General

Fate of transitional justice bodies hangs in balance

  • As parties vacillate, conflict victims are divided over new mechanism
- Binod Ghimire, Kathmandu

Jan 9, 2019-

Just as the extended mandate of two transitional justice bodies is set to expire in a month, there seems to be little progress in achieving consensus among parties on various issues, which could delay the process of finalising amendment to the Transitional Justice Act, a lack of which would stall the entire transitional justice process.

Second-rung leaders from the major parties, who are in regular consultations, are yet to reach an agreement on the future of the two transitional justice bodies—Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP). The commissions were formed on February 9, 2015—almost a decade after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which formally ended the decade-long civil war in the country.  

Though the conflict victims and human rights activists are divided on several issues, they have a common voice against the transitional justice bodies and want their restructuring. So far, the two commissions have done precious little when it comes to investigating war-era cases of human rights violations even though 63,000 complaints have been registered with them.

The two commissions, which are hamstrung by a lack of law and resource crunch, have met with severe criticism for their failure to effectively carry out their work.  

Against this backdrop, cross-party leaders are not sure whether to continue with the commissions in their existing form or restructure them. But for either of the options, the existing Transitional Justice Act needs to be amended.

Sources at the Ministry of Law and Justice claim that unlike in the past, the officials in the ministry “now don’t have a leading role in drafting the law”. They say cross-party leaders are “working to finalise” the amendment draft “through consensus”.

“We know cross-party leaders are working, but we don’t know how close they are [on reaching a deal],” said a senior official at the ministry on the condition of anonymity.

Ramesh Dhakal, secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office, who was actively involved in drafting the amendment while he was at the Law Ministry last year, told the Post that since transitional justice process is not only a legal but also a political and technical issue, all the parties must forge a common understanding before drafting the law.

Along with the prosecution, truth-seeking, reparation, and assurance of non-repetition of cases are other important aspects of transitional justice. That’s why it is more of political and technical issue than just a legal one.

Sources say just while the future of two commissions hangs in the balance, major parties are still non-committal on the prosecution aspect.

There was huge controversy last year when the government in its zero draft of the amendment bill recommended reduced sentences for the perpetrators by 75 percent and putting the convicts into community services instead of jail term. And this was outright rejected by the conflict victims.

Now, the parties have a daunting task of finding a solution which is acceptable to all, especially the conflict victims who are the major stakeholder.

The situation has been further complicated now with the changed political landscape of the country. The erstwhile Unified CPN-Maoist has now merged with the erstwhile CPN-UML to form the Nepal Communist Party, which is now currently at the helm of the government. The other main party to this entire transitional justice saga is the Nepali Congress.

NC leader Ramesh Lekhak, who is currently involved in negotiations, said cross-party leaders had held some rounds of talks but with no significant progress as such. “We have had some discussions but there is no remarkable achievement,” said Lekhak. “Our party wants the government to come up with its vision first.”

Parties are also undecided over the demands of victims’ associations backed by a large section of human rights advocates to establish “a credible mechanism” with the participation of all stakeholders to take the transitional justice process forward.

Conflict Victims’ Common Platform on Tuesday submitted a memorandum to Law Minister Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal, demanding their meaningful participation in drafting of the law and immediate formation of a new mechanism.

It must be noted that all conflict victims are not in favour of any such mechanism. This has put the parties in further predicament. Dhakal said they were preparing to resolve all the issues. “Necessary legal steps will be taken before February 9,” he told the Post.

Lekhak said the top leadership had held discussions on various issues but “serious discussions” were yet to take place. He, however, said he expected the future course of the transitional justice process would be decided before February 9, the day the terms of the two commissions expire.

Published: 09-01-2019 08:13

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