TRC bill gives hope to conflict-era rape victims

- Weena Pun, KATHMANDU
TRC bill gives hope to conflict-era rape victims

Apr 11, 2014-

The bill on transitional justice tabled in parliament on Wednesday has rekindled hope for justice in women raped during the conflict, but the activists who lobbied hard to not excuse the crime are cautiously optimistic.

The bill states that every crime other than rape can be pardoned and their victims and perpetrators reconciled; rapists, on the other hand, will have to be prosecuted. Pradeep Gyawali, a CPN-UML leader and member of the political taskforce which finalised the bill, says that there are two reasons behind the "exceptional clause".

"Victims of other crimes against humanity can be sufficiently compensated through reparation measures. Rape, however, attacks a woman's dignity and that loss can never be compensated for," says Gyawali.

The other reason is the vulnerability of rape victims. "Because society stigmatises rape victims, they make up the most vulnerable community, some of whom might not be able to resist such stigma. They are the most in need of state support," Gyawali explains.

Renu Rajbhandari, chairperson of the Women Rehabilitation Centre, an organisation which logs cases of rape across the country every month, welcomes the clause on sexual violence in the bill. She was one of the women rights activists who had met with several political leaders, including Gyawali, demanding that those who raped during the conflict not be allowed to walk scot-free.

Despite the explicit mention in the bill, there are fears that the perpetrators will not be punished for want of credible evidence. For one, the conflict-era crimes took place between 1996 and 2006, and most rape victims do not have anything other than their testimonies to prove that the rape took place at all. Some have children borne out of rape and would want the person who raped them to be identified so that their children could apply for citizenship when they come of age. Although the Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that a child can acquire citizenship through her mother's lineage, bureaucrats still demand to know the father's identity and nationality, without which they refuse to issue the certificate of citizenship.

"The commission just won't find evidence to convict the rapists. In the eyes of the world, the bill will sound strict on protecting women, but in reality it will be condoning impunity," says Rajbhandari.

According to a 2012 report prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights-Nepal, out of the 30,000 cases catalogued in the Transitional Justice Reference Archive (available online) just a little over a hundred are cases of sexual violence. Several of the victims in the catalogue were Maoist women raped by the security forces and eventually killed.

The report concluded that the figure of sexual violence in the reference archive is a gross understatement and that more research needs to be carried out to gather new information.

Gyawali assures that the truth and reconciliation commission will be gender-sensitive while collecting information. The bill on transitional justice stipulates that the commission will make it as easy as possible for victims of rape and sexual violence to come forward, and that it will also protect them and their identities. "Confidentiality of the rape victims will be our utmost priority," says Gyawali.

The politician also assures that in the case rape is established but the perpetrator slips away for lack of evidence, the victim will still be entitled to reparations.

Rajbhandari, however, warns that unless rape victims see that justice does get served, most will choose to remain silent.

Published: 11-04-2014 23:59

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