Along with the rest of the world, Nepal celebrated the 64th International Human Rights Day on December 10 with different programs centered on the slogan ‘My Voice Counts’. A number of such days are celebrated all around the year, paying lip service to the values represented, but without meaningful participation of concerned stakeholders. In his speech in a public program, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai once again demonstrated his superficial sensitivity towards the suffering of conflict victims, and blithely recounted his tireless efforts to address their pain.
Victims of the conflict have been hearing such sweet speeches and commitments from ministers and political leaders very often, mainly since Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was endorsed in 2006. The eagerly awaited CPA had aroused hopes in the civilian victims that their pain and injustice would be sensitively and sincerely addressed by the state and political parties, as the CPA had clearly committed to formulating the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Disappearance Investigation Commission to investigate serious human rights violations, punish the perpetrators, and provide justice and reparation to the victims.
After the endorsement of CPA, the country celebrated International Human Rights Day for the seventh time with the striking slogan about the importance of every individual’s voice, but not even a single perpetrator of serious human rights violations has been prosecuted so far, and not a single victim has experienced a sense of justice in all these years. The bargaining for state power among political parties has completely overshadowed these issues, and six years after the CPA, not even the whereabouts of disappeared people have been made public. In fact, all these commissions are being delayed due to the ill intention of certain political parties of granting blanket amnesty in the name of reconciliation.
Instead of passing the respective bills from the parliament, the government decided to merge the bills of both commissions into one, with the intention of removing the list of serious non-amnestiable crimes included in article 25 of Truth and Reconciliation Bill. As the deadline of the Constituent Assembly (CA) was nearing, there were several other political and constitutional issues that were given priority, and the victims’ agenda was ignored as a result. The TR commission waited in the sidelines for the past six years, but finally in May 2012 the CA dissolved with no constitution written and no commissions formed. In August 2012, after requests from victim communities, national and international human rights organizations, civil society, and diplomatic communities, the government approved an ordinance for the formation of amnesty commission and sent it to the President. The ordinance remains pending at the Office of the President at the moment.
In 2007, the Supreme Court had ordered the government to formulate laws to protect persons from disappearances and establish an inquiry commission to investigate enforced disappearances and torture, provide compensation to torture victims, and to formulate effective legislation to implement Geneva Conventions. In the same year, Supreme Court had also ordered the government to take action to address the needs of internally displaced persons and provide relief to the conflict victims, and in 2009, to return captured property to the concerned persons and provide compensations to the victims. In August 2012, the Supreme Court ordered the government to set up a vetting mechanism for promotion in security forces.
But the government has not followed the SC´s orders. Instead of implementing Supreme Court verdict of life imprisonment for Bal Krishna Dhungel, the government recommended the President to provide him amnesty. Instead of carrying out fair investigation on registered cases of serious human rights violations during the conflict era, successive governments have withdrawn these cases, calling them political actions. The role of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is not as effective as desired in making the state responsible in respecting, protecting and promoting human rights. The 2012 amendments to the NHRC act have limited the mandate and autonomy of NHRC. Most of the recommendations made by NHRC regarding investigation and punishment have not been implemented.
Victims of the 10 year armed conflict have been bypassed, and their voices for truth, justice and reparation overshadowed. Conflict victims had been raising their voices even before the CPA, but there is still no sign that these voices will be addressed. The political leaders’ commitments to promoting rule of law and ending the culture of impunity have proved to be completely void. Deep rooted and widespread culture of impunity has been a challenge for accountability and rule of law. Widespread trend of impunity has resulted in the emergence of more than 100 armed groups, and proliferation of gun and don culture. The state addresses only the voices of violence, and is completely unresponsive to socially vulnerable communities. Pressure from the international communities has fallen in the deaf ears.
Continuous bypassing of conflict victims has created frustration, and has the potential of breeding a sense of revenge among the victims. Victims are deprived of economic, social and cultural rights, and are suffering from psychological turmoil as well. Perpetrators’ impunity and promotion and nomination of accused perpetrators in security forces and political parties have dismayed victims. Due to the lack of victim witness protection programs, nobody wants to testify in court.
Truth, prosecution, reparation and institutional reform are inevitably important for sustainable peace. The issues of rule of law, ending impunity, guarantee of non-repetition of such serious humanitarian crimes should be the common concerns of the country, not only of the victims. Sweet words, commitments and formalities alone cannot address the victims’ injustice, pain and trauma. So, the government has to be sensitive in addressing the issue of justice and reparation of the victims for the sake of human dignity