The world forgetting, by the world forgot
Transitional justice is lost in transition in sluggish world of delays and apathy
Over a decade has passed since the end of armed conflict (1996-2006) between the Government of Nepal and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). There was massive loss of lives, livelihood, property which tore the fabric the society was built on with irreparable damages — the repercussions of which resonate even today. The victims of the conflict are still waiting for justice and their pleas are yet to be addressed by authorities that be. Two commissions — Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Commission of Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) were formed primarily to resolve conflict issues and provide transitional justice to conflict-era victims. However, these two bodies have a long way to go before any viable results are produced with their deadline slated for February 9, 2018.
Long way to go
TRC and CIEDP were supposed to be established within 90 days after the declaration of end of the conflict or sign the Comprehensive Peace Accord on November 21, 2006 itself but it took 10 years just for these commissions to be formed (Fetruary 10, 2015). Projected two years after it was formed went in transition, without any concrete output. The implementation of transitional justice is getting delayed day by day and the commissions have excuses in abundance for their inability to complete their tasks. Officials of TRC claim that the 2015 earthquake hindered the pace of their work and it took a long time for the commission to just set up their administrative offices. In 2017, it was the local level elections that hindered the commissions’ work, they claim. Surya Kiran Gurung, Chairperson of TRC, says, “More than 58,000 complaints are registered and we are still receiving complaints.” TRC has granted one month additional period to register complaints — July 9-August 8, 2017.
There are the cases of disappeared persons as well registered separately at CIEDP. According to Santosh Kumar Giri, Information Officer at CIEDP, there are 3,093 cases of enforced disappearance registered with the commission. Out of these 3,093 cases, Giri says, 16 were forwarded to TRC, 183 did not match the criteria of CIEDP and other 109 were merged as they were double registered. He informs, “Starting June 2, we have started working on ‘detailed investigation’. 106 complaints have been filed under this category while 2,679 are in the decision process.”
Dhan Kumari Chaudhary from Naubasta-7, Banke is ‘missing’ for the last 15 years. “It was on the cold dark night of January 13, 2002,” Ayush Chaudhary, her brother informs. He says, “My sister Dhan Kumari was taken away by the army from our residence at Naubasta, on the pretext of questioning and releasing her after a few statements. However, after all these years we are still waiting for her return, unbeknownst about her whereabouts.” Chaudhary has filed a case with the concerned authorities — National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC) but his case is yet to be solved. He later filed his case with TRC and CIEDP as well. He shares, “We have no option but to believe that the commissions will pave way towards justice.”
According to Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction (MoPR), the ministry has already distributed relief amounting to Rs 11 billion with additional Rs nine billion in 2016/17 alone — the total amounting to Rs 20 billion. The report of the MoPR shows that just 80 per cent (Rs 7.36 billion) out of the nine billion granted in 2016/17 managed to reach the victim, 20 per cent (Rs 1.65 billion) remained unspent in the fiscal 2016/17 (budget freeze). The source at MoPR claims that they received the directive for distribution of relief around the end of the last fiscal delaying the distribution process before the fiscal end. Member of NHRC, Mohna Ansari, states, “The distribution of relief amount by MoPR was announced late and, on hindsight, it seems that relief was distributed only for the sake of it. Only those who were in favour of certain political parties received relief whereas the majority of real victims went home empty-handed.”
Various studies have shown that in any conflict, women and children are often harshly affected and they are the ones who bear the brunt. According to Ansari, issues relating to cruelty against women and children and sexual violence are not given as much priority as to issues such as murder, disappearance, torture, property loss and robbery. She says, “Women had been raped, killed after rape and tortured to death, but these issues are swept under the carpet and not taken into serious consideration.” She says that the state’s and the society’s lackadaisical approach to sexual violence against women and children is the major reason behind low emphasis on these cases. Stating other reasons, she says, “It is also an individual’s choice. Many women and girls who fell victim to war-era crimes, be it sexual abuse or heinous crimes, have now moved on. They are now living the next chapter of their lives with new families. They don’t want to look back and relive their past through the ordeal they have to face if they decide to seek justice.”
However, Sudarshan Prasad Dhakal, Joint Secretary of MoPR, stresses that although TRC is concerned primarily with reconciliation, offences like rape or sexual violence and tortures cannot be taken lightly. He says, “Crimes like extra judicial killings, rape and sexual violence and tortures are unpardonable.” Similarly, while talking about the victims of sexual abuses, Andre Paquet, Head of Mission, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) insists, “The commission has to be extremely cautious when approaching and offering the services to these types of victims so that they would not be re-victimised with social and psychological trauma. The confidentiality of the sufferers should also be protected with highest regard.”
The ultimate objective of the TRC is to find the truth about the conflict victims and recommend ways towards reconciliation. Paquet says, “First of all, victims should to be recognised and as plenty of conflict victims are still struggling physically and mentally, rehabilitation and counselling must be given to them.” Reparation — another major task that TRC is working on — should be based on the needs of the victims and the commission should see that the final decision sits satisfactorily with the victims, believes Paquet.
According to Gurung, the commission would recognise conflict victims and take their responses and grievances into consideration. He ensures that the commission would address the interests of the conflict victims and would not settle for anything less than justice for the victims. He says, “We will find out what the victims and victims’ family expect from the state, analyse the capacity of the state and recommend reports to the government.” He further states that the reparation would include compensation to conflict victims, scholarship for the children of the conflict victims, providing skill-based training, arranging loans in minimal interest, resettling displaced people of the conflict-era as per their interest, giving compensation for the people who lost their property during the said era, et cetera.
TRC has established its offices in seven provinces — Biratnagar, Janakpur, Lalitpur, Pokhara, Tulsipur, Surkhet and Dipayal — each having one co-attorney, two specialists and three monitoring team. “This is a pilot project and based on the reports and data we receive from these provincial offices, we will decide whether to form offices in district levels or not,” Gurung informed. These offices in the provinces, according to Gurung, will investigate, monitor and record statements from the witnesses.
TRC’s extended time frame will expire on February 9, 2018. The commission has a long way to go; it has to investigate more than 58,000 complaints of rights violation that allegedly took place during the decade-long Maoist insurgency; and has to recommend action for perpetrators and reparation for the victims accordingly. With less than seven months in hand, TRC is still in the nascent phase of registering complaints of rights violation. It is to be seen whether the commission can provide transitional justice to the registered victims before the state decides to render if defunct or if it seeks for more grace period. Whatever the fate of the TRC, it is its prerogative while it still has some time in its hands to see to the cases and pave way for justice before the conflict-era victims get lost in oblivion.