Nepal | January 16, 2021

Transitional justice in jeopardy: Keep aside vested interests

Ram Dayal Rakesh
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Nepal is curently at a crossroads and vulnerable to international intervention. The victims, civil society and the international community are pressing the government to amend the TJ Act, but it is turning a deaf ear to the issue

As many would know, Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Human Rights Watch and Trial International have requested Nepal to suspend the ongoing process to appoint the commissioners of two dissolved commissions: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons. The recommendation committee formed under the chairmanship of former Chief Justice Om Prakash Mishra has been struggling for the last five months to nominate these two transitional justice bodies. It is waiting for the green light from the government and some leaders who are directly or indirectly involved in the conflict-era cases. They have a vested interest in it, which is why they are deliberately stalling the process.

But they should know that this is no longer a national problem, and it has become an international one, proven by Colonel Kumar Lama’s arrest in London. Despite this, the government is still not taking it seriously. According to Conflict Victims Common Platform President Bhagiram Chaudhari, “These issues are surfacing everywhere, and the international community might well take them up.”

Thus, the long-delayed conflict era cases are becoming more and more complicated as international bodies increase pressure on Nepal’s political leaders. The United Nations special rapporteurs had also expressed serious concern over the selection process of the new leadership in the transitional justice commissions four months ago.

They are requesting the government to suspend the nomination of the commissioners until the existing Transitional Justice Act (TJA) is amended.  Human rights activists and conflict victims are in favour of amending the TJA as soon as possible, but the government is not paying any attention.

On the flip side, senior party leaders are not in favour of amending the TJA. There is an ongoing dispute among the major political players, namely the ruling Nepal Communist Party and its main opposition, the Nepali Congress, over the appointment of their own stalwarts. Both parties want to appoint their loyal party activists. But the conflict victims have said time and again that they will not accept the transitional justice process if the Act is not amended before appointing the commissioners. They also want to ensure that such a law properly consults and represents the victims on the TJ bodies so that the perpetrators are not given any impunity.

Failure to resolve this burning issue at home is bound to invite international interference. The five UN rapporteurs under the High Commissioner for Human Rights had written to Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Gyawali some time back seeking transparency and proper consultation before nominating the commissioners to the TJ bodies. They had also demanded that the government urgently start a process to amend the TJA with proper consultation with the victims, families of the victims, civil society and lastly the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal (NHRCN).

NHRCN has already sent its representative to the selection committee, which itself is controversial, as war-era conflict victims are demanding that it call back its representative because its double role is not acceptable to them. The NHRCN is also demanding that the TJA be amended. Foreign Minister Gyawali had told the international community at the UN meeting last year that there would be no blanket amnesty. But despite his assurance, the ground reality is quite different, as he too seems helpless.

Nepal is currently at a crossroads, and vulnerable to international intervention. The victims, their families, civil society, human rights activists and the international community are pressing the government to amend the Act, but the government is turning a deaf ear to the issue. We all know that there was gross violation of human rights during the conflict. Many women were raped and countless people disappeared, while their relatives remain in the dark regarding their whereabouts. The leaders are resistant to solving this pertinent problem because they fear their own punishment for their alleged involvement in these serious crimes.

While those in power are enjoying all the luxuries of life, earning exorbitant pay, perks and other facilities from the state coffer without any hindrances, the war-era victims and their families remain penniless and unable to support themselves and their families. On top of that, the controversial recommendation committee hasn’t consulted victims’ groups, or the vibrant human rights community, civil society or experts. Therefore, there is an urgent need to amend the Transitional Justice Act in line with Nepal’s commitment to universal conventions and the verdict of the Supreme Court.

Suman Adhikari, the former chairman of the Conflict Victims Common Platform, has also expressed his view in the following lines: Parties want to derail this process by employing delay tactics. They are yet to consult with us on how to amend the law and conclude the TJ process.

The headlines and editorials of the media have been drawing the attention of the prominent party leaders for a long time, but they are doing nothing concrete to solve this problem. They should pay attention to solving this problem on humanitarian grounds.

A version of this article appears in print on August 22, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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