Nepal: the uphill struggle for justice
26 April 2017: A year into the Truth Commissions process, changing governments and resistance from top-ranking officials continues to frustrate the path to peace. Peace Direct's Nepal Local Peacebuilding Expert, Ambika Pokhrel, asks whether justice will prevail.
Besides registering cases in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP), there were two major events in 2016 that affected transitional justice in Nepal.
The first was when the army official, Colonel Kumar Lama, was cleared by a British Jury on the charge of torture during the conflict. The second was when PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal gave assurances that the transitional justice process would be based on national and international laws, and transitional justice norms. He also confirmed that a blanket amnesty would not be granted to those involved in serious human rights violations during the conflict.
These contradicting events highlight the difficulties facing the TRC and CIEDP that are undermining the peace process. Victims of torture during the conflict felt that they were denied justice by the decision not to convict Colonel Lama, and despite the Prime Minister’s assurance of justice, it is clear the government is unwilling to cooperate with either of the commissions.
The Maoist Party has also expressed that it feels threatened by the active functioning of the commissions under the government of Prime Minister K.P. Oli. This is one reason why the party exited the coalition in August 2016 and formed a new government under its leadership, despite having previously agreed to a nine-point agreement that sought to salvage the coalition.
TRC and CIEDP in Shadow
The transitional justice process, which includes the TRC and CIEDP, has been poorly addressed by political parties and governments since its beginning. The process of building a constitution and a basic federal structure for Nepal, and the demarcation of provinces, has been undertaken within a state of instability and frequently changing governments. As a result, the TRC and CIEDP, which are so important to the victims’ justice process, have been sidelined within the national agenda.
These commissions offer a small ray of hope to the victims who seek justice. More than sixty thousand cases have been registered in the two commissions, which are piled throughout their offices. A particular case has been filed against the Prime Ministers who ran the office after 2003, including the current Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, and the former King Gyanendra.The victims have been keenly waiting for their cases to be investigated and the perpetrators punished.
Issues surrounding transitional justice in Nepal
Changing the Government
K.P. Oli, the Prime Minister of the coalition with the Maoist Party, initially seemed committed to transitional justice and had given the green light to speed up the two commissions. However, the influential leaders of the Maoist party were suspicious of this move, and publicly opposed the government. The General Secretary of the party delivered a speech in parliament accusing the government of conspiring to jail the Maoist party’s Chairman, among other leaders, in the name of the transitional justice.
This agreement was signed by the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) and the Maoist party in May 2016, with the aim of stabilising the coalition. It was criticised by human rights activists working in Nepal, conflict victims, and international human rights groups for including provisions to withdraw conflict-era cases from the court, and to grant amnesty to those involved in serious human rights violations. The Supreme Court dismissed the case presented by the victims and rights activists against the nine-point agreement, stating that the agreement between the parties to run the government was not within the mandate of the Supreme Court.
In the end, the nine-point agreement failed to maintain the coalition, and the Maoist party finally withdrew its support from the K.P Oli headed government in July 2016. Another government was formed in coalition with the Nepali Congress, along with other small parties. The former Maoist Chairman was installed as its Prime Minister in August 2016.
Top-ranking officials of the security forces, including the Nepali Army, Armed Police Force and Nepal Police, are also suspicious of the peace commissions and unwilling to cooperate with them. They are resisting any efforts to investigate and persecute their officials for conflict-era human rights abuses.
The future of the TRC and CIEDP
Another year has been added to the initial two-year timeframe of the commissions to allow them to complete their work. However, their members report that this is still not enough time to review over sixty thousand cases. An unstable political situation, frequently changing governments, and a lack of support from the leaders of the major political parties and the security forces, make it appear unlikely that the TRC and the CIEDP could complete their mandate and fulfill the victims’ long-awaited justice.
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