Nepal: Transitional Justice Process Is Back On, But Some Still Seek to Protect Perpetrators

8/19/2015

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After eight years of paralysis, the beginning of this year saw a revival of Nepal’s efforts to reckon with the lingering legacy of the civil war, in which some 13,000 people died and more than 1,300 were forcibly disappeared.

Following the appointment of commissioners and the Supreme Court’s decision in February on the government’s “Transitional Justice Act,” which clarified the mandate of two commissions—the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission for Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons—, it seemed that victims could finally hope to see the state deliver on the obligation to provide truth and justice.

And then in April a devastating earthquake struck the country, inflicting a great loss of life and destruction on 14 of Nepal’s 75 districts. The country’s immediate needs were for humanitarian assistance to people affected by the damage, including the victims of the conflict who lived in the affected areas. The two commissions did not escape the effects of the earthquake; the TRC’s building was destroyed and the whole process was significantly delayed. Now, more than three months later, as the humanitarian effort continues, the work on addressing the long-term effects of the conflict gathers pace again.

For a detailed overview of where the process stands at the moment and the major challenges facing the two commissions, we spoke to Jan Borgen, head of ICTJ’s office in Kathmandu. In this podcast, Borgen describes how the earthquake affected the victims of the conflict and the two truth-seeking bodies, and speaks of their immediate priorities six months into the mandate.

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Borgen points to the need to have the internal regulations and administrative framework adopted as soon as possible in order for the commissions to function effectively, but points to some work being done by the TRC already as they make field visits to Nepal’s districts. “They visited some 25 districts so far and this is very important as such visits give them direct experience of what the victims needs are, “says Borgen.

He points out that the TRC faces a huge challenge in winning the victims’ trust, as the eight years of political wrangling and paralysis have severely eroded victims’ confidence in the political establishment and question whether it is genuine in its commitment to justice.
“The reason the two commissions have not been established before lies in the opposition from some political forces and the elements of the Army. They would still want to see the commissions protect the immunity of perpetrators,” says Borgen. However, as he points out, there are written pledges from political parties and the Army that they will support the work of the commissions.

In such a heavily politicized environment where political will is lacking, it is difficult to envisage how any possible criminal trials of the most serious perpetrators would unfold, explains Borgen. He predicts a long fight ahead.

In the podcast Borgen presents his insights on what victims see as main priorities at this time, reflects on the need for a comprehensive reparations program by the government, and speaks about the ICTJ’s plans in the country for the near future.


PHOTO: A Nepalese woman participates in a candle light vigil for victims of last week's earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, May 2, 2015. The magnitude-7.8 earthquake killed thousands of people and the U.N. has estimated the quake affected 8.1 million people, more than a fourth of Nepal's population of 27.8 million. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)