Justice delayed, justice denied

Photo: Jan Møller Hansen

Nearly an entire generation of Nepali youth has grown up following the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) that was signed on 21 November 2006, and which brought the Maoist insurgency to an end.

The accord marked the entry of the Maoists into democratic politics, effectively ending the war. But thousands of families of those killed, maimed or disappeared still wait for truth and justice.

Signed 15 years ago on this day, the CPA pledged to ‘Investigate human rights violations and those involved in crimes against humanity’.

But 14 prime ministers later, the whereabouts of nearly 2,000 people who went missing during the war remains unknown. Conflict-era survivors of torture, abuse, rape and families of those killed continue to wait for justice all these years later.

“State officials' reluctance to investigate and prosecute such serious crimes has exacerbated the suffering of victims, undermined the rule of law in post-conflict Nepal, and increased the risk of such violations in the future," says Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

In 2015, the government formed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission to Investigate Enforced Disappearances. Both received more than 60,000 complaints but not a single investigation has been resolved, said four rights organisations in a statement released on the anniversary of the CPA agreement.

Rather, the two commissions are being used as a pretext to prevent cases from moving through the regular courts. 

The current 5-party coalition government includes former enemies in the conflict: the Nepali Congress and the Maoists. Critics have said there is an unspoken agreement between them to delay the transitional justice process since so many of their senior leaders could be considered culpable for war crimes.

It was perhaps to deflect criticism from human rights groups and international watchdogs that Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (who was known by his nom de guerre 'Prachanda' during the conflict) issued a statement on 21 November, saying that his party was committed to meet the obligations under the CPA on justice for wartime excesses.

'Although the conflict was brought to an end, the task of investigating events that occurred during the war and to provide victims with transitional justice remains,' Dahal said in the statement, which was also published in English in The Kathmandu Post on Sunday. 'We are proud of what the revolution achieved, but we will probe and bring out wartime excesses.'

Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International issued a joint press release on Sunday stating that the promises made in the agreement have not yet been fulfilled 15 years later, there has been no progress in providing justice for the crimes and other offenses committed against international law.

“Nepal's transitional commissions have not been able to achieve anything in the last six years. These commissions have long since lost the trust of the victims,” says Mandira Sharma, Senior International Legal Adviser to the ICJ.

The commissions also drew much criticism for a clause that recommended granting amnesty to those that committed serious crimes under international law. After international pressure, the Supreme Court issued an order to annul the provision, which the government has since implemented.

The statement from the four international organisations reinforced the Supreme Court's order to amend the law, while urging for timely justice and reparations for the victims. 

Nepal’s delayed transitional justice and multiple cases of the perpetrators being set free by the court have diminished its credibility in the world community. In October 2020, the country was elected to the second term at UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) even as it had failed in fulfilling human rights pledges at home, much to the criticism of activists.

All four organisations have called on the Nepal government to set a clear timeline for a reliable transitional justice process with the needs of the victims at the forefront, to begin meaningful consultations with them and to fulfill their legal obligations.

Adds Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch: "If justice is continually denied in Nepal, perpetrators of these international crimes committed during the conflict will be prosecuted abroad under international jurisdiction."