Crippled commissions: Victims’ long wait for justice

Even 12 years after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended the decade-long civil war in the country, conflict victims are still awaiting justice just as two transitional justice bodies drag their feet

The Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappearance Persons (CIEDP) and Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), constituted to deal with cases related to the decade-long civil war, have in the last four years managed to accomplish only a little. They have largely failed to do anything substantial to console the conflict victims. Around 66,000 complaints have been registered with both the commissions, and most of them are against the top party leaders.

As the two commissions remain hamstrung by various factors, including lack of fund and human resources, transitional justice is in jeopardy even 12 years after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the decade-long war.

The problem basically arises from the appointment (of officials) process. The TRC and CIEDP officials have been appointed on party quotas. So there are concerns whether they are unwilling to work towards completing the transitional justice process. “Justice delayed is justice denied” is a common saying, so the delay has stoked fears among conflict victims whether they would ever get justice. Countless war victims still don’t feel comfortable sharing their grievances, for they fear retribution, and in the meantime they feel there is no guarantee that their grievances would be addressed.  They still lack information on the difference between applying for relief and giving testimony for truth, justice and reparation.

Many victims have not been able to register complaints. There are others who have no updates on the transitional justice process. For example, son of Bechan Mandal of Godaita Municipality of Sarlahi was killed brutally in broad daylight in a sugarcane field during the conflict. There was no proper coordination between government institutions and civil society networks for informing the victims and their relatives at local levels.

Some of the victims were not allowed to register their complaints at the local peace committees. Many victims did not submit their testimony because they thought they might be asked to return the interim relief they had received earlier. When the TRC and CIEDP were first instituted back in 2015, nine years after the signing of the CPA, they had a two-year mandate to complete the transitional justice process. With their term extended until February 2019, the two commissions now have little time in their hands. Neither the civil society nor the conflict victims are hopeful that they would be able to complete their tasks.

And recently there is a new twist in the tale. Conflict victims have demanded that a high-level mechanism be set up to create a conducive environment for the transitional justice process by bringing all the stakeholders, including political parties, security agencies and the victims, together.

Conflict victims last month adopted “Conflict Victims’ Charter” demanding that a document of common consensus on transitional justice be drafted by the to-be-formed mechanism

with the participation and consent of conflict victims, and existing policies and laws be amended or rewritten on the basis of the document.

“The commission(s) to be established thereafter must be impartial, independent, empowered and autonomous, with the goal of ending impunity and ensuring lasting peace through a transitional justice process that is transparent, gender sensitive, inclusive and participatory,” read the charter. It has also warned that the conflict victims would seek “alternative recourse to justice” if terms of the two commissions are extended under the existing circumstances. Furthermore, conflict victims have arrived at consensus that truth-seeking, justice and reparation for victims, prosecution and punishment for perpetrators, institutional reform, end to impunity and reconciliation — the core values of transitional justice — must be taken into account while dealing with war-era cases.

They are also not in favour of blanket amnesty to anyone for any heinous crime. They have also insisted that reconciliation must happen only with the independent and informed consent of the victims. “Amnesty and reconciliation are not acceptable

in the case of serious violation of human rights,” they have said.

This shows conflict victims are fed up with the interminable wait for justice. They also claim that the laws governing these two commissions were formed without their consent.

Conflict victims have waited for too long and the political leadership seems to be unwilling to address their concerns. If the government continues to refuse to listen to their genuine grievances and address them, they will be forced to seek alternative recourse to justice. They are already making up their minds to reach out to the international forum to seek justice.

Nepal’s peace process has been time and again hailed by the political leadership as home-grown and exemplary. But until conflict victims get justice, the peace process will remain incomplete. This will tarnish the country’s image in the international arena.

Given this scenario, the two commissions formed with the good intention of delivering justice to conflict victims have overall failed. There is little hope of justice from these two crippled commissions now. That said, conflict victims cannot be left in a state of limbo. Justice must be ensured to them.