Despite repeated promises by the government to conclude the transitional justice process—which has dragged on for more than a decade, the way things are moving indicates that end won’t come anytime soon.
A day after a recommendation committee formed to pick officials for the two transitional justice commissions made public a list of probable candidates, at least two applicants withdrew their names on Tuesday, citing political interference, an allegation that conflict victims have also been making about the entire process.
As many as 57 people, mostly with law and human rights backgrounds, had applied for the posts of chairpersons and members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons.
The recommendation committee, led by former chief justice Om Prakash Mishra, had found 54 of the applicants eligible. However, when the list of 61 candidates, which included some names handpicked by the political parties, was published on Monday, it also included those who were on the commissions prior to their dismissal in April.
Bed Bhattarai, a secretary at the National Human Rights Commission who had applied for membership in the truth commission, said that he decided to withdraw his application as the selection process was not independent. Ashik Ram Karki, a human rights lawyer who had also applied for the truth commission, said that he was pulling out as he saw no hope for an independent decision by the committee.
Muna Sharma, an undersecretary at the Ministry of Law and Justice, confirmed to the Post that the two applicants had withdrawn their candidacy.
The two applicants’ decision to withdraw their names is just the beginning; more are likely to pull out, according to officials familiar with the developments.
The list of applicants was only published after the top leadership of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and Nepali Congress, the primary opposition, agreed on the candidates to lead the two commissions.
Each of the commissions has a five-member team led by a chairperson with four members. Though the Mishra-led committee was formed in March with the mandate to select new sets of officials for both the commissions, it took eight months to come up with the list of candidates, largely due to a disagreement between parties as they jostled to have “their men” in the commissions.
After months of negotiations, the parties last week agreed on Ganesh Datta Bhatta, an associate professor at Nepal Law Campus, as per Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba’s choice to lead the truth commission. The parties, however, do not want to change officials in the commission on the disappeared, which was under Lokendra Mallick.
Conflict victims have long said that they are losing faith in the government and the parties, as they are worried that undue political interference could derail the entire transitional justice process. Now, one of their major concerns has to do with the government’s repetition of the same old faces.
Bhagi Ram Chaudhari, chairperson of the Conflict Victim’s Common Platform, an umbrella body of victims, told the Post on Monday that the government must clarify why officials were relieved in April if they were going to be reappointed.
Questions are also being asked about the decision-making of the committee led by Mishra as conflict victims and rights activists allege that it is just following orders from the parties.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in 2006, envisioned an immediate formation of commissions to find truth and ensure justice to conflict victims. It took nine years for the two transitional justice bodies to come into being.
Since their formation, the terms of the commissions were extended twice, but they have failed to achieve anything substantial, largely due to a lack of resources and the government’s failure to amend the transitional justice act in line with a 2015 Supreme Court ruling and international obligations.
The government has, at home and internationally, promised to amend the Act, but no steps have been taken to that end so far, much to the disappointment of conflict victims.
Victims have demanded that the government must take forward both tasks—law amendment and appointment of commission officials—simultaneously, to no avail.
The international community too has repeatedly asked the Nepal government to ensure broader consensus in line with the expectations of victims, and amendments to the act.
According to officials familiar with the developments, a meeting of the recommendation committee scheduled for November 22, the day the country will mark the 13th anniversary of the signing of the peace agreement, is likely to recommend the names of 10 persons to steer the two commissions.
“We are yet to decide who we will recommend,” said Sharmila Karki, a member of the recommendation committee, who also said that there was nothing preventing the reappointment of officials dismissed in April.
Human rights activists say that since the recommendation committee has become a rubber stamp of the political parties, there are concerns about the entire transitional justice process.
“I fail to understand why the committee has bowed to the political parties and the government,” said Charan Prasai, a rights activist. “The recommendation committee has lost its credibility. It seems that yet another attempt is being made to block the transitional justice process.”