Nepal’s chance on transitional justice

A window of opportunity to make war crimes bill conform to international standards

Nepal's conflict victims gathered last October to demand amendments to the Transitional Justice Bill, appealing political leadership to ensure that transitional justice adheres to international standards and the Supreme Court’s verdict. Photos: SUMAN NEPALI

The new left-led coalition in Kathmandu could pave the way for progress on finally addressing conflict atrocities, but first the government’s proposed bill in Parliament needs some important changes to ensure justice for victims.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has held several meetings with opposition leader K P Oli of the UML over the past few months because he knew that the bill could not be passed without UML support.

Dahal was under pressure from the international community, including from United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres during his visit to Nepal in October to conclude the transitional justice process. On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the group Advocacy Forum-Nepal released a report that said although the Nepal government’s proposed bill on transitional justice contains positive provisions, but needs ‘significant amendments’.

‘It is widely recognised that a lack of accountability for conflict-era violations has led to a crisis of impunity in Nepal, with police and politicians rarely held accountable for rights violations and corruption,’ the two organisations said in a statement. 

But they added that the current moment presents the opportunity to amend the draft so that the demands of victims and survivors of the 1996-2006 conflict are met. More than 17,000 Nepalis, mostly civilians, were killed and some 3,288 are still listed as missing.

HRW said that the work of rights activists had ensured built public pressure to improve the draft bill, but it still allowed those responsible for serious war crimes and crimes against humanity to not be answerable. 

The HRW Advocacy Forum report, Breaking Barriers to Justice: Nepal’s Long Struggle for Accountability, Truth and Reparations analyses the proposed law and reviews some cases where there were obstructions to justice by the Nepali state, which is made up of the former enemies in the conflict.

TJ Bill

Survivors of war rape and relatives of victims filed complaints in 62 extrajudicial killings, and the organisations say that the draft does not meet international legal standards, rulings by Nepal’s  Supreme Court and demands of victims’ families.

“To deliver a durable and rights-respecting process without further delay, Nepal’s leaders should agree to amendments called for by victims and recommended by legal experts, then ask parliament to pass the bill into law,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW’s deputy Asia director. "This is a moment of opportunity to deliver the truth, justice, and reparations long sought by victims and help protect the rights of all Nepalis in the future."

The conflict ended 18 years ago with the signing of the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement under which mandated setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and a Commission on the Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP).

During Secretary-General Guterres’ visit Prime Minister Dahal from the Maoist Centre party promised ‘speedy advancement’ of the peace process. The current bill provides for reparations and interim relief for some victims, including victims of torture and rape, who were left out of earlier relief packages. It guarantees the right of the families of victims of enforced disappearance to their relatives’ property. 

The TRC and (CIEDP) would investigate war crimes and those classified as ‘serious violations of human rights’ could be referred to and prosecuted in a special court. This includes rape, enforced disappearance, and cruel or inhuman torture, and a yet to be finalised definition of unlawful killing. 

However, HRW says the bill excludes numerous serious crimes under international law, including some acts of torture and other unlawful killings. It says excluding certain categories of crime risks providing general amnesty to perpetrators, as well as deprive some victims and their families from reparations. 

“If the transitional justice bill is passed without appropriate amendments, it risks hindering the search for justice,” said Bikash Basnet of Advocacy Forum. “If it is appropriately amended, it can be the basis for a meaningful, nationally-owned process that upholds the rights of victims and benefits all Nepalis by strengthening institutions and the rule of law.”

Click here for full report, Struggle for Accountability, Truth and Reparations