EDITORIAL: Justice delayed

There is no reason why the transitional justice process should have taken thirteen years unless it is trying to protect the perpetrators

Transitional justice in Nepal is becoming far too long a process, with victims of both sides – those who suffered at the hands of the Maoists and the state – unhappy with the developments, if any. The decade-long Maoist insurgency, which saw more than 16,000 people dead, ended in 2006. But 13 years down the road, justice for the conflict victims remains just as elusive as it did in the past. The transitional justice process began in June 2007 when the first draft of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Bill was unveiled. In February 2015, two commissions – Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Commission for Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons – were formed as per the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, 2014, with two-year mandates. The objectives of the commissions, among others, were to investigate incidents of gross violations of human rights, including murder and enforced disappearances, identify victims and perpetrators of the conflict and try to bring about reconciliation between the victims and perpetrators with their consent.

The mandates of the two commissions have already been extended twice by the government, the second time on February 5, 2018, and they will expire in February next month. What will the government do now? The government has two options – either hasten the process to amend the transitional justice act in line with international standards and verdicts of the Supreme Court of Nepal or extend the tenure of the two commissions and amend the act later by addressing the concerns of the victims. The first option seems improbable for now as there is little time for holding discussion with the victims or in the Parliament on the issues, given that the mandates of the two commissions expire in less than a month. Merely extending the tenure of the commissions would also not serve the purpose, especially when their credibility has been questioned by national and international human rights watchdogs. It is apparent that 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 Prime Minister while addressing the Parliament on Friday had acknowledged that the wounds inflicted during the conflict had yet to be “nursed” and said that the government was working on ending the vestiges of the conflict and completing the process of establishing peace. Whatever course the government takes, it should be to the satisfaction of the victims. One of the complaints of the conflict victims is that they were never consulted while drafting or amending the laws. Hence, it would be prudent on the part of the government to hold consultations with them while amending the act and not do so on the basis of political understanding. There is no reason why the transitional justice process should have taken 13 years unless it is trying to protect the perpetrators instead of providing justice to the victims.

Follow rule book

Panchkhal Municipality in Kavre recently endorsed an environment act to improve the deteriorating air quality caused by the haphazard erection of brick kilns in the area. There are altogether seven brick kilns in the four wards of the municipality. According to studies carried out in the past, brick kilns are the second biggest contributor to air and environmental pollution after vehicles that run on fossil fuels. Most of the brick kilns operating in the country have the tendency to breach the environmental guidelines set by the government.

Panchkhal Mayor Mahesh Kharel said the Town Assembly recently passed the Environment Conservation Act, 2075. He said the brick kilns had already been told to shut down their operation in the densely populated settlements and move out to the outskirts. It is a welcome move. However, the local government should also create industrial estates away from the settlements so that they can run their businesses without causing harms to public health. The people have the right to live in a clean and healthy environment. The brick factories must follow the rule book.