Oh no, not this again

  • Transitional justice seems to be walking blind; that’s why it keeps falling into holes.
- MOHNA ANSARI, Kathmandu

Apr 17, 2019-

The public debate on transitional justice seems to have gone quiet. Perhaps this reflects a slowdown in the activism of those who have been promoting a ‘home-grown’ transitional justice process. I have little idea what home-grown means in this context. Transitional justice processes have been going on, internationally, some would say, since the Nuremburg trials at the end of the Second World War. I would call that transitional justice, not least because special methods had to be thought up given that no existing mechanism could meet the needs of the aftermath of the war. Since then, transitional justice has been tried in many countries where mass human rights violations by the state, primarily, have overwhelmed the existing justice system. Something new had to be invented to help them move on from the crisis to some sort of normalcy.

Most transitional justice processes are thought up and agreed by national figures who know their traditions and needs better than multinational organisations. But the sensible ones take a look at what has been tried elsewhere in the past before making their decisions. Last year, the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal invited one of the world’s biggest experts on truth commissions, Priscilla Hayner, who met with political actors, answered their questions and also gave a brilliant speech on all aspects of transitional justice which removed any confusion. But the events since then make me feel like she was not heard at all.

Private information

Nepal’s intellectuals, and its political class, have not been still in the 12 years since the end of the Maoist conflict. Many of them have visited venues of transitional justice processes such as South Africa, Peru and Argentina. The United Nations and others have offered to send experts to Nepal. Some flew in transitional justice veterans from South Africa and Colombia. The UN Special Rapporteur on Transitional Justice wanted to come to the country and advise us, but none of our governments since 2006 thought that would be a good idea. One European embassy even flew a whole bunch of our politicians to Bangkok to discuss Nepal, though we still do not know what they learnt there. This is typical. So much help and so little sharing of information, as if justice was some sort of personal infection that should remain secret—private information not to be shared.

Transitional justice has to have its roots in justice. It has to lead to apologies to the victims in the form of reparations and memorialisation. It has to help reform our institutions so that something like the events of 1996-2006 will not be repeated: no more torture, no more disappearances, and no more murders of innocent civil servants to make people too afraid to speak. In any case, our 12-year-long transitional justice process seems to be deliberately walking with its eyes closed, so it is hardly surprising that it keeps stepping into holes in the ground, sometimes falling into the same hole twice.

We were all surprised that the government named a nomination committee to replace the outgoing officials of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons. The victims, and many others in civil society, have been saying for a long time that one of the

major problems of the commissions set up in 2014 was that the people were either not competent or not independent; that is why so little has been achieved by so many at such expense and delay. Government sources have been telling the press that this time, they will adhere to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act—not seeing a problem in following an act that the Supreme Court and the UN have said does not meet the required standards and needs to be amended. The amendment process was an ideal opportunity to rectify mistakes of the past and consult properly with the victims and experts about how to find the right members for the renewed transitional justice bodies.

End of all-party mechanisms

Anonymous government sources told The Kathmandu Post on April 4 that, ‘this time the parties are looking to select persons with fine reputations, unlike in the past when officials were chosen based on the interests of the political parties’. Several victims, and others, have raised the issue that from their perspective, most, if not all, of the five people named to the nomination committee are perceived to be aligned with one of the top two parties.

A few years ago, it was finally decided that all-party mechanisms would be ended because they led to corruption and political patronage. But we still can’t tell the difference, it would seem from this new committee, between all-party mechanisms and independent ones. If the nomination committee is nominated privately by the parties, why should the victims believe that the people they in turn nominate to the commissions will be independent?

Ansari is a member of the National Human Rights Commission.

Published: 17-04-2019 11:59

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