20-26 February 2015 #745

Who doesn’t want a TRC?

Conflict victims fear the TRC serves only the interests of a state made up of former enemies.
Om Astha Rai

After the formation of a panel last month in the Constituent Assembly to hold a vote on the contents of the new constitution, relations between ruling and opposition leaders have soured so much that they were not even on talking terms. Throughout the first two weeks of February, they kept publicly blaming and abusing each other.

Despite such bitter discord, the government did something that united both sides: form two transitional justice mechanisms. Acting on the recommendations made by a former Chief Justice-headed committee, the cabinet formed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and a Commission to Investigate Enforced Disappearances (CIED). And neither side objected. Their silence implied endorsement.

For conflict victims awaiting justice, the formation of the TRC and CIED were unanticipated. They did not think that the government would form transitional justice mechanisms at a time when a writ petition that challenged some provisions of the TRC act was sub judice. The Supreme Court is due to deliver its verdict on the writ petition jointly filed by 234 individual conflict victims on 26 February. Conflict victims say any TRC or CIED would be unacceptable to them unless the act is amended.

“We have no faith in these commissions,” says Devi Sunar, mother of 15-year-old Maina Sunar who was detained, tortured and killed by soldiers on 5 February 2005 in Panchkhal barrack of Kavre district. “It’s just a ploy to give impunity to perpetrators of serious war crimes.”

Devi is one of the relatives of victims who challenged the TRC act in the Supreme Court. “I cannot understand why the government didn’t wait for the court verdict,” she says. Conflict victims say they are against the act mainly because it allows for amnesty to perpetrators of human rights violations, and does not consider enforced disappearances as a criminal offence. “Unless this act is amended, I will not go to any commission for justice,” Sunar told Nepali Times.

The TRC Chair Surya Kiran Gurung (being sworn in on 11 February by the Chief Justice, above) is trying to assuage fears of conflict victims, saying his commission would not recommend reconciliation in grave human rights violations against international rules and standards. Prakash Wosti, commissioner of the National Human Rights Council (NHRC), says the TRC should be given the benefit of doubt as it has promised to not give impunity to perpetrators of human rights violations.

But, Gurung’s assurance has not placated war victims, who are now gearing up for a protest against formation of the TRC and CIED. Instead, even the NHRC, which was involved in recommending names for the TRC and CIED members, has come under fire from human rights activists for abandoning the cause of war victims. Human rights activist Charan Prasain says, “If the NHRC is committed to justice for war victims, it must not support the TRC.”

The state’s apathy towards the amendment of the controversial act is not the only reason survivors are up in arms. Apparently acting at behest of political parties, the recommendation committee did not propose independent experts as TRC and CIED members. Instead, it put out names of only those who are close to political parties. One of the TRC members, Shree Krishna Subedi, had even pleaded at the Supreme Court on behalf of UCPN (M) leader Agni Prasad Sapkota, who was accused of kidnapping and murdering Arjun Lama of Kavre district during the Maoist insurgency.

The Maoist insurgency resulted in the killings of 17,000 people and enforced disappearances of many more thousands. Families of more than 1,000 people disappeared during the conflict still do not know where their lost relatives are. The war is over but their pain is not.

They want closure and justice. This does not just mean throwing every offender behind bars or monetary compensation from the state. What victims really want is a genuine apology from those who killed their family members and relatives.

They want to know what happened to relatives who disappeared. It’s as simple as that. But by hastily forming transitional justice mechanisms and appointing only those close to political parties as TRC and CIED members, the state seems to have ignored voices of conflict victims.

After the formation of the commissions, a question has arisen: who are these commissions meant to serve if conflict victims have disowned both? They fear the commissions serve only the interests of a state made up of former enemies. And this issue likely to be raised in the 28th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) in Geneva on 2 March. Nepal's Foreign Affairs Minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey will have to answer a flurry of questions as to why concerns of war victims were ignored in the TRC and CIED.

Read also:

TRC and Col Lama, David Seddon

TRC recommendations

The tale of two commissions, Binita Dahal

On the sidelines of justice, Trishna Rana

Where is the justice?, David Seddon