Why could the two transitional bodies make no headway?
The intent itself was flawed. You cannot expect good results from a wrong approach, and this is what happened in the past four years. The law was formulated to serve the interest of leaders who were themselves human rights violators. The core purpose of the law was to provide blanket amnesty on war-time cases instead of justice to victims. The law granted the commission rights to make recommendations to the government irrespective of the position of conflict victims. The concerns of the victims were ignored. We knocked on the door of the Supreme Court against some of its provisions but the government hurriedly endorsed it and the commissions were subsequently formed. The people who have in-depth knowledge of and experiences with transitional justice were blocked and office-bearers were appointed along political lines. Later, the Supreme Court asked the government to amend the flawed provisions but the parties ignored the verdict. The commissions thus became platforms for parties to appoint their loyalists and show the international community the transitional justice system was functioning. There was the tendency of delaying the process and tiring the victims out.
How do you rate the performance of the two commissions in the past four years?
We were consulted only six months after the two commissions were formed. There were questions over whether the conflict victims were a priority for the commissions. We were saying the law itself was flawed but those who were appointed claimed it was fine. The terms of the office-bearers were repeatedly extended for no good reason and without any concrete work plan. The timeframe the commissions needed to complete their work was not properly defined. There were inter- and intra-commission fights. And they did not coordinate with national and international rights organizations. The government did not allocate enough resources.
In your view what were the legal hurdles to investigating war-era cases?
Obviously, the law was the key. The United Nations, the National Human Rights Commission, several NGOs and the international community have repeatedly been saying that the law should be amended in line with the 2015 Supreme Court verdict. But political parties and successive governments have chosen to ignore the ruling.
Now the government is again preparing to appoint new office-bearers to the two commissions. What is your take on this?
First, we have to analyze why the previous commissions could not work. There should be a comprehensive review without any prejudice. Whose mistake was it? The governments, the political parties, or the commissions? The Recommendation Committee had pledged to review all aspects of previous commissions but there has been no progress so far. The previous commissions were not able to settle even a single war-era case, which is a shame. More than that, the commissions cannot work if new laws are not formulated in line with the Supreme Court verdict and the victims’ suggestions. Without meaningful participation of the conflict victims, the TJ process can never reach a logical conclusion. The government and the commissions alone cannot drive the process. If you try to impose something from the political level, the results will be unproductive, as was evident in the past four years.
How should the transitional justice process proceed then?
First, the job of the Recommendation Commission should be put on hold. There should be meaningful consultations with all stakeholders, and we should have the right to fix the modality of those consultations. The government cannot dictate anything. The new act should accommodate the outcomes of such consultations. Similarly, the two transitional justice commissions should have a clear working calendar. The people who have in-depth knowledge of transitional justice should be given the responsibility, for which the government needs to prepare a roster of possible candidates.
Are you suggesting that as things are conflict victims have no hope of justice?
Obviously. Under the current circumstances, there is no room for hope. There are attempts to reappoint those who were removed earlier from the commissions. This will be a futile exercise.
A lot obviously depends on the political will of the major political parties. What is their stance on it?
They either want to scrap the whole process or settle it as per their wish. They do not intend to provide justice to the victims or to settle war-era cases. Politicians are saying all war-era issues should be forgotten in the ‘new Nepal’.
What is the position of the conflict victims on this?
First, all the appointments and processes should be credible and transparent, and convey a clear message to the victims that their genuine concerns will be addressed. The Recommendation Commission invited us for consultations twice, but did not heed even one of our suggestions. The consultations were just a show. The most important factor is to build trust. The people appointed based on political quotas cannot investigate the complaints filed against their political masters. Without a trustworthy process, we cannot expect a trustworthy result. There are around 63,000 complaints with the commission; we first have to identity the modality of settling them. There should be clarity on whether all complaints should be handled individually or whether some should be dealt with collectively.
Are you suggesting that you have no platform on which to voice your concerns?
We don’t have such a platform. The society does not listen to us. Politicians often want to avoid this issue. Even media coverage has decreased. There should be public hearings in different places where the victims can express their plight and concerns.
How do you evaluate the concerns of the international community toward transitional justice?
Their concerns have gradually dissipated, particularly after the formation of a strong government led by Nepali Communist Party Chairman KP Oli. Though they still issue statements in our support, their concerns are now marginal. The country now has a stable government, which is saying that transitional justice is a purely domestic issue and as such the international community should not speak about it.
What should the conflict victims do if war-era cases are not settled through national mechanisms? Any plans to take them to international platforms?
It is an issue of humanity and not confined to national boundaries. For now, conflict victims want to settle all issues domestically. But if the government continues to ignore us, we will have no option but to seek justice elsewhere.