Nepali activists write to UN Secretary-General

Nepali human rights activists and survivors of the 1996-2006 Maoist insurgency have written to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres alerting him to ‘multiple flaws’ in a transitional justice amendment bill before Nepal’s Parliament.

The letter was handed over to the UN Resident Coordinator in Nepal Richard Howard on Monday in Kathmandu, one day before the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on 30 August. A copy of the letter was also given to Michelle Bachelet Jeria, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Comprehensive Peace Accord of 2006 envisaged setting up a transitional justice mechanism with the formation of a Commission for the Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commissions were finally formed in 2014, but have lacked teeth because former enemies have served together in coalition governments that have tried to brush war-time atrocities under the carpet. 

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The Commission on Enforced Disappearances did draw up a list of 1,334 people who have been missing since the conflict ended in 2006. Less than half of the families of those disappeared by both sides have received compensation.

But, more importantly, most have not been told the truth about whether their relatives are dead or alive, why they were taken away, or where their bodies are. Most families have been living for the past 16 years without closure.

The government had been stalling on implementing a Supreme Court ruling to amend the 2014 transitional justice law, but got the human rights activist turned Minister for Law and Constitutional Affairs Govinda Sharma Bandi last month to present an amendment bill in Parliament.

Human rights activists and conflict groups have held street demonstrations against the proposed bill, which they say is perpetrator-friendly, and would grant amnesty to those responsible for war crimes by both sides during the conflict. Minister Bandi serves in a government led by the Nepali Congress which was in power for most of the conflict years, their coalition partners from the Maoist party which was waging an armed struggle.

Both parties now find themselves on the same side, and appear to have colluded to ensure that the draft bill will allow state security forces and guerrilla commanders who are now in government to not be answerable for torture and disappearances, summary executions, rape and other heinous crimes.

The letter to the UN Secretary-General seeks his good offices to ensure that changes be made to the draft bill so that families and victims receive truth and justice. It reminds the Secretary-General that the United Nations has been a meaningful partner in Nepal’s peace process, which makes it surprising that the respective Special Rapporteurs, the OHCHR and other UN entities have not publicly reacted to the transitional justice bill.

The letter states that the transitional justice bill does not follow the ruling of Nepal’s Supreme Court and goes against international law. It draws attention to the re-definition and distinction between ‘murder’ and ‘cruelly conducted murder’ in the bill, as well as the issues of child soldiers, torture and wartime rape.

‘The amendment bill is designed to provide de facto immunity to perpetrators of both sides,’ the letter states, adding, “we hope that the United Nations will remain engaged on the matter.’

UN Resident Coordinator Richard Howard assured the meeting of human rights conflict victims’ groups (pictured) that the United Nations remained committed to values inherent in the transitional justice process.

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The letter was signed by Gauri Sankhar Lal Das and Sushil Pyakurel (former commissioners of National Human Rights Commission), Kul Chandra Gautam (Former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, Min Bahadur Shahi (Human Rights Alliance), Nani Maya Thapa (NGO Federation of Nepal), Suman Adhikari (Conflict Victim Orphan Society Nepal) and Maina Karki (Conflict Victims’ Common Platform), among others.

It also included victims’ groups, including the Army Single Women and Injured Families Group, Conflict Victims’ Society for Justice, Amar Prahari Pariwar, Conflict Victims’ National Alliance, Discharged People’s Liberation Army Nepal.

Read more: Transitional injustice in Nepal, Kanak Mani Dixit

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