Conflict victimsThe Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) have started preliminary investigations into the testimonies of victims of serious human rights violations during the Maoist conflict.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) have started preliminary investigations into the testimonies of victims of serious human rights violations during the Maoist conflict. The TRC has formed seven investigation teams of three members each under the leadership of a joint attorney general who will work out of seven provincial offices. Likewise, the CIEDP has formed six investigation teams.
The Conflict Victims Common Platform has organised interaction programmes on the truth seeking procedure with TRC members and investigation authorities from Provinces 1 and 2 in Biratnagar and Provinces 5 and 6 in Nepalgunj. Questions have been raised whether the joint attorneys, who have been associated with the criminal justice system during their careers, will probe conflict-era cases with a transitional justice approach and independently investigate high-level officials who have been accused of misdeeds.
No ground covered
The CIEDP has been reported to be carrying out primary investigations, but it has not probed and revealed the truth about any disappearance cases for over a year. The TRC was hamstrung due to internal disputes and the irresponsible absence of the chair for two months. Hence, it could not conduct any primary screening of the testimonies received, categorise the available information or identify further investigation processes. The information was merely computerised. The two commissions did not combine the probe reports prepared by the National Human Rights Commission and other organisations like the Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC) or collaborate with them to utilise their expertise, human resources and network to carry out an effective investigation.
The TRC’s provincial offices have been inviting conflict victims to verify their testimonies. But the conflict victims, especially women, are afraid to go to the TRC. Investigation officers and employees have been taking statements from the victims, and no experts and psychosocial counsellors are present. The staff have not been provided training in handling victims of gross human rights violations and taking statements from them. The questionnaires used to take statements have not been prepared through proper research.
Victims of conflict related sexual violence (CRSV) aren’t recognised as victims and have not been provided relief. No special arrangements have been made for the elderly, women, children, people with disabilities and CRSV victims as stated in the investigation guideline and regulation. Conflict victims have not only been deprived of education, career development, treatment and rehabilitation, but have also faced misbehaviour, psychological trauma, social discrimination and intense impact over a decade of struggle for truth and justice.
Disregard for confidentiality
Recording the statements of conflict victims is the most important task of the commissions to ensure that their pain is recognised, and they receive justice so that the process of healing can begin. But the ongoing process of taking statements is limited to asking about details, evidence, documents, physical loss and witnesses, and preparing documents in a manner similar to a traditional criminal investigation. Victims have reported that they were told to provide a copy of their citizenship certificate and questioned whether the violation was real and whether others provoked it.
Victims said they were given a cash grant of Rs1 million and psychologically pressured to forget the past. There is no psychosocial and conductive environment for them to remove the pain from their hearts. The victims and witnesses are not convinced about the confidentiality of the evidence submitted either. The perpetrators are powerful and have been moving around freely while the victims are feeling insecure due to possible threats—the victims are reluctant to speak openly.
Citing challenges due to the rainy season, the CIEDP have been recording statements of conflict victims in the capital city Kathmandu. It has time and again publicly declared that it would visit the victims in their homes, but there is no plan to do so. The CIEDP lacks experts, resources and coordination to accomplish complex tasks, such as conducting detailed investigations, exhumations and forensic and DNA tests to reveal the truth and whereabouts of the disappeared.
The TRC is confused whether to investigate all 60,000 cases or analyse the trend of violations by picking emblematic cases. The three-member investigation teams will require three years to complete the process of recording statements and preparing documents. The mechanical way of taking statements will neither reveal the truth nor heal the trauma and pain of the conflict victims. Conducting detailed investigations, taking statements of the accused perpetrators, holding public hearings and reconciliation programmes and analysing trends as mentioned in the work plan have not happened and may result in the failure of the commissions.
The government should amend the TRC and CIEDP Act as per Supreme Court rulings and adopt measures to make the commissions credible, accountable, collaborative and trustworthy. The commissions have to change their statement taking process, which is currently limited to preparing documents. They need to create an environment of trust where victims can speak freely without fear and receive solace by adopting consultative, collaborative, transparent and psychosocial measures.
Adhikari is the chairperson of the Conflict Victims Common Platform