Conflict victims put pressure on government to amend Transitional Justice Act

  • Victims’ groups and rights defenders ask authorities to halt process to appoint officials to transitional justice bodies now
- Binod Ghimire, Kathmandu

May 2, 2019-

Victims of the decade-long insurgency and human rights community have built pressure on the government to amend the Transitional Justice Act before taking forward the process to appoint officials to the two transitional justice bodies.

A recommendation committee formed by the government has started shortlisting the candidates to appoint them to the two commissions, which have been without officials since April 13.

At a press meet in the Capital on Thursday, conflict victims and human rights defenders charged the government with backtracking on its earlier commitment to moving the transitional justice process by amending the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act-2014 in line with the Supreme Court ruling and international practices.

“The government has tried to fool the victims by forming the recommendation committee without consulting with the victims,” said Suman Adhikari, former chairperson of the Conflict Victims Common Platform.

“The people selected by the committee led by former chief justice Om Prakash Mishra-led cannot deliver in the absence of an appropriate Act,” Adhikari argued. “The previous leadership, which was picked despite our reservations, did nothing and wasted four crucial years.”

The calls from conflict victims and human rights defenders to amend the Act before appointing officials to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons on Thursday came two days after their demonstration in the Capital demanding the same and weeks after a strongly-worded UN letter to the Nepal government to amend the Act.

Despite repeated promises, the government has yet to amend the Act in line with the 2015 ruling of the top court in which it sought clarity on categorisation of serious crimes, serious human rights violations, and other crimes of serious nature, and struck down almost a dozen provisions, including those which could permit amnesty for the perpetrators.

The existing law is ambiguous on the matter and opens the door for amnesty even in serious cases of human rights violations.

In the latest promise, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali ensured the international community in Geneva in February-end that there would be no blanket amnesty for the perpetrators of serious human rights violations and that the Act would be amended in line with the court ruling.

Weeks after his statement, five special rapporteurs under the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights sought transparency and proper consultation before selecting the members and chairpersons for the transitional justice commissions.

This was not the first time the international community has nudged Nepal to conclude its transitional justice process early by keeping the stakeholders at the centre.

Earlier in January, nine foreign missions based in Kathmandu, at the initiative of the United Nations, had asked the government to clarify its plans for taking the transitional justice process forward and to ensure broader consultation with the stakeholders.

Amid pressure from the international community, the victims’ groups and human rights defenders, who were also divided earlier, now have come together to press for an amendment to the Act before the appointment of officials to the two commissions.

They have claimed that the new teams, no matter how competent they are, will suffer the fate of the previous teams if they are asked to work without amending the Act.

The Common Platform and the Conflict Victims National Network, which were planning to recommend their names for the two commissions, have now decided not to do so, saying that the government failed to pay attention to their request for an amendment.

The victims’ groups believe that the government wants to take the transitional justice process forward without ensuring broader consultation and participation.

“It is sad that the new leadership is being picked without evaluating the reasons behind the failure of the past teams,” Gopal Shah, vice-chairman of the national network, said at the press meet.

In the four years since their formation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission barely collected 63,000 complaints while the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons received 3,000 cases.

Presenting a joint statement, Om Prakash Aryal, an advocate, even urged the National Human Rights Commission to recall its member from the Mishra-led recommendation committee so as to build pressure on the government for the amendment.

Prakash Osti, a member of the commission, is a member of the recommendation committee.

“We also request the commission to monitor the two commissions until they get the new leadership,” he said.

Nepal’s transitional justice process has dragged on for too long and the conflict victims are now increasingly worried whether they will ever get justice.

Conflict victims’ concern that moving the process forward without amending the Act comes at the same time the government is planning to push a bill to amend the National Human Rights Commission Act-2012 through Parliament despite protests.

The bill to amend the Commission Act proposes authority for the attorney general to decide on the recommendations made by the rights watchdog.

Conflict victims and human rights defenders are concerned that the new provision could further jeopardise their quest for justice.

Meanwhile, the recommendation committee has received 57 applications--52 individually and five from the institutions--for the posts of chairpersons and members of the commissions.

A meeting of the committee on Thursday decided to shortlist the applicants based on their qualification and to make public their names by May 8.

“We are evaluating the applications, which will take a few more days,” Sharmila Karki, spokesperson for the committee, told the Post.

Sources at the recommendation committee said that among the applicants, three are former members of the two commissions--Bijul Bishwokarma and Bishnu Pathak from the disappeared commission and Madhabi Bhatta from the truth commission.

Bishwokarma, who does not hold a law degree, has applied for the post of chairman as well as member of the disappeared commission. One willing to lead any of the commissions must qualify to be the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Former chief judges of the Applegate Court Ali Akbar Mikrani and Kalauddhin Akhtar Ansari have applied for the chairmanship of the truth commission. Former government secretary Madhu Regmi has also applied for the same post.

Tara Bahadur Neupane, a lecturer at Nepal Law Campus, and advocate Durga Bahadur Ghale have applied for the member and chairman of both the commissions.

Bed Bhattarai, secretary at the human rights commission, and Ashik Ram Karki, an advocate and human rights defender, have applied for the membership of the truth commission.

Published: 03-05-2019 07:00

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