Transitional justice, Only in name

26 March, 2017

Domestic Politics


The decade long bloody armed conflict ended on 21 November, 2006 after signing of Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA). Unlike typical UN peace model or international models which have already been practiced in other war torn states, reintegration and rehabilitation of ex-Maoist combatants was carried out through own home grown unique Nepali  model which country  still boasts  when it gets opportunity to share its experience on Nepal’s peace process in international  forums.  However, in spite of this good beginning, Nepal’s peace process is yet to take its final shape as  raucous debate on two major central issues-  transitional justice and newly promulgated constitution  is still going on.


Since CPA, in this more than decade-long period many long term impact having changes have taken place inside nation- transformation of Maoists from bullet to ballot , replacement of powerful monarch by republicanism system, successful holding of two Constituent Assembly (CA)  elections and promulgation of people’s constitution. But only a little has been done on issues like truth and reconciliation, enforced disappearances, reparation and compensation of conflict victims. 


The existing two transitional justice bodies –Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Commission of Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) mandated to investigate and find out the truth of gross violations of human rights during insurgency-era and provide recommendation for legal actions have already  completed its two-year tenure on February 10. As both of them failed to submit report in stipulated timeframe, final one year extension has been given. 


Two years of both TRC and CIEDP went on doing nothing except colleting over 60,000 and 3,000 complaints respectively of conflict victims and the executives listening to their political boss who appointed them to there. Irritated by political parties dictation and interference, in one public program the chair of TRC Surya Kiran Gurung even warned of resigning from post if undue pressure continues defaming the commission and him. 


Interestingly, it is not only Nepal but nowhere in the world have transitional justice bodies like TRC, CIEDP or something else to date have successfully done its job with no contestation and satisfying all concerned parties.  


Although established and achieved global legitimacy, the field transitional justice is still developing and heavily contested in the global North and South debating its impact to date. 


The TRC in South Africa launched an investigation of racially and politically motivated cases of human rights violations taken place in between 1960 and 1994 and facilitated the nation to come out of transition. This added one more golden feather in the hat of peace prodigy and former president Nelson Mandela. The government even promoted this success among world public through film and media. 


However, even after two decades of groundbreaking work of South African TRC,    many notable international human right lawyers and activists still complain of failing of South African government to internalize the lessons that it is advocating for other countries to replicate from its peacebuilding model. 


Another South Asian island nation Sri Lanka where 26-year long bloodshed ended in 2009 after government military crushed Tamil Tigers too is struggling with issue of transitional justice. 


 Mahinda Rajapaksa, the former Sri Lankan President,   had even challenged the international practice of transitional justice by refusing to cooperate with the international human rights watchdogs.  Instead, he established Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) which concluded that although serious violations of human rights have taken place during armed conflict, the government fighters are not guilty as they have not done it deliberately. This biased one-sided conclusion of commission was widely and sharply criticized by victims awaiting justice, human rights groups and UN. 


In an attempt to escape criticism and add some bright to tainted nation’s image, incumbent Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena led government is working in coordination with UN on three-year Peacebuilding Priority Plan (PPP) to implement its reconciliation and transitional justice commitment to its people as a part of peacebuilding agenda.  World is eager to witness the extent to which Lankan government will keep its promise made.


Unlike other armed conflict witnessed nations, transitional justice in Nepal has become messy and tough job because of strong hold of power by former rebellious party. Since CPA, to date the nation has already seen three prime ministers from that party including the present one. In all three such governments, the chief has always endeavored to find out the back door via TRC and CIEDP to provide amnesty to the perpetrators of serious crimes.    


For instance, Baburam Bhattarai –led government had decided to grant amnesty to Bal Krishna Dhungel, Maoist leader who was convicted of murder of Ujjan Shrestha for personal cause and was sentenced to life imprisonment by Supreme Court. 


Dhungel now lives a normal life and regularly attends the party programs, sometimes as participant and sometimes as chief guest. Police deployed there even do not dare to give him a dirty look, to arrest is a far dream. 


While one the other hand there are people like Nanda Prasad Adhikari, who died while staging fast-unto-death seeking justice of his murdered son by Maoist cadre in 2004, are standing up and protesting against the powerful protectors of criminals. 


The then PM Bhattarai eye opened only when Britain police arrested Nepal Army Colonel Kumar Lama under the principle of universal jurisdiction  for ordering torture during insurgency. 


Feared from getting insurgency-era cases to be trialed by international court, the then PM Bhattarai even remarked in his public speech, “Have we not been in power now, we would have been thrown to Hague long ago.” 


Taking advantage of transitional nature of Nepali politics and encouraged by the culture of impunity, seven security personnel including Nepal police SSP Laxman Neupane and a two-year-old-boy was killed by Tharu protestors in Tikapur in August, 2015. Protestors were demanding an autonomous province for indigenous community in the constitution. 


All deaths were gruesome- SSP was attacked with spear and knife, one police personnel was doused with petrol and burnt alive while others were either attacked with axe or beaten by bamboo laathi to death.  


Perpetrators have been arrested. However, the suspected main mastermind of Tikapur carnage Resham Chaudhari is now living in India. He regularly tweets and posts status in facebook to justify why such incident took place and why he is right. He has now become a social media celebrity with large number of followers and this number is going up every day. To more shock, he even met with PM Prachanda during his official visit to India. The duo photo went viral in social media drawing harsh criticism. 


Although the present government has not made its official statement, the Home Minister Bimalendra Nidhi and Tharu leaders giving political color to crime have already started to advocate for impunity to the perpetrators of Tikapur carnage. 


This has made conflict victims more suspicious of the government intention.   They now have started to see slim chance of justice from this government having such a shameless insensitive human holding the post of Home Minister. 


No matter which party has come to the government since 2006, none of them have made sincere attempt to tackle conflict-era cases, making victims more despair and vulnerable. 


Better if the major political actors learn lesson from the arrest of Colonel Lama and make the transitional justice Act as per the international standard practice.  If not done in time, the long justice awaiting victims may break their silence and may choose the wrong way like that of Tikapur carnage as they have no other option than this to express their outrage. 


Also, it is high time that government should firmly understand that without addressing the victims complaint lodged in TRC and CIEDP, Nepal’s peace process cannot take its final shape and there is high chance of losing the credit of unique peace process ever adapted in the world.