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UN letter on transitional justice process puts government in a bind

  • Officials say the agency has tried to portray Nepal in a way that inaccurately shows the country has done nothing
- ANIL GIRI, Kathmandu

Apr 19, 2019-

A letter from the United Nations addressed to Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali in relation to Nepal’s transitional justice process has put the government in a bind, as officials said the agency should have waited for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to acknowledge the receipt of the missive before it was put into the public domain.

Five special rapporteurs under Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner on April 12 wrote to the Nepal government, seeking transparency in the selection of leadership of two transitional justice bodies and asking to amend the existing Transitional Justice Act at par with international standards. The letter was sent through the Permanent Mission of Nepal to the United Nations Office in Geneva.

Senior officials at the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have also objected to the content of the letter, which came to public notice on Wednesday.

“The letter wrongly tries to portray that nothing has been done so far in the transitional justice process. We have reservations about it,” a senior official at the Prime Minister’s Office told the Post on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the media.

In the letter, the UN rapporteurs have sought the Nepal government’s clarification on any measure it has taken or intends to take to bring Nepal’s legislation in conformity with international norms and standards and what it has done or is planning to do to enhance the effectiveness of the two transitional justice bodies. They have also sought information regarding the measures Nepal government has taken or is planning to take for effective participation of victims in the design and implementation of the transitional justice processes.

The letter was sent a little over a month after Gyawali, during his speech at the Human Rights Commission in Geneva, assured the international community that Nepal would amend its Transitional Justice Act in line with the Supreme Court ruling and international commitments. He had also said that there would be no blanket amnesty in cases of serious human rights violations.

The UN concern over selection of  members and chairpersons of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission on the Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons comes weeks after the government formed a recommendation committee led by former chief justice Om Prakash Mishra to select the members and chairpersons of the commissions. The committee has called for applications from candidates to work as chairpersons and members of the two commissions.

More than a decade after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, conflict victims are still waiting for justice.

The UN rapporteurs, in their letter, have asked the Nepal government to recall the ruling from the Supreme Court. Even as the government has extended the terms of the two transitional justice bodies, it is yet to amend the Transitional Justice Act in line with the Supreme Court ruling and international obligations, despite repeated promises.

In 2015, the Supreme Court struck down the amnesty provision and said the consent of the victims was necessary for any reconciliation.

Though the letter has stopped short of making a direct reference, it does carry a hint that there has been a lack of consistency in the government’s claims and its actions.

The international community in the past also called on the government to take the transitional process to a logical conclusion by amending the Act and taking the victims into confidence.

In January, nine foreign embassies based in Kathmandu, at the initiative of the UN, issued a statement asking the government to clarify its plans to take the transitional justice process forward in 2019 and ensure broader consultation with the stakeholders. “Without broad public trust in the process, Nepal will not be able to bring closure to the wounds and grievances that persist from the conflict era, nor be able to complete the peace process,” the foreign missions said.

In the latest strongly-worded letter, the UN has also nudged Nepali officials about the pending requests for a visit from the Special Rapporteur. “We look forward to receiving your invitation to visit the country soon,” the letter said.

A senior government official, however, told the Post that Nepal has always been open to inviting the rapporteurs.

“Two UN special rapporteurs came last year alone. We will take necessary decision about the request soon,” said the official. He also said that Nepal is serious about concluding the transitional justice process adhering to the international standards and the Supreme Court’s ruling.

In his brief comment on the UN letter, Minister for Communication and Information Technology Gokul Banskota said on Thursday that there would be no blanket amnesty in cases of human rights violations committed during the decade-long insurgency.

“Nepal is capable of handling the transitional justice process on its own,” Baskota told reporters during the weekly media briefing at Singha Durbar.

Government officials said they received the letter only on Wednesday evening. It was not clear yet when the government is planning to respond to the United Nations.

The officials said the government will study the letter and reply to the high commissioner’s office at an appropriate time. “We will reply to all concerned after studying the letter,” Bharat Raj Paudyal, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Post.

The official at the Prime Minister’s Office said the government is open to taking technical support, if need be, from the UN, which could be for, say, forensic study. “We are open to the UN’s support if we need, but the transitional process will move ahead on the homegrown modality,” he said.

Binod Ghimire contributed reporting.

Published: 19-04-2019 07:36

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