The people of Nepal have been advocating for accountability for human rights abuses committed during the 1996–2006 conflict, but progress remains slow. ICTJ works with local groups and national political actors in Nepal to help promote truth, justice, and reparations.
Background: Years After Civil War, Victims Continue to Demand Justice
For much of the second half of the 20th century, Nepali politics were Kathmandu-centric and subject to a strict hierarchy of caste and geography. In 1990, the first “people’s movement” overthrew the unelected panchayat system of governance and introduced multiparty democracy, though the monarchy remained powerful and closely aligned to the armed forces.
When the Maoists left parliament in 1996, a conflict broke out between the party and the state that would last 10 years and result in the killing of more than 13,000 people, mostly civilians. The Maoist insurgency sought a complete restructuring of the state and radical social and economic policies such as land reform. Serious human rights violations were committed by both parties to the conflict, including torture, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, and around 1,300 enforced disappearances.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed between the government and the Maoists in 2006, abolished the monarchy and committed Nepal to becoming a federal democratic republic. The CPA laid out steps to establish the truth about the conflict, including a commission to investigate the hundreds of enforced disappearances.
Now more than a decade after the CPA was signed, the promise of justice and change for Nepal’s citizens, including the thousands of victims of human rights violations, has been at best sporadic and uneven.
Early on, the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction implemented an Interim Relief Program (IRP) that provided limited benefits for certain victims of human rights violations, but there was still no acknowledgment of government responsibility. The IRP also excluded certain categories of victims, such as those who endured torture and sexual violence.
A new constitution was promulgated in September 2015, establishing a new federal structure and enshrining many of the fundamental principles and rights that drove the historic people’s movements and armed struggle. However, recently a host of regressive provisions have become law or are under consideration, including those restricting the operations of civil society and targeting journalists and activists for posts on the internet.
Most pertinently, over the last five years, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) received around 64,000 complaints from victims of human rights violations and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict, including over 3,000 complaints from families of the disappeared. Yet, since the complaints were collected, operations at the commissions were suspended for more than a year and the commissioners and staff replaced. As a result, the CIEDP which is responsible for reviewing these complaints, has not made progress completing ante-mortem investigations or locating and identifying victims’ remains.
The TRC, which started taking complaints in April 2016, has conducted no public hearings and has not issued a final report.
Victims’ longstanding needs for truth, justice, and reparations remain unmet. The cost of the commissions’ ineffectiveness, when measured by the continued suffering of victims and their diminished trust in government, is enormous.
Beginning in 2018, discussions around proposed amendments to the country’s transitional justice law (the 2014 TRC Act) brought key stakeholders together to attempt to resolve significant issues remaining in the effort to address impunity, to provide reparations and correct deficiencies in the previous government relief measures, and to establish a criminal investigation process for perpetrators of gross human rights violations. In January 2020, long-awaited consultations on the amendments were conducted by the government in each of Nepal’s seven provinces. Yet, these amendments are now stalled.
Furthermore, similar to the prior iteration, the new TRC and CIEDP commissioners have been appointed from various political parties, leading to charges of bias.
Meaningful progress on accountability remains unlikely. Criminal courts in Nepal have heard few cases related to conflict violations, and efforts to bring perpetrators to justice under universal jurisdiction have failed. However, victims and civil society organizations continue to pursue cases against Maoist leaders and government officials for murder and other violations during the conflict.
ICTJ works with victims to advocate for truth, reparations, and accountability, and to bring those issues to the forefront of public discussion. It also provides assistance to national and local government bodies responsible for addressing victims’ needs and demands, including investigating the hundreds of disappearances that occurred during the civil war.
Disappearances. ICTJ provides technical support to the CIEDP, including a training on the collection of ante-mortem data. In cooperation with EPAF, ICTJ has developed a training program for CIEDP investigators to develop the technical skills to collect ante-mortem data, enter them in a database, and design research strategies and forensic interventions based on these data. ICTJ also works to improve CIEDP’s engagement with the families of the disappeared, and to ensure that investigators have the psychosocial skills to responsibly interact with victims’ families and loved ones.
Victims’ participation. ICTJ works to facilitate victims’ participation in both the CIEDP and the TRC. In 2018, ICTJ held an event in Kathmandu that brought commissioners together with conflict victims from several provinces around the country. At that meeting, women conflict victims demonstrated their commitment to working together and standing up in support of policy issues important to them when they presented the Women Victims of Conflict Justice Manifesto. ICTJ also provides assistance to the Conflict Victims’ Common Platform and the Conflict Victims’ National Network in support of their work to advance transitional justice and improve the functioning of the two commissions.
Advancing transitional justice through local government initiatives. In 2018, ICTJ helped local governments, victims’ groups, and other stakeholders to understand the scope and potential inherent in the new powers bestowed upon local government under the 2015 Constitution. We also organized a series of joint dialogues that brought victims together with local government officials. In the report “’Now Is a Time to Lead:’ Advancing Transitional Justice Initiatives through Local Governments in Nepal,” ICTJ identified what local governments and others could potentially do to design and implement initiatives that support victims.
Research. ICTJ has conducted in-depth research on the needs and aspirations of victims of conflict-related violations, most recently in partnership with Nagarik Aawaz, as part of the Global Survivors Fund Multi-Country Study on Opportunities for Reparations for Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence. Previously, ICTJ published the report “To Walk Freely with a Wide Heart” (and a victim-friendly version) in 2014, and the report “Beyond Relief” on the socioeconomic impact of enforced disappearances on the wives of the disappeared in 2013.
Raising awareness. ICTJ has used art and culture in popular formats––from radio programs to street theatre performances––to articulate, make accessible, and disseminate our views and the views of the victims with whom we have consulted. For instance, ICTJ, in cooperation with Equal Access, produces “NIkaas,” a regular radio program on the transitional justice process, that features interviews with relevant state officials, explanations of complaint processes, and discussions of key issues such as gender considerations in the work of the commissions and cooperation between the commissions.