Conflict victims in Nepal wait for justice

By Laxman Datt Pant

Conflict victims in Nepal wait for justice

Today, World Human Rights Day is being celebrated globally with the theme of ‘Recover Better-Stand Up for Human Rights’ which calls for an end to discrimination amid the COVID-19 crisis and to ensure the voices of the most affected and vulnerable people are heard which includes the conflict victims in Nepal who are still awaiting truth and justice.

Although it has been 14 years since the armed conflict (1996-2006) between the then Maoists and the government ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) on 22 November 2006, no effective prosecutions have been carried out to punish the perpetrators of the serious human rights violations that included enforced disappearances, torture, rape, and unlawful killings.

Documentation from the Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC, 2007), a leading human rights organization in the country, shows that the decade long armed conflict in Nepal left a legacy of some 15,000 deaths. Furthermore, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC, 2009), more than 1,300 people are still missing as a result of the conflict and whose families remain unaware of their fate.

At the time of signing the CPA, both sides agreed to carry out impartial investigations and take action against those responsible for creating obstacles to the exercising of human rights. They also guaranteed that impunity would not be tolerated. Similarly, commitments were made to ensure the right of the victims of conflict and torture and the families of those who had disappeared to seek relief. In addition, both sides agreed to form independent commissions to stabilize the adverse situation generated by the armed conflict and to offer relief and rehabilitation to those who had been victimized and displaced by war.

However, in a report released in November this year titled, “No Law, No Justice, No State for Victims: The Culture of Impunity in Post-Conflict Nepal”, the Human Rights Watch and Advocacy Forum stated that the authorities in Nepal continue to prevent the police and prosecutors from pursuing cases of human rights violations during the conflict thereby undermining the rule of law and efforts to reform the security sector. The report also disclosed that there has been little progress toward prosecutions despite court orders stating that the investigations must proceed.

Lamentably, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP), established in 2015, have been unable to deliver justice to victims of the conflict. The TRC Act 2014 was found to be in conflict with the provisions of Nepal’s constitution and instruments of international human rights. In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Nepal found that several sections of the Act violated these provisions and therefore rejected mainly the condition that could give amnesties to those responsible for serious human rights violations. The government’s petition seeking to overturn this verdict was rejected by the Supreme Court on April 26, 2020. It is unfortunate to note that the security forces and the government have failed to comply with the court orders, thereby denying justice to the victims of the conflict.

As of February 2018, the TRC and the CIEDP had received 60,298 and 3,093 complaints respectively but had, however, made no progress towards achieving justice. According to the Advocacy Forum, the TRC had completed preliminary investigations into less than 10% of the complaints and the CIEDP had commenced preliminary investigations into 75% of the complaints by February 2020. It is very disappointing that these commissions have not resolved even one single case of the more than 63,000 complaints filed by victims.

A report released in October this year by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Nepal regarding the government’s response to its recommendations over the last two decades concluded that the trend of settling the cases through monetary compensation has done nothing other than escalate impunity.

  • The NHRC report exposed a list of 286 human rights violators, most of whom included security personnel, leaders and cadres of the then Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and civil servants
  • The list includes 16 civil servants, 98 policemen, 85 Nepal Army personnel, and 65 Maoists
  • Most cases of the violation of human rights relate to murder
  • This report was based on the progress made towards the implementation of the recommendations made by the NHRC over the last two decades
  • The names on the list were included as a result of the evaluation of a total of 1,195 recommendations made by the commission
  • The report documented a total of 11 agencies as being the violators of human rights in 34 of the recommendations
  • Only 30 of the perpetrators identified had been held accountable while no action had been taken against the larger number human rights violators, i.e. 256 perpetrators have not yet been charged.
  • No action was taken in 587 recommendations, only 163 were fully implemented whereas 445 were partially implemented
  • The list includes several alleged perpetrators of the 62 cases traced in the report

Commenting that the state must be open-ended in respect of the length of its mandate and have the authority to coordinate the response to the issue of missing people, a 2009 report released by the ICRC titled ‘Families of Missing Persons in Nepal: A Study of their Needs’ recommended that the state authorities of Nepal should respect the right to know for the families of missing persons who should be regularly informed about the work carried out by the state and the results achieved, the study added.

The time has come for the state authorities to respond to the concerns of conflict victims and respect their human rights by adhering to the spirit of the constitutional provisions and the commitments to international human rights instruments. Perpetrators of serious human rights abuse should not be given blanket amnesty in any context. More importantly, the mandate of TRC and the CIEDP should be amended as per the Supreme Court verdict allowing their work to be effective in providing justice to the conflict victims.