By Ajit Kumar Singh*
The House of Representatives, lower house of Federal Parliament, on February 6, 2019, endorsed the bill to amend The Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, 2071 (2014) .
The Amendment allowed the Government to extend the tenure of the two Commissions – Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Commission of Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) – by one year with provisions to extend the tenure by another one year.
However, the tenure of the present members of the two Commissions was extended only till April 13, 2019. The National Assembly, upper house Federal Parliament, had already passed the amendment on January 4, 2019.
The two Commissions – TRC and CIEDP – were constituted by the February 10, 2015, decision of the Government of Nepal, in accordance with the 2014 Act.
The Commissions were formed to probe instances of serious violations of human rights and to determine the status of those who disappeared in the course of the armed conflict between the State and the then Communist Party of Nepal–Maoist (CPN-Maoist), between February 13, 1996, and November 21, 2006, the day of the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement 2006. The Commissions were formed with a two-year mandate, but received two extensions, and the second extension was due to come to an end on February 10, 2019.
Despite the passage of time, according to reports, TRC has completed preliminary investigations into barely 2,800 among the 63,000 cases filed, and is yet to complete a detailed probe into a single case. The CIEDP, which received some 3,000 complaints, has completed preliminary investigation into some 500, but has failed to launch a single detailed investigation.
Not surprisingly, provisions in the new Bill allow the Government to restructure the two commissions after April 13, 2019.
Demanding reforms in the existing TRC and CIEDP, a 23-point Charter of Conflict Victims adopted by the Conflict Victims Common Platform (CVCP), an umbrella body of 13 organizations advocating justice for war-era victims, had stated on November 21, 2018,
|…The demand is for both entities to be restructured on the basis of laws rewritten or amended with the consent of conflict victims. The commissions to be established thereafter must be impartial, independent, empowered and autonomous with the goal of ending impunity and ensuring lasting peace through a transitional justice process that is transparent, gender-sensitive, inclusive and participatory. Any process or legislation that for the sake of expediency prioritizes amnesty for perpetrators and undermines the principle of punishment for the offender and justice for the victim in the name of political consensus, transitional justice, reparation and reconciliation will be unacceptable to conflict victims…|
Issues under the purview of these two Commissions have the potential to threaten the long established peace in the country.
Meanwhile, Nepal did not witness any insurgency related fatalities in 2018, maintaining the trend established way back in 2013. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the country recorded 11 fatalities (10 civilians and one Jantantrik Terai Mukti Morcha, JTMM, cadre) in six incidents in 2012. At its peak in 2002, the insurgency saw 4,896 persons, including 3,992 Maoists, 666 Security Force personnel and 238 civilians, killed in a single year.
However, Nepal continues to experience political turmoil and violence since 2012. According to partial data compiled by SATP, at least two civilians were killed and 51 persons, including 47 civilians and four SF personnel, have been injured in violent clashes across the country through 2018. A member of the Tarun Dal, youth wing of Nepali Congress (NC), Rohit Pun, was shot dead in Rolpa District on September 9, 2018. The assailant opened fire at Pun when he reached Sulichaur to inaugurate Pandeswori Transport Private Limited. Dev Bahadur Ghartimagar, considered close to the Nepal Communist Party, was arrested along with a weapon, for his involvement in the killing.
18 persons, including 17 civilians and one SF trooper, were killed and another 175, including 156 civilians and 19 SF personnel, were injured, through 2017. In 2016, six persons, including five civilians and one SF trooper, were killed and another 16, including 13 civilians and three SF personnel, were injured in violent clashes. In 2015, at least 57 persons, including 38 civilians and 19 SF personnel were killed and another 700, including 544 civilians and 156 SF personnel, were injured in violent protests. The successful holding of elections for the second Constituent Assembly (CA) on November 19, 2013, in some measure, transformed the political environment of the country and diminished violent inter-party clashes. As against 22 such clashes resulting in four deaths and 167 injuries in 2013, no such clashes were reported through 2014. There were four such incidents resulting in seven injuries and no fatalities in 2012.
Indeed, the newly appointed Chief of Army Staff Purna Chandra Thapa, on September 9, 2018, noted that some of the ‘elements’ that did not lend support to the Constitution promulgated in September 2015, had shown signs of fomenting trouble to destabilise the country. “These elements are working against national interest, albeit their activities are being closely monitored. The state is doing all it can to resolve this problem,” Thapa stated.
Meanwhile, in the latest incident, on February 7, 2019, an unidentified group exploded three improvised explosive devices near the powerhouse of the under-construction Arun III Hydro Power Project, which is being developed with India’s assistance, in Sankhuwasabha District. Rameshwor Pandit, Police Inspector of the District, disclosed, “A total of three bombs exploded at the power plant of the hydel project located in Pukhuwa of Chichila Rural Municipality-03 of the District. The group behind the blast is yet to be identified.”
On a positive note, in a historic development, on May 17, 2018, two major national Left political parties – the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre (CPN-Maoist Center) – at a joint meeting held at Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli’s residence in Baluwatar, Kathmandu, announced their merger and the formation of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). This historic unification created a single political party with a strong hold in Parliament and over Provincial Governments in six of the country’s seven Provinces. NCP now has 174 members in the 275-member House of Representatives (HoR), 42 members in the 59-member National Assembly (NA), and a majority in six of the seven Provincial Assemblies. This move also created the nation’s first majority Government in 19 years.
Significantly, in the aftermath of the two-phase House of Representative (HoR) and Provincial Assembly (PA) elections held on November 26, 2017, and December 7, 2017, Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal (the chief of the erstwhile CPN-Maoist-Centre) during a meeting in Kathmandu on December 15, 2017, had agreed to initiate the processes of forming a new Government and simultaneously unifying their parties. The two parties had swept the elections and later, on February 15, 2018, Oli was sworn in as the 41st Prime Minister of Nepal. The Nepali Congress Party’s Sher Bahadur Deuba, who was the Prime Minister during the elections, resigned nearly two months after the polls, as there was confusion whether the new Prime Minister should be elected prior to the formation of the National Assembly, the upper house of Parliament. The National Assembly was formed on March 4, 2018.
Kathmandu has done exceedingly well to sustain the environment of peace established since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2006. To cement the peace, it is imperative for the Government to take all necessary measures to deliver justice to victims of war crimes, as the mere extension of the terms of TRC and the CIEDP will not meet the aspirations of the victims and their families.
There is, however, very little hope that justice will be delivered. It is pertinent to recall that Oli, in his first term as the premier – October 2015 to August 2016 – did little to prioritize justice for war crimes due to the fear that doing so could lead to the prosecution of coalition partners and the collapse of the Government. Though the two parties – CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Center – have merged, actions against members of erstwhile CPN-Maoist-Center, who were primarily responsible for war crimes, will have the potential to destabilise the Government and provoke violence.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management