How can Truth Commissions function properly in a place like Nepal where alleged perpetrators set the agenda and control the commissioners in a situation of continuing insecurity where both victims and witnesses cannot speak out openly?
The situation now, 11 years since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), is more complex and dangerous than the end of conflict in 2006. Security forces (both Nepal Army and Nepal Police) are becoming more powerful, and have almost destroyed evidence about past violations held in government offices. They intervene in every process, including blocking the proposed amendment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) act, with a focus on opposing criminalizing enforced disappearances. Instead of implementing a vetting procedure to officials alleged to have been involved in crimes, government has been continuously promoting them and providing political protection, an insult to conflict survivors and the general public. Senior police officer Pitamber Adhikari has been promoted and fully protected, and still serves in Nepal police, despite his direct involvement in the illegal detention, torture and disappearance of my father in 2001. The UN Human Rights Committee also made its view against the enforced disappearances including my father Tej Bahadur Bhandari’s illegal detention and disappearance; Recently the coalition government promoted alleged perpetrator and senior army officer Kumar Lama to a Brigadier General of the Nepal Army, despite the suspicion of his involvement in torture cases and many human rights violations during the conflict. The above cases are just few examples of how deeply rooted impunity is in Nepal, and the government continues to systematically oppress the voices of justice, marginalizes the margins and the family activists feel threat from the authorities, who defends, promotes and protect alleged perpetrators, which has become a big challenges in Nepal.
One of the members of the Commission on Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) recently said: “victims are waiting for justice, and the perpetrators are intending to destroy evidence” that reflects the role of state-protected alleged perpetrators.
In my recent visits to rural districts of Nepal, in both east and west, conflict survivors said: there is no hope for truth in such a context, so the family associations must prepare for organized resistance against the system, to create collective pressure on the authorities. Neema Rai, whose father was forcibly taken by the state in 2002 and is still fighting for justice, says: “there is nothing to lose now, I have lost all of my productive years, suffered everyday and have lived in ambiguity and suffered stigma, we all must come together and find an alternative path to resist state denial, I think we must take revenge if the authorities do not listen to us, and we better prepare to punish the known perpetrators at local level”. This shows and represents the local voices of the victims and shows how the general sentiment is shifting from the long and passive wait to a desire for revenge, which may grow rapidly in coming years, when the commissions fail to deliver a concrete result, and government ends up doing nothing to produce an output on behalf of conflict survivors and the general public.
How can the government and the commissions remain credible in the eyes of conflict survivors and the general public, if they cannot establish truth, don’t respect Supreme Court verdicts and the rule of law in the country? The UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) perceived that Nepal violated the ICCPR as it never responded, never implemented National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recommendations on rights violations committed, and never followed the recommendations made during Nepal’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2015. Nepal’s next Review will be in November 2020, and that has already reached the mid-way for its time frame to implement. It’s objective is to improve the human rights situation in target countries; as UPR is often called the “Human Rights Exam”, Nepal is failing to implement its international commitment and responsibility to provide justice to its citizen.
Protecting alleged perpetrators
The Nepali state ever implemented Supreme Court directions to amend the flaws in the TRC Act, but is rather protecting alleged perpetrators and promoting them. In this context, while Nepal is a candidate for UN HRC membership this year, the prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, is an alleged perpetrator, a prime architect of civil war and an oppressor who systematically disappeared hundreds of citizens, overseeing the killing, torture, rape and displacement of thousands during his premiership in the conflict era (1996-2006). PM Deuba recently addressed the UN General Assembly in New York and gave a false commitment to the world, but world leaders and the people must know that Nepal currently faces injustice, structural violence, exclusion and growing inequality that should be addressed through a fair and credible process to respect the history and the quest for justice.
The international community must question Nepal on this irresponsible move, especially on the transitional justice process, and rethink their position to create pressure to deliver truth and justice for conflict survivors, and to not vote for Nepal in its candidature as a UN HRC member in a coming month. Without resolving its own problems at home, Nepal cannot be eligible for such a position in the global forum.