Govt unlikely to hold consultations with victims

The government and parties are in a deep slumber. We are of the view that meaningful participation of victims should be ensured in the entire transitional justice process — Suman Adhikari, former chairman, Conflict Victims Common Platform

Kathmandu, January 18

From the very beginning of the transitional justice process in June 2007 when the then Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction unveiled the first draft TRC bill, conflict victims have, among other things, one constant discontent: The government does not hold consultations with them while drafting/amending laws concerned or taking crucial decisions related to transitional justice.

The last time the government came up with a draft amendment to the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act 2014 was in June last year. But the victims again rejected it, and one of the major reasons they furnished was that the government prepared the draft without holding any consultation with them.

The government is again preparing to amend the act to address its shortcomings on the basis of six factors—the Comprehensive Peace Accord; Nepal’s national and international obligations related to human rights; fundamental principles of transitional justice; decisions and orders of the Supreme Court; sentiments of conflict victims; and Nepal’s legal and political processes.

But this time around too, consultations with victims are unlikely, given the government has only three week’s time for the job as the tenure of the two transitional justice mechanisms — Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Commission of Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons — expires on February 9 without the two bodies completing their job.

Addressing the Parliament, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli today said consultations were still under way among political parties and stakeholders on whether to bring a new act, what kind of legal arrangements were to be made, and whether to keep the two commissions intact or reconstitute them.

Acknowledging that ‘nursing of wounds inflicted during the conflict’ was yet to be done, the PM  said the government was actively and carefully working on ‘ending vestiges of the conflict and completing the process of establishing peace’.  All these mean that the government and political parties are still undecided on the issue, and chances of consultations with victims are very slim on act amendment.

This also means the government and political parties now have two options — either fast-tracking the act amendment process, or extending the tenure of the two commissions leaving everything as they are and amending the act later by addressing concerns of the victims.

However, fast-tracking the amendment is not going to be feasible at this time, said Nepali Congress lawmaker Minendra Rijal, who is actively involved in the ongoing cross-party consultations.

Conceding that many things were yet to be done before reaching the stage of holding consultations with the victims, Rijal said they were very cautious this time about avoiding any major discontent.

“Yes, it has already been late for holding discussions on amendment with the victims or in the Parliament,” Rijal told THT. “On the other hand, pushing the act amendment without holding consultations with the victims would again not work.”

When asked whether the government would then just extend the tenure of the two commissions and amend the act later by addressing the victims’ concerns, Rijal said they had yet to reach a phase where they’d consider the option. “We are very seriously working on a solution.”

Consultations with victims had almost begun when the government in June last year came up with a draft act and even sought feedback from stakeholders concerned. However, the process got stuck after a section of victims, backed by a section of rights activists, demanded restructuring of the commissions and formation of a high-level mechanism to oversee the entire transitional justice process.

This also diverted the entire discourse from what should actually have been done, according to Ram Kumar Bhandari, Founder and Director of National Network of the Families of the Disappeared and Missing Nepal. Bhandari is leading a section of conflict victims who are opposed to the idea of the high-level mechanism.

“Those advocating for the high-level mechanism sabotaged the consultations,” he told THT. “They failed themselves, and also failed the consultation process.”

He also warned if the act was amended just on the basis of political understanding, it would further weaken the commissions and boost political domination in the entire transitional justice process that should have actually been victim-centric.

Suman Adhikari, former chairman of Conflict Victims Common Platform that demanded the restructuring of the commissions, also said they were waiting for reply as they had presented their views to the government and parties. “But the government and parties are in a deep slumber,” he said. “We are of the view that meaningful participation of victims should be ensured in the entire transitional justice process.”