EDITORIAL: Amend the Act

The government should not be seen as trying to protect the perpetrators of rights violations during the conflict era; it is time justice is delivered to the victims

It is not good for the government to be told time and again by international rights groups to take the transitional justice process seriously so as to bring the perpetrators of the conflict-era violations to justice. In the latest statement issued on Monday, four organisations - Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists, Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International – have urged the government to amend the Transitional Justice Act in line with international human rights standards and Supreme Court rulings, and unveil a plan for taking the transitional justice process forward.  Both international rights organisations and Nepali victims of the decade-long insurgency have ground to be impatient with the extremely slow transitional justice process and, of late, in forming a credible transitional justice mechanism that would try all those holding criminal responsibility. The decade-long insurgency that ended in 2006 left 17,000 dead, while thousands disappeared, whose whereabouts neither the state nor the rebels at the time, the Maoists, are willing to disclose.

The transitional justice process began in June 2007, however it took seven years before the related act could be formed, that too with a limited mandate, largely with the motive of reconciliation and providing leniency to the rights violators. In February 2015, the Act allowed the formation of two commissions – one on truth and reconciliation, and the other on enforced disappearances – with two-year mandates. However, after four years and two extensions later, the commissions had done little other than collect 63,000 complaints of rights violations. In February, when the mandate of the commissions expired, the government had two options – either amend the Transitional Justice Act or extend the tenure of the two commissions and amend the act later by addressing the concerns of the victims.

The joint statement of the international groups has come just days after the victims in a memorandum to the government demanded the amendment of the Transitional Justice Act and stop the appointment process to the two commissions. Apparently, the two commissions fall short of international standards despite the orders of the Supreme Court. Some of the flaws are that the current legal framework allows for amnesty and impunity even for gross human rights violations, and the commissions have the authority to facilitate reconciliation without the victims’ informed consent. The committee mandated to recommend members for the two commissions has so far been unable to do so largely because the leaders of the major political parties are undecided on the nominations for the posts. It is because of this politicisation that the transitional justice process has made little progress all along. The government should not be seen as trying to protect the perpetrators of rights violations, and it is time justice is delivered to the victims. At a programme the other day, ex-rebel leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ showed little fear of being dragged to the Hague for his role in the conflict-era atrocities. So why not allow the commissions to function independently and let the truth out?

Early marriage

Child marriage is on the rise despite the rising literacy rate and awareness campaigns launched by the government and NGOs. Data with the Nepal Police show there were 15 cases of child marriage in fiscal 2013-14. However, the cases of child marriage jumped upto 59 in 2017-18. According to the new penal code, the permissible marriage age is 20 years. Guardians are punished if they have their children married off before they attain the marriageable age.

Early marriage is rampant in some societies, especially in the Tarai region. Law alone is not enough to control it. Parents should be educated about the health risks involved in child marriage. Unwanted pregnancies and uterine prolapse are quite common when a girl is married off early. Chances of dropping out of school are also very high if boys and girls get married before the permissible age. The “Save daughters; educate daughters” campaign launched in the Tarai region is a welcome move, which should help discourage child or early marriage. However, its overall impact in society will be seen only a few years later. Girls should also be provided scholarships so that they can continue with their studies till they reach 20 years of age.