KATHMANDU, Jan 26: Four prominent international human rights organizations have expressed concern over the Nepal government’s recent decision to appoint commissioners to two key transitional justice (TJ) bodies for restarting the TJ process without first undertaking adequate legal consultations and amending the legal frameworks to make the process consistent with international standards and Supreme Court rulings.
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and TRIAL International have all termed the government steps a serious setback for Nepal’s TJ process.
Last week, the government appointed the chiefs and members of the two TJ commissions—Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons—on the basis of the recommendations of a five-member committee, despite objections from conflict victims. The conflict victims had been demanding suspension of the commissioner appointments at least until new TJ law is promulgated and victims are assured of justice with regard to the insurgency-era cases.
Instead, the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs on January 13 hastily-convened provincial level consultations on transitional justice laws. The consultations lasted just three hours and allowed little time for meaningful participation by victims’ groups or civil society representatives.
The KP Oli government, however, appointed all 10 commissioners to both commissions on the basis of the power-sharing equation among the major political parties, mainly the ruling Nepal Communist Party and the main opposition Nepali Congress.
Most of the appointees are lawyers loyal to the political parties whose top leaders are implicated in the insurgency-era cases of human rights violations.
Shortly after appointing the party loyalists as commissioners of the TJ bodies, the NCP has fielded Agni Prasad Sapkota, one of the accused in the murder of a Kavre district local in 2005, as candidate for speaker of the lower house of parliament. Conflict victims, human rights activists and other stakeholders are all put off by the NCP’s recent decisions.
“Nepal’s political leaders know that a transparent process is essential to ensure justice and accountability for egregious rights violations during the conflict, but they keep trying to protect those responsible for the abuses,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, adding. “If the political leadership continues to evade responsibility, they leave little choice but for victims to approach courts outside the country.”
ICJ’s Asia-Pacific director Frederick Rawski said the government’s decision to carry out another rushed and secretive set of consultations has failed to give due respect to the long-standing demands of victims and civil society. “It also makes it very difficult to take seriously the statements of political leaders that they are committed to supporting a victim-centered and human rights complaint process,” said Rawski.
NCP should reconsider Sapkota’s nomination as speaker of parliament until there is a thorough and independent investigation, the organizations said.
“Nepal authorities should not appoint to high office people that are under investigation for human rights abuses, when they could interfere with that investigation,” said Audrey Oettli, program manager at TRIAL International. “Such appointments are yet another illustration of the government’s unwillingness to demonstrate a basic commitment to holding perpetrators of conflict-era rights abuses accountable.”
In March 2008, the Supreme Court directed the police to register a case against Sapkota for abducting and killing Lama and to carry out an investigation. The police did not comply. In 2010, Australia and the US rejected visa applications from Sapkota in light of the allegations of serious human rights violations.
When Sapkota was appointed information and communications minister in May 2011, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement expressing its concern, saying that states have a responsibility “to ensure that the name of a person is fully cleared following a thorough investigation before any appointment to a high public office is announced.”
Both national and international human rights organizations have repeatedly expressed concern about Nepal’s botched transitional justice process. An effective transitional justice system requires strong legal foundations consistent with international law and standards, and the political will to address the demands of victims of the conflict, the organizations said.
The government should amend the the 2014 Transitional Justice Act to make it consistent with the Supreme Court’s rulings and international human rights standards, the groups said. It should initiate a genuine consultative and transparent process for the appointment of TJ commissioners. And it should conduct credible and impartial investigations instead of appointing people accused of insurgency-era crimes to high public office.