obligations to human rights laws. An expert committee formed by the Nepal Bar Association (NBA) also concluded that the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act was not amnesty-oriented.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) stated that the act was inconsistent with Nepal’s international legal obligations and UN policy, and urged the government to amend it. Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists and Human Rights Watch have all urged the Nepal government to amend the act in line with the UN technical note. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) are major components of the peace process which seek to heal the pain and injustice suffered by conflict victims, restore their ruined lives and rebuild social trust and broken relations. The main objective of the TRC and the CIEDP is to ensure truth, justice, reparations and public acknowledgement of the victims while also preventing future abuse and combating pervasive impunity.
The commissions also sought to identify serious human rights violators and hold them accountable, initiated security sector reform and promoted individual and national reconciliation. As per the law, the Peace Ministry provided the required staff and arranged for the expenses. The amnesty provision in the act and the independence of the already formed commissions were also questioned by the international community. The act has a provision for granting amnesty if it deems it necessary for reconciliation. The very provision had been challenged by conflict victims in court. These commissions have been formed and they have already started their work. The final verdict of the Supreme Court was due to come on February 26. After that their legality will be proved. It is wrong to form the commissions because the petitions are still pending in the Supreme Court.
Criticism persists over the formation of these two controversial commissions because conflict victims are not fully convinced. The big problem is that there is no representation of victims in the TRC and the CIEDP. The CIEDP had registered 2,084 cases as of June 12 while the TRC has received 25,120 cases. It distributed 30,528 complaint registration forms. The CIEDP extended the deadline hoping more complaints would be filed, and the TRC also extended its deadline.
Both commissions started registering complaints from conflict victims in mid-April. The number of complaints was expected to exceed the number of incidents of disappearance registered by the Peace Ministry—1,495 incidents. The Conflict Victims Common Platform (CVCP) has decided after monitoring the situation in 45 districts to make a request to extend the deadline for the registration of cases. The CVCP, in collaboration with the Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC) and the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) completed their monitoring and had interactions with conflict victims. According to their report, conflict victims are still facing unseen threats. They do not feel comfortable while registering their complains. Consequently, conflict victims are not sure about getting proper justice.
We celebrated International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on August 30. The International Commission of Jurists released a report entitled No More ‘Missing Persons’: The Criminalisation of Enforced Disappearance in South Asia. According to the report, five South Asian countries—India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal—have the highest number of reported cases of disappearances in the world. The International Commission of Jurists has called for cases of enforced disappearances to be recognised as a serious crime under national law to ensure justice to victims.
The ICTJ and The Story Kitchen jointly organised an interaction with conflict victims in Shuklaphanta National Park where one victim expressed her grief in these words, “Now the CIEDP and the TRC have stopped working saying that they have no sufficient budget. There is no need for these two commissions. There is a saying that a bad carpenter quarrels with his tools. So is the case with these two useless commissions. So the present government should dismiss these two commissions immediately and work with the national agencies such as the Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation and the National Human Rights Commission which have already collected significant information from victims and are fully aware of the violations suffered by many victims.”
Get the word out
As Kelen Meregali, an ICTJ expert in Nepal, has suggested, we need to get the word out now as local government functions, powers and the scope of local jurisdiction are being elucidated, both in Kathmandu and at the local level. Civil society, victims’ groups and human rights defenders need to be engaged to help ensure the input is flowing both ways. Otherwise, conflict victims will not be heard. But past governments were trying to make these commissions work as per their wishes because the chairmen and members have been appointed according to party quotas. The TRC is nothing more than a toothless tiger. So is the case with the CIEDP.
- Rakesh is a former member of the National Human Rights Commission.