Promise of peace

  • It is important to understand that transitional justice and traditional justice systems are two different things
- YOGENDRA P PANERU

Jan 12, 2016-

Truth, mercy, justice, and well-being are the essential components for reconciliation in a post-conflict society. Hence, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is established in post-conflict nations to restore justice and promote reconciliation. The TRC is a well-structured mechanism that aims to provide transitional justice to the conflict victims and perpetrators, strengthen national unity, and move the nation forward with the hope of enduring peace. Beyond this, the TRC sets the tone for the entire transitional justice process by putting the victims first.

The TRC in Nepal was supposed to have been established following the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006. However, it was only formed last year. This mechanism can bring peace by offering forgiveness to the perpetrators for their past offense under the assumption that they will not re-engage in violence. In this context, the TRC should empower victims to understand that without offering forgiveness there will be no reconciliation, without reconciliation there will be no better sense of justice, and without a better sense of justice our society will not be safe and stable.

Controversies

Smart TRC commissioners do not only rely on international standards. Indeed, there is no universal standard to achieve transitional justice. Each TRC generates new standards to advance its transitional justice goals. Once its acts heal the trauma of the victims and implement the reconciliation between the victims and perpetrators, the TRC’s primary job is complete. The TRCs worldwide employ innovative measures that may sometimes lack compliance with human rights standards, but advancing long-term goals of peacebuilding is the integral part of the reconciliation process. The South African TRC Chair, Desmond Tutu, was successful in translating Christian theology into peace. South Africa genuinely implemented international rights standards that made it a unique example of peacebuilding. Nonetheless, opponents claim that Tutu was too easy to accept the apology from the apartheid government that committed unspeakable atrocities against thousands of South Africans, thus undermining the rights principles for the sake of his ambitious goal of durable peace. So far, his testimony proves that the goals of the TRC and those of the traditional justice system (courts) differ. If this is the case, why are we debating whether Bal Krishan Dhungel should or should not be sent to prison following the Supreme Court’s order?  

Dilemma of forgiveness  

It would be extremely hard for the people who have lost their sons, daughters, or loved ones, to forgive the perpetrators. However, peacebuilders should be able to educate communities that offering forgiveness is the sacrifice made by the victims and their families for enduring peace under the assumption that the past perpetrators are genuinely contrite and they have obligations to constructively engage in peace and development. To carry on this notion, spiritual beliefs are indeed significant; therefore, Tutu was successful in South Africa. Unfortunately, theological schooling is not recognised in Nepal, which makes applying the South African model difficult. Moreover, the TRC alone cannot do this challenging task and it requires cooperation from the civil society and political parties. NGOs should be engaged in peacebuilding initiatives at grassroots level. The TRC should place emphasis on gathering evidence and uncovering information—from victims and perpetrators—rather than prosecuting individuals for past crimes, which is how similar commissions elsewhere have worked in post-conflict scenarios.  

It is very clear that without guaranteeing human rights, there is no peace; however, without making a sacrifice from all of us in transition, the journey of peacebuilding cannot move forward. In the Nepali context, the controversial cases of the conflict-era-such as Doramba, Bhairabnath Gan, the Badhermudhe massacres, Bal Krishna Dhungel who was convicted by the Supreme Court, Colonel Kumar Lama who is now under the investigation of the UK criminal court for allegedly torturing two detainees in Nepal, or anyone from the security forces or government who were directly or indirectly involved in violence-should be brought to the TRC. If the government arrests Bal Krishna Dhungel following the Supreme Court’s order, it will lose the authority to argue for Lama’s release from the UK. It is important to understand that transitional justice and traditional justice systems are two different things.

 

TRC vs. NHRC

Nevertheless, many people, including our lawmakers and human rights activists, have said that justice is a prerequisite for reconciliation rather than an alternative to it, and the existing TRC bill remains prejudiced in favour of the perpetrators of abuse. This argument may be right if we only look at it from a human rights perspective. Yet, transitional peacebuilding and human rights goals do not always align. If a new regime has completed a transitional phase and consolidated democracy, then it can no longer tolerate any type of violence. Nepal is not there yet. In such a case, rights and peacebuilding activists must differentiate their activities. Building peace is the job of the TRC, and protecting individuals’ rights is the job of rights activists, including the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). If the activities of these two entities get entangled, we will not require two mechanisms. The TRC is a temporary mechanism formed for a particular purpose, but NHRC is a permanent watchdog. Therefore, NHRC should let the TRC work independently for the time being. 

It is a mistake if the TRC assumes that former perpetrators will come forward for peace without any condition. They seek guarantees that they will not be wholly punished for their offence. Civil society, without any prejudice, should witness whether the TRC is putting forth its best efforts in bringing victims and perpetrators together. 

Paneru is a faculty member at Strayer University, the US

Published: 12-01-2016 08:58

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