TRC, CIEDP ‘in dilemma’ on term extension

  • Victims say members cannot shirk their responsibility

Kathmandu, January 25

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons are in a ‘dilemma’ over whether to apply for a one-year extension of their tenure as provisioned in the ordinance endorsed by President Bidhya Devi Bhandari last week.

The ordinance adopted on January 19 has provisioned that the government can extend the tenure of the TRC and the CIEDP by one year if two mechanisms request for a term extension stating valid reasons for their failure to complete their jobs in the stipulated time.

The Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction, the line ministry, today dispatched a letter to the TRC and the CIEDP asking them to apply for a term extension ‘if needed’. “After we get a reply from these two bodies, we will table a proposal in the Cabinet for term extension stating the same reasons presented by the TRC and the CIEDP for their failure to complete their jobs in the stipulated time,” said Spokesperson for the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction Ram Prasad Bhattarai.

However, CIEDP Chairman Lokendra Mallick said they were in a catch-22 situation because if they did not seek term extension, the transitional justice mechanism would collapse, and if they did, they could not do their work effectively anyway as the CIEDP was hamstrung by a crunch of human and financial resources and lack of necessary legislation.

“Before seeking a one-year term extension we have to ascertain whether we can complete the job in the given time. We received the ministry’s letter today, so we will soon convene a meeting to discuss the matter and come up with an official position,” said Mallick. “Since this matter is related to both the transitional justice mechanisms, we need to come up with a uniform decision.”

TRC Chairman Surya Kiran Gurung too expressed a similar view. He said resources, both human and financial, made available to them were too inadequate compared to the number of complaints (63,000) received, and the situation was compounded by lack of necessary legislation.

“We do not mean that we do not have budget, but since we cannot transfer budget from one head to the other, we cannot spend the money when we need, while the funds under other heads freeze every year,” said Gurung. “The situation is such that we cannot even afford to offer travel expenses to victims whom we call to designated places for investigation purposes.”

Gurung said they would soon convene a meeting and come up with a decision on term extension in line with their long-standing position that a mere extension to the tenure would be worthless unless the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act 2014 was amended in line with the Supreme Court verdict and the TRC’s eight-point amendment proposal, and unless the commission was equipped with necessary resources.

The SC has ruled that there should not be amnesty for grave human rights violations such as extra-judicial killing, enforced disappearance, torture, rape and other acts of sexual violence; the statute of limitations for grave offences must be removed; cases recommended by the TRC and the CIEDP must be prosecuted; torture and enforced disappearance must be criminalised through the enactment of laws; cases before court cannot be transferred to the TRC or the CIEDP; dignified and respectable reparation for victims; and reconciliation cannot be made without the consent of victims.

Some of the commission members also expressed displeasure over the ordinance provision seeking clarification from them for their failure to complete their job within the given time. “We are not being able to effectively do our job because of political meddling, lack of necessary legislation and the government controlling us financially,” said CIEDP Spokesperson Prof Bishnu Pathak. Pathak also complained that they were limited to becoming a ‘punching bag’ as everyone, from victims to the government and international community, were bashing them.

Conflict victims, however, said that the TRC and CIEDP members could not run away from their responsibility on the pretext of lack of laws and resources after ‘so enthusiastically’ assuming their posts.

Suman Adhikari, chairman of Conflict Victims Common Platform, said the government should work to make these two mechanisms ‘responsible’ and ‘functional’ and evaluate their work progress and the performance of the members over the past three years. “Whatever the TRC and CIEDP members are saying is just for public consumption. The fact is they are happy that their jobs have been extended,” he said. “Therefore, the government should evaluate the performance of the members and reconstitute the transitional justice bodies if needed.”