When will victims in Nepal get their justice?
13 May 2014: Ambika Pokhrel reports on the progress and setbacks in the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Disappearance Commission for providing Nepal’s conflict victims with long awaited steps toward justice.
Once again the debate about establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Disappearance Commission has resumed in Nepal. Conflict victims have been crying out for justice for more than a decade, and their primary concerns relate to the formation of these two commissions. Following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) in 2006, the country’s conflict formally ended and provisions were set forth to form the two commissions in order to address transitional justice for victims. Recently, Nepal’s minister of Law, Justice, Constituent Assembly and Parliamentary Affairs reported that the government would soon form the commissions, and a taskforce in charge of drafting the bills was formed immediately.
The establishment of the commissions has suffered two significant setbacks. The first major issue has to do with the nominated members of the taskforce for the drafting of the bills. One member was a former Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) who allegedly murdered five youths in the Dhanusha district during the conflict period in 2003. Another member is affiliated with one of the largest political parties in Nepal. Both members show there are sides and biases associated with the taskforce.
While the former SSP ended up resigning following uproar of public criticism, including from victims and human rights organisations, people wonder why these individuals would have been nominated for the taskforce in the first place.
A second issue in moving forward with the commissions is that upon formation of the taskforce, the team was given just ten days to draft bills for both commissions. In the quickly drafted bills, general amnesty was not granted to those involved in serious human rights violations during the conflict, and victims’ consent was made mandatory for providing amnesty to perpetrators.
Immediately after the proposed bills were submitted, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) rejected them and threatened to stage protests if they were not revised. Both the UCPN-M and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) strongly opposed bringing indictments and prosecuting those responsible for the mass human rights violations during the conflict, and demanded the draft bills be amended. Without the support of Nepal’s two main Maoist parties, the bills are unlikely to be passed.
Working toward a victim-centric process for justice
The prospect of the two commissions finally being created has presented a thin ray of hope for the victims and families affected by the conflict. They are optimistic about getting justice and finding the whereabouts of their loved ones, and they continue to demand that their concerns are taken into account and that amnesty is not granted in the commissions’ bills. Three months ago, the Supreme Court ordered the government to consult with experts, victims, human rights lawyers and other concerned stakeholders for necessary inputs before drafting amended bills.
While victims have undergone similar grievances and pain, they are associated with different victims’ organisations based on by whom they were victimised (either the government security forces or the rebels). Despite the fact that there is a lacking coordination among the victim groups, they are all asking for the same justice. Because of this, they have been able to come together with the national and international concerned parties in order to achieve a victim-centric justice process.
The National Victim’s Alliance, which includes 15 victim organisations, has been staging protests demanding for a fair process encompassing victims’ opinions and implementation of the Supreme Court verdict regarding the commissions. Ram Kumar Bhandari, coordinator of the National Victims Alliance, questions whether the draft bills will address victims’ expectations of justice and reparation. He believes that the process of forming the taskforce and choosing its members completely bypassed victims and their opinions, which was disappointing. He claimed that the victims could not own the process of transitional justice and that they could not ensure that the commissions will address the victims’ grievances.
Encompassing women’s issues in the TRC
Most women victims, especially the victims of sexual violence and rape, are unwilling to come out despite their desire to bring perpetrators under legal process. Women are fearful that after their cases become public, they may be rejected by their families and by society.
Bhagiram Chaudhary, founder chairperson of Conflict Victims Society, and a member of National Victim’s Alliance, said that unless the women are ensured security, they will not publicly come out to launch a campaign to prioritize these cases in the TRC. He further claimed that many women and girls have gone silent due to social stigma and insecurity associated with being a victim of sexual violence and rape.
The formation of the TRC and Disappearance Commission has had its ups and downs in Nepal since the end of the conflict in 2006. There is fear that the issue may once again be side-lined. Although the government seems committed to forming both commissions this time, their effectiveness depends on the strength and approval of the bills, and the willingness of the government and political parties to work on transitional justice. Without this, the victims will continue to suffer. It is too early to say whether the TRC and the Disappearance Commission will address the victims’ concerns or only renew their pain.