For justice to be done, it must be seen
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Opinion : justice for the victims in Nepal

4 min 20Approximate reading time

The decade-long Maoist insurgency and the state counter-insurgency (1996-2006) was a time when terrible things happened to a lot of Nepalis, but since most of the victims have little voice, many of these stories have yet to be heard. Civilians were caught in the middle – with both sides committing grave human rights violations including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and torture, including rape and other forms of sexual violence.  Over a decade, about 17,000 Nepali people lost their lives, and more than 1,400 were disappeared; their fate and whereabouts is still unknown.

To create an approach to legacies of violence that is rooted in the lives of those most affected requires that victims are empowered to articulate their needs on their own terms, so that their voices can be heard by policy makers. Nepal’s conflict emerged from a situation where ruling elites felt able to ignore the poor and marginalised; peace is now subject to the same approach, and the transitional justice agenda, set by elites in the capital, ensures continued marginalisation.

‘Real Rights Now’ is a new campaign launching this week in Kathmandu to highlight the need for justice in cases of human rights violations and to support family activism for their ‘right to know’. Many brave activists and families have been fighting for truth and justice for horrific crimes committed during the conflict. In the aftermath of conflict, the political agreements and state promises remain unfulfilled. Hundreds of victims and their families have lodged complaints with police, submitted petitions at local to apex courts and the National Human Rights Commission, but the tries to seek justice were failed and none the incidents have had a criminal investigation, none of the perpetrators has been brought to trial. 

After a failure of local remedies, a number of victims have taken their cases to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC). Nepal has recognized that this Committee can consider cases of individual human rights violations and make a ruling on them. So far, the UNHRC has issued 10 decisions from Nepal (2008-2015) relating tocases of gross human rights violations from the conflict brought by civil society organisations Advocacy Forum, REDRESS and TRIAL in the past years. In each view, the UNHRC found Nepal responsible for extremely serious violations of the Covenant, ranging from enforced disappearance, to torture, to extrajudicial execution. 

I can realize the hardship to live in ambiguity during 14 year of waiting, after which I won the case of my disappeared father Tej Bahadur Bhandari (Bhandari vs. Nepal) in front of UNHRC. This gave me the courage to continue the fight against impunity. In a long run of individual suffering to the collective activism, I felt that the perpetrators will be punished eventually and that the decision has added hope in the search of truth and struggle for justice. 

I believe that the UNHRC decision will put pressure on the government to look into the many cases of enforced disappearances and inform all the victim’s relatives about the whereabouts of their beloved ones and, in this long wait for justice, we will not step back without knowing the truth and cause of our disappeared relatives. 

The UNHRC decision is a landmark for those that have been working on the issue of disappearance since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2006. It casts renewed attention on the government’s poor handling of conflict-era disappearances and the lack of attention given to the families and their struggles. 

The UNHRC’s decisions also provide credibility to the position of the victims’ community and support for their continued demands for truth, justice, and reparations. The question now is one of implementation. In each case, the Human Rights Committee has recommended broad measures that Nepal must take to respect international law. These include providing an effective remedy, including investigations into the facts, prosecutions of those responsible, compensation, rehabilitation, and other forms of reparation, including satisfaction for the victims, such as apologies, medical treatment and memorialisation. It has also recommended that specific pieces of legislation are to be amended or introduced.

However, on those views, the government of Nepal has become silent and the victims of these violations are still pushing Nepal to abide by its international obligations.  ‘Real Rights Now’ is a campaign and platform for action to make their rights recognised.  

As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Nepal must respect human rights, including the right to life, the right to be free from torture, the right to liberty, guarantees of humane treatment of those detained, the right to non-discrimination, and the right to an effective remedy.  It must also respect the decisions of the Committee.  

Since Nepal has signed the complementary (optional) individual complaint procedure, it must carry out its obligations under the procedure, in trustworthy manner. When the Human Rights Committee finds that violations have been committed against an individual, Nepal must take concrete steps to fulfill the recommendations put forward by the Committee and to right its wrongs. As the expert group tasked with monitoring the implementation of the treaty, the Committee is best placed to guide Nepal as to how to fulfil its obligations to individuals under the ICCPR.  

Reparation to the families must be “adequate, effective and prompt” and is intended to promote justice by providing redress to the victims. In my case and other cases, the UNHRC recommended Nepal to translate its decisions into the official language of the state and publish it for wider dissemination, but more than a year later, the government has done nothing to convey the message to the families. 

The results of the investigation shall be made publicly available, so that victims and their relatives, as well as society at large, receive their ‘right to know the truth’ on the alleged violation of the right to life, the circumstances in which it took place, the identity of the perpetrators and the progress of the investigation. In cases where such disclosure does not pose a risk to the victims, the victims’ relatives or witnesses involved in the case, the findings must also be shared with the general public. In relation to Nepal, the UNHRC has said that it is under an obligation to “provide the authors with detailed information about the results of its investigation”. However, there is a serious threat to the authors from the alleged perpetrators side, where there is no mechanism to protect victims and witness by law, people in rural areas still cannot speak freely and level of fear is increasing where the perpetrators sit in power. 

It's a government duty to protect people's rights and responsibility to apply the United Nations HRC recommendations without any further delay. I call upon the Government of Nepal to fully implement the Views of the Human Rights Committee – by providing the recommended remedies and reparation to the victims of human rights violations from the conflict.

 

 

 

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