Formed in 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) were set up to investigate conflict-era human rights violations and abuses. But they have been able to do little more than collect complaints. It is no secret that the transitional justice bodies have been debilitated by weak legislation and a lack of political will.
In this light, the fact that the two transitional justice bodies are seeking political commitment before requesting tenure extensions from the government before February 7 should be viewed positively. It seems that the TRC and the CIEDP have finally decided to put some pressure on the political parties to amend the flawed legal mandate governing the commissions and better align legislation with recommendations made by the Supreme Court and the Conflict Victims Common Platform. Among other problems, current legislation allows the transitional justice bodies to recommend amnesty for serious human rights violations and abuses. Conflict victims agree that further extension of the commissions’ tenure is meaningless without changing legislation to remove amnesty provisions.
Last week, President Bidya Bhandari authenticated an ordinance produced by the government to extend the tenure of the two transitional justice bodies by one year. This ordinance however fell short of amending the weak legislation governing the two commissions. What is surprising is that an amendment satisfying the 2015 Supreme Court order has already been formulated at the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction (MoPR). The ordinance requires the bodies to formally apply for extension before receiving it, which is why the bodies have now sought to question the political parties’ commitment before moving forward.
The TRC and CIEDP are not short of critics. In the three years since their formation, the transitional bodies have not closed even one of the more than 60,000 cases lodged, with investigations opened in a tiny fraction of these. However, it is clear that the primary responsibility for implementing a transitional justice mechanism that will be accepted by the Victims Platform lies in the hands of the political parties.
What the parties in question have to understand is that, no matter who governs the country or however long, legitimate demands for justice will never be swept under the rug. The notions of justice and the assurance of human rights are central to the legitimacy of any democratic system. And transitional justice is associated with a society’s attempt to come to terms with past abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation. If the tenure of the TRC and CIEDP is allowed to expire, or their work falls short of international standards of investigation, Nepal is bound to draw the attention of global humanitarian organisations. The victims, and the larger world, are watching.