Your search keywords:

Another transitional justice blunder

Another transitional justice blunder
The government has tabled a bill to amend the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth, and Reconciliation Act in Parliament. In many ways, if not exclusively, this move was prompted by a case filed at the Supreme Court against Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal for a public admission three years ago that his party would take responsibility for the deaths of 5,000 people killed during a decade-long insurgency. It is hard to believe that the 10-party ruling alliance took the bill to Parliament to actually give a fresh impetus to the stalled transitional justice process. Many conflict victims see the move as a gambit to influence the court rather than an earnest attempt to conclude the long overdue transitional justice process. They have a valid reason to be suspicious. For one, the parties have made no effort to change some controversial provisions in the proposed legislation.

The bill proposes amnesty on even serious human rights violations including murder, rape and torture cases. Some say the bill tabled in Parliament is barely any different than the previous one, which was widely criticized on the ground that it would deprive justice to victims.

Conflict victims, rights activists, and the international community, among others, have raised objections to some provisions of the bill. A protest assembly was held in Maitighar Mandala, Kathmandu, on Sunday as the government tabled the bill in Parliament. Nepal’s transitional justice mechanisms—Truth and Reconciliation and Disappearance Commission—cannot make any progress unless conflict victims, rights activists and the international community take ownership of the process. But political parties are trying to conclude the transitional justice process on their own terms, ignoring the concerns raised by the conflict victims and other stakeholders. The major political parties—Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center)—are committing yet another blunder in the transitional justice process. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has expressed serious objection to the government’s move to table the bill. The constitutional rights body has said the proposed legislation has been presented in Parliament without a broad consultation with stakeholders, and without amending the disputed provisions in line with the 2015 Supreme Court verdict. NHRC is of the view that there should be amendments on the issue of reparations, prosecution, appointment process of commissions, issue of child soldiers, and matters relating to jurisdiction of courts. Suman Adhikari, who leads a campaign of conflict victims, says the current bill has the provisions of adopting reconciliation even in cases of serious human rights violations committed during the conflict era. He warns that passing the law in haste amid widespread dissatisfaction among the conflict victims could further complicate and prolong the transitional justice process. There is also the chance of more lawsuits being filed by the conflict victims against Prime Minister Dahal and his party leaders. It is not helping that the Maoist and its splinter parties are threatening the court and others raising the issue of war-era human rights violations. Such an attitude will only reinforce the perception that the Maoists are not committed to concluding the transitional justice process. Ganesh Datta Bhatta, former chair of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, says there is always a lack of trust between conflict victims and the government. He is of the view that all the concerns of conflict victims could not be addressed if the government were to take the conflict victims into confidence. He says if the environment of distrust continues to fester, there is a risk of conflict-victims snubbing the entire transitional justice process. The only prudent way to conclude the transitional justice process is to amend the transitional laws in a way that addresses the concerns of all stakeholders. It may not be possible to satisfy each and every individual, but the major concerns pointed out by the conflict victims, rights activists, court and the international community must be addressed. It is also vital to ensure that the two transitional justice bodies are free, independent and autonomous. It is a fact that due to the flawed appointment process, these two bodies, since 2015, have failed to make substantial progress on their tasks. They have received around 65,000 complaints, but completed the preliminary investigations of only a few cases. The two transitional justice commissions must be allowed to work without political interference to independently investigate every single complaint. In the past, there have been several instances of top politicians exerting pressure on the commissions to stop the investigation of certain cases. If the Dahal government is really committed to taking the transitional justice process and the peace process to its logical conclusion, it has to make a substantial progress. The international community has renewed its interest in Nepal's stalled transitional justice process after Dahal became prime minister in December last year. It has been more than 15 years since the seven-party alliance and the Maoists signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, but the transitional justice process has barely made any significant progress so far. The government is now planning to fast-track the bill from Parliament, which doesn’t give lawmakers sufficient time to study and deliberate the proposed legislation on transitional justice. As the government has already presented the bill in Parliament, the only way ahead is to form a parliamentary committee to revise the controversial provisions after consulting all stakeholders. Meanwhile, political parties should also revisit their past actions to examine what went wrong in the last eight years, after the formation of the two commissions, and find out ways to remedy those mistakes. Bhatta, the former chair of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, says the onus lies on Parliament and its members to hold intensive discussion on the bill before its endorsement. Parliamentary committees have not been formed yet, which are responsible for holding discussions on important legislations. If the bill endorsement is hurried, Bhatta says there will be serious, long-term implications, which could jeopardize Nepal’s peace process.