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Parties in negotiations to get ‘their’ people in transitional justice bodies

  • Victims say such political interference could jeopardise transitional justice process
- BINOD GHIMIRE, Kathmandu

May 9, 2019-

The two transitional justice mechanisms’ failure to achieve anything substantial in the last four years has largely been attributed to politics and political bickering. Conflict victims have long said that since officials in the two bodies were selected under political quota, there was a lack of independence.

Now, the government has formed a committee to appoint new officials in the two transitional justice bodies after bidding adieu to old office-bearers on April 13.

But multiple sources the Post spoke with say the delay in appointment has been caused by ongoing negotiations among political parties, or senior leaders KP Oli, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Sher Bahadur Deuba for that matter.

This comes amid demands from conflict victims and human rights defenders that the stakeholders refrain from repeating past mistakes and ensure the new leaderships of the two transitional justice bodies are selected purely on merit basis.

Sources said the parties are yet again trying to induct their confidantes in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons.

“The delay in recommending officials for the transitional justice bodies is aimed at allowing time for political parties for negotiations,” a source familiar with the ongoing development told the Post on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the matter.

The top leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party and the opposition Nepali Congress are said to be in talks to share chairmen and members in the two commissions between the two parties.

They have already held at least two meetings attended by Nepal Communist Party Co-chair and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, party’s another Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba.

The Nepal Communist Party wants its sympathisers to lead both the commissions, though it is flexible about accommodating a maximum number of members to the Nepali Congress.

The main opposition, however, is adamant that it should have a person of its choice to lead one of the commissions.

“This is the main bone of contention,” said the source.

When the two commissions were formed in 2015, the Nepali Congress was leading the government. The party had picked the chairpersons and one member each for the two commissions from among its supporters. The CPN-UML and Maoist party, as well as Madhes-based parties, were allotted a member each in the two commissions.

To appoint the new set of office-bearers in the two transitional justice bodies, leaders close to then Maoist party are said to be flexible about addressing the demand of the main opposition, but those from then UML are refusing to budge. Ramesh Lekhak and Minendra Rijal from the Nepali Congress and Subash Nembang and Barsha Man Pun from the Nepal Communist Party backed by their top leaders are in negotiations.

Today, the political equation has changed—UML and Maoist party have become one as the Nepal Communist Party, and the Congress is the main opposition.

Sources said though technically there are two parties—Nepal Communist Party and Nepali Congress—in essence, there are still three parties when it comes to transitional justice—the former UML, former Maoist party, and the Nepali Congress.

“We haven’t reached any conclusion yet,” Rijal told the Post stopping short of going into details. “Our consultation is going on.”

Political negotiations among these parties now have stoked concerns among conflict victims who have been waiting for justice for more than a decade.

Conflict victims and rights defenders have of late raised their voices against political interference in the transitional justice process and demanded that officials in the transitional justice commissions be selected on the basis of merit and competence.

They have also demanded that the government amend the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act-2014 before appointing officials in the two commissions.

“The parties have turned a deaf ear to our concerns,” Bhagiram Chaudhari, chairperson of Conflict Victims Common Platform, a grouping of conflict victims, told the Post. “Their present act shows they don’t care about justice to the victims; they just want to linger the process.”

The government-instituted recommendation committee, led by former chief justice Om Prakash Mishra, is currently working to select new officials from among the applicants, but its recommendations will also include the names suggested by the top political leaderships.

As many as 57 people have applied, according to the committee, but it also has the authority to recommend names other than from among the applicants.

Though the committee was given the leeway to recommend names other than from among the applicants to ensure selection of experts, in case they don’t apply for their own reasons, political parties are using it to appoint individuals of their choice in the two commissions.

Records at the recommendation committee show Kamal Narayan Das, a former justice of the Supreme Court, and Ali Akbar Mikrani and Kalauddhin Akhtar Ansari, former chief judges of the then Appellate Court, are among the applicants for 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 member and chairman of both the commissions.

Of late, pressure from conflict victims, rights defenders and the international community has been mounting on the government to ensure transparency and proper consultation before selecting officials for the two transitional commissions.

Last month, five special rapporteurs under the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote to Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, saying the selection procedure [of officials for the transitional justice process] lacked impartiality, independence and transparency.

They had also called on the Nepal government to amend the Transitional Justice Act in line with the Supreme Court ruling and international obligations.

Though Gyawali, during his speech in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Commission in March, had assured the international community that there won’t be any blanket amnesty in cases of serious human rights violations and that Nepal would amend the Act in line with the court ruling, the government has shown no signs of amending the Act as of now.

In 2015, the Supreme Court had struck down the amnesty provision and said the consent of the victims was necessary for any reconciliation, besides clarifying that cases that are sub-judice at various courts cannot be transferred to the commissions.

Earlier in January, nine foreign missions based in Kathmandu, at the initiative of the UN, had called on the Nepal government to clarify its plans to take the transitional justice process forward in 2019 and ensure broader consultation with the stakeholders.

Experts and observers have long said Nepal’s transitional justice process has failed to progress largely due to the lack of political will and bickering among the leaders.

Around 63,000 complaints have been filed at the two commissions since they were set up four years ago. But the commissions failed to make any significant progress in the investigation into the cases.

As political negotiations continue among the top leaders over the selection of officials in the transitional justice bodies and the government continues to show reluctance to amend the Act, conflict victims are becoming increasingly wary of not getting justice.

Representatives of the victims’ groups say the parties have not learnt from past mistakes.

They say the attempt to induct party faithfuls into the two commissions shows political parties don’t want a fair investigation.

“The recent development shows parties are the least bit concerned about our demands,” said Gopal Shah, vice-chair of Conflict Victims National Network. “It is disappointing that they are putting so much effort to install their faithfuls in the commissions and doing nothing to amend the Act, which is a priority.”

Published: 09-05-2019 07:34

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