Three months after the United Nations’ special rapporteurs expressed serious concerns over the selection process of new leadership in the transitional justice commissions, four international human rights groups have asked the Nepal government to stall the ongoing nomination process until the existing Transitional Justice Act is amended.
In a statement released on Monday, Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Human Rights Watch, and TRIAL International asked Nepal to adopt a consultative and transparent appointment process, ensure the amendment is in line with international human rights standards and with the Supreme Court ruling, and come up with a plan to take the transitional justice process forward.
“We have seen no evidence so far that the authorities of Nepal are serious about fulfilling their obligation to investigate conflict-era violations, and bring all those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts,” said Raju Chapagai, South Asia researcher at Amnesty International, was quoted as saying in the statement. "If the commitment to human rights obligations was as unflinching as claimed by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, the government would have acted diligently to deliver on its transitional justice responsibilities."
The joint statement from the international human rights organisations comes at a time when Nepal’s conflict victims’ organisations have criticised the ongoing process for the selection of transitional justice leadership, saying it is not transparent and politically motivated.
Last week, Conflict Victims Common Platform and Conflict Victims National Network, two umbrella bodies of the decade-long Maoist insurgency, issued separate statements asking the government to hold a broader consensus among the parties before moving ahead with the selection process. Both groups have threatened to not accept the new leadership if they are not involved in the decision-making process.
In their statement, the international rights groups have accused the Oli-led government of failing to take concrete measures in providing justice to the thousands of victims who have been living in hope for more than a decade.
After being elected in 2018, Oli had promised that the legal framework governing the transitional justice process would be brought into conformity with Nepal’s international human rights law obligations, just as the Supreme Court had repeatedly directed. However, the rights groups say the government never amended the law, and instead pushed forward—without adequate consultation—the establishment of a committee that would recommend appointments to the transitional justice bodies.
“The failure of the government to deliver on its commitment to ensuring truth, justice and reparations for the victims of conflict-era abuses shows a dismaying disregard for the protection of human rights,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement.
The joint statement also takes aim at political leaders inside and outside the government, who it accuses of playing games by politicising the process. Frederick Rawski, Asia-Pacific director of the ICJ, said the political leaders should take actions to ensure justice, instead of looking after their short-term self-interests.
In recent months, political parties have been blamed for trying to induct their people in the two commissions. Differences between the Nepal Communist Party—formed after unification with former Maoists—and the Nepali Congress over the seat-sharing has delayed the appointment process. The recommendation committee, led by former Chief Justice Om Prakash Mishra, was formed in March but has yet to nominate names because of a lack of consensus among the ruling and opposition parties.
The human rights activists say the government should not take back-to-back statements from the UN and global human rights organisations lightly, and has warned that failure to resolve the issue at home could attract international interference.
“If our government and the parties are thinking they can derail the process then they are wrong. The sooner they resolve the issue at home the better,” Kapil Shrestha, professor at Tribhuvan University and former member of the National Human Rights Commission told the Post.
In April, five UN rapporteurs under the High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote to Minister for Foreing Affairs Pradeep Gyawali seeking transparency and proper consultation before selecting members and chairpersons in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission on the Investigation of Enforced Disappearance. They had also demanded the government to urgently initiate a process to amend the Act with appropriate consultation with victims, families of victims, civil society and the national human rights commission. The government has not taken any visible steps to this effect.
Similarly, in July last year, Amnesty International, the ICJ and TRIAL International called on the government of Nepal to heed to the concerns of victims of the conflict-era human rights abuses by embarking on an effective and transparent consultative process.
Government officials say as transitional justice is not just a legal but a political process and negotiations are ongoing.
“The transitional justice process cannot conclude without political consensus,” said Man Bahadur Aryal, joint-secretary at the Ministry of Law and Justice. “The government and the concerned parties are working to find a common understanding.”