Incident Reports

Conflict victims fear breach of confidentiality



Conflict victims have expressed concern about a possible vacuum in two transitional justice commissions after the expiry of the tenure of their members on April 13, stating that such a situation would raise the chances of compromise of confidentiality of their testimonies submitted to the commissions.

Through an amendment to the Transitional Justice Act, the government has extended the tenure of members of the two commissions till April 13, and tenure of the commissions by one year until February 2020, with provisions for another one-year extension.

As per the act, a five-member recommendation committee headed by former Supreme Court chief justice should be formed to recommend new members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons. The recommendation will then have to be approved by the Cabinet.

Against this backdrop, the victims said it had already been late for the formation of the recommendation committee given the time-consuming process, and any further delay would raise the chances of the commissions existing without members after April 13. TRC Chairman Surya Kiran Gurung and member Lila Udasi Khanal have already tendered their resignation.

Suman Adhikari, former chairman of the Conflict Victims Common Platform, said the government had not been exhibiting any urgency to complete the crucial tasks of amending the act in line with the Supreme Court verdicts and appointing new members in the commissions in consultation with victims.

Adhikari said if the situation continued, the two commissions were bound to remain vacant for a substantial period of time after April 13. He said such a situation would not only throw the commissions in a state of coma, but it would also raise the chances of compromise of the confidentiality of their testimonies.

“We will strongly object if the commissions remain vacant, and the complaints and testimonies are left at the mercy of the commissions’ secretariats or the line ministry,” he said.

When asked how the privacy of testimonies could be protected in the event of a vacuum in TRC and CIEDP, Adhikari said the government should first work to avoid such a situation. But if the process took some time, the testimonies and evidences could be kept under the supervision of the National Human Rights Commission until the appointment of new commission members.

Ram Kumar Bhandari, advisor to the Conflict Victims National Alliance, also expressed a similar view. He said a vacuum in the commissions would result in the testimonies ending up in the hands of the bureaucracy, raising the chances of destruction of crucial evidences.

“We are heading towards such a disastrous situation where the commissions will remain vacant and the act will not be amended,” he said, adding such a situation will lead to the bureaucracy gradually taking over the whole transitional justice process. “This situation calls for a strong action from the NHRC to protect evidences.”

NHRC member Mohna Ansari said the commissions should not remain vacant for even a single day given their special nature. She said any vacuum would raise question about the confidentiality of the testimonies. “This is a matter of serious concern, and the government should act fast,” she said.

Conceding that the NHRC had not yet begun consultations on the matter, she said a meeting of the rights body next month would discuss the issue. She also agreed that the NHRC could be the custodian of the testimonies in consultation with stakeholders in the event that the two commissions remained vacant.

Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal, however, told The Himalayan Times that the government would find a way out by April 13 remaining within the boundaries of the law. He said the government had already begun the process of taking the transitional justice process to its logical conclusion, and consultations with stakeholders were under way.