Whose commissions?

  • The politically-controlled transitional justice commissions offer little hope for victims of the conflict
- RAM BHANDARI
Whose commissions?

Jan 20, 2015-

On January 13, a Recommendation Committee made public a list of 68 people, mostly lawyers, political affiliates and ex-bureaucrats, for election to two transitional justice commissions—the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission on Enforced Disappearance (CED). The list of candidates was decided without any consultation with the wider victims’ community and represents the latest instance of exclusion from the larger transitional justice process. The Government of Nepal has continuously denied victims’ demands for truth, justice, and reparations in a consultative, democratic, and transparent manner. Instead of ensuring victims’ participation in the transitional justice process, the government has moved forward with a plan to appease the need for transitional justice while protecting their own interests first and foremost. The victims and surviving families do not believe in such top down state-led processes as such unilateral political action cannot effectively address victims’ needs and sufferings.

A political process

Despite the candidate list, the main political parties have already decided to appoint their affiliates and loyal agents; any hope of a public process involving the victims’ community has been negated. The Conflict Victims Common Platform (CVCP) has repeatedly demanded that transitional justice Act be amended, requested that victims be included in the commission formation process, and that the Supreme Court verdicts of 2007 and 2014 concerning the TRC and CED be recognised and implemented. Victim’s access to and involvement in the commission formation process have not been discussed, while the discussions, nominations and, appointments of the political parties dominate the news. This top-down intervention has completely controlled and manipulated the process in the name of superficial peacebuilding by negating the norms of local peace strategy and the participation of concerned parties. In this form, the commissions offer little hope for the future of justice in Nepal, where the majority victims and surviving families are remote and disconnected from the national process.

In addition to this exclusion, conflict victims in remote areas of Nepal have not been informed about the transitional justice process by the Peace Ministry, a body that seems increasingly removed from the realities of everyday Nepali citizens. Issues are discussed in Baluwatar and decided in Singha Durbar; victims are never consulted and their needs go unattended. These realities pose a big challenge to the potential commissioners who have already accepted their respective political appointments to support their own political closure, not for victims’ truth and justice. The CVCP, as well as civil society and international agencies who have been actively engaging in the development of the transitional justice process, should be active in watching and monitoring the process as it progresses. Because of massive polarisation and politicisation, actors are divided, creating not only confusion amongst victims but also a weakening of the commission process itself and any hope for a victim-centric approach.

Increasing role of security forces and political leaders has caused fear among victims and led to reluctance among witnesses to speak freely about conflict violations. Many victims, including myself, suffer continuous threats when challenging perpetrators; in general, there is no secure environment for the process of transitional justice to proceed. This insecurity, combined with a lack of victim trust in and ownership of transitional justice mechanisms, amounts to a complete exclusion and state denial of court verdicts and the National Human Rights Commission.

Question of legitimacy

The faulty commission acts should be amended; otherwise, victims and their families may not support the politically-led amnesty process which will not allow for a true historical account of events to be recorded. Such exclusionary tactics employed by the state have further contributed to the negative transitional environment and compelled the victims’ alliances to find an alternative path. The government must review the process seriously and create a trustworthy environment to build a participatory commission process that engages, not marginalises, the victims’ community.

We appeal to the government to bring an end to the politics of victimhood, cancel the unilateral process, withdraw the unfair decisions, and begin a trustworthy commission process in a transparent way to ensure victims’ right to truth, justice, and reparations; otherwise, victims will have to take an alternative path to establishing victims’ truth and justice.

The radical faction of the Maoist party has made its position clear that they will not support the exclusionary state-led process where they have no seats in the commissions. This is not a political gamble. A principled transitional justice agenda must be established in prior consultation with victims alliances and their members, otherwise the history of violence may repeat, as radical factions are preparing for another rebellion against injustices. Victims’ community and civil society groups have repeatedly raised questions of legitimacy and credibility for the commission process, the state’s denial of the UNHRC ruling, OHCHR technical notes, and international norms of justice.

Victim-centric approach

Despite their exclusion from the commission process, family associations, victims’ alliances and members in the countryside are creating their own spaces and developing a role to gain agency at the local-level against the top-down approach. This is a big challenge for state authorities and so-called experts imposing such faulty aspects of transitional justice without public consensus and recognition.

“The leaders showed a dream, we sacrificed for change, but when the system changed, leaders changed themselves, forgetting the past. They became new elites and we are in a similar stage without experiencing changes. We lost family members, there is no respect for our loss, nobody realises our suffering and there is no official memory,” said one woman from Kailali who lost her daughter and husband in the conflict. There are thousands of similar stories and thousands of victims asking if the commissions will address their needs and challenges.

The government and political heads in the Capital should rethink victims’ role and ownership in the process, to whom and for what reason the commissions are being formed. Otherwise, it would be a historic error to establish a ‘fake’ commission in the name of victims to hide the truth and derail justice processes. There is little chance of future collaboration after the unilateral steps taken by the state, which have resulted in the complete exclusion of victims’ groups. Victims have no trust in the politically-controlled perpetrator-centred commission formation process. In their current form, the TRC and CED will not address the causes of conflict and past crimes, such as enforced disappearance and torture; rather, they will create further tension, fuel future violations, protect criminals, and potentially provide amnesty to perpetrators.

Bhandari is General Secretary of the Conflict Victims Common Platform (CVCP)

Published: 21-01-2015 10:34

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