Coming clean

- Post Report, Kathmandu

Apr 19, 2016-

Fourteen months after their formation, the two transitional justice mechanisms have finally begun investigations into war-era cases. The Commission on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP), and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) have formally begun receiving complaints from victims. While the investigations have come nine years too late (the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in November 2006 envisioned investigations within six months), the fact that they have begun at all needs to be welcomed. Despite little dissemination of information about the complaints registration period, the initial participation of victims and their families appears encouraging. But that is only part of the story. 

Both the commissions have been hobbled by a series of problems—from delays in finding office space to staffing issues—since their formation, severely undermining confidence in their ability to deliver justice to the victims.

Victims’ groups and human rights defenders fear that many of the commissions’ recommendations will not be implemented. Worse, they dread that the perpetrators will walk away free and that the whole process will be a charade. Given the poor post-2006 track record of the Nepali political class on human rights, political expediency and continued inclination for ad-hocism, such apprehensions are not unfounded. While both commissions are independent bodies, they have little binding authority to inspire confidence among victims for justice. The commissions are also operating in an environment without clear laws on criminalising war-era cases. 

There is an urgent need to pass laws criminalising enforced disappearances, torture, rape and other gross human rights violations. The laws also need to define the status of conflict victims—providing a clear basis for reparation. It is precisely in the absence of these laws that victims’ groups fear that the focus will be more on reconciliation than on prosecution.

Clearly, political parties have not fully internalised the severity of the issue at hand. They still are holding wishful thinking that they can get away with some sort of tokenistic transitional justice. This is where they are mistaken. The international human rights regime is much more effective than they care to understand. Col Kumar Lama, who is being tried in a UK court, is a case in point.

The international community, particularly human rights groups, is closely monitoring Nepal’s transitional justice process. If and when it becomes clear that Nepal is unwilling or unable to prosecute its human rights perpetrators, Nepal’s leadership could see the opening of a Pandora’s box, potentially dragging them to foreign courts that claim universal jurisdiction on human rights. Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and his supporters had tried blocking the recommendations of the Chilean Truth Commission in 1991. But in 1998, Pinochet was arrested in the UK for violation of international law, opening the door for prosecution of members of the Chilean military junta. 

Threats of international sanctions aside, parties need to deliver justice for their own people who have suffered at the hands of both sides in Nepal’s decade-long conflict. Providing justice to victims is not just a safe bet, it is also the right thing to do for the thousands of victims who need closure. 

Published: 19-04-2016 08:50

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