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.
For much of the second half of the twentieth 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 ten years and result in the killing of more than 13,000 people, mostly civilians. Serious human rights violations were allegedly committed by both sides to the conflict, including torture, extrajudicial killings 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 special commission to investigate the hundreds of enforced disappearances.
Little of what the CPA envisioned for Nepal has come to fruition in the ten years since it was signed, and the government made limited progress securing accountability or redress for the violations committed during the conflict.
The creation of the proposed Commission on Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) stalled after parliament introduced a bill that would grant it power to amnesty perpetrators. The bill led to years of political stalemate that was not resolved until February 2015, when the government finally formed CIEDP and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The commissions did not, however, start their work until the government passed the relevant regulations, in March 2016.
CIEDP started a four-month complaint registration period in 2016. At the end of this period, it had registered around 3,000 complaints related to enforced disappearances. The CIEDP will be responsible for reviewing these complaints, completing ante-mortem investigations, and locating and identifying the remains.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) started taking complaints in April 2016, and by July 21 2016 had received 53,000 complaints. The TRC focuses on kidnapping or taking hostages; beating that causes physical disability; physical or mental torture; rape and sexual harassment; and damage against property including looting and arson.
Meanwhile, the commissions are unpopular among many victims and civil society organizations, who criticize their powers to recommend granting amnesty to perpetrators. They also allege that the commissions are not independent and will not work effectively and transparently. In 2014, the Supreme Court reviewed the parliamentary act establishing the commissions at the petition of a group of conflict victims and found that the provision allowing the commissions to grant amnesty to be unconstitutional. However, that provision stands as the government has not amended the law. The issue of amnesty has frequently come up in political negotiations and been used as a bargaining chip in inter-party deals in Nepal’s volatile parliamentary politics.
Concerns have been raised about both commissions, including the fact that they do not have a victim or witness protection scheme, and that the time and financial resources they have at their disposal are insufficient. Witness and victim protection are particularly strong concerns, given reports that police have demanded copies of complaints against members of the police force. Furthermore, the commissioners have been appointed from various political parties, leading to charges of bias.
Criminal courts in Nepal have heard few cases related to conflict violations. However, victims and civil society organizations have filed some cases against Maoist leaders and government officials for murder and other violations during the conflict.
In 2008, amidst concerns about the slow progress, the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction implemented an Interim Relief Program (IRP) that provided some 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 sexual violence.
ICTJ works with victims to advocate for reparations and accountability, and bring those issues to the forefront of public discussion. It also provides assistance to the government body responsible for 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 it in a database, and design research strategies and forensic interventions based on that 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 with both the CIEDP and the TRC. In July 2016, ICTJ in cooperation with the Conflict Victims’ Common Platform, held an event in which victims of human rights violations and other members of civil society interacted with representatives of the TRC and the CIEDP. This enabled victims and civil society members to express their concerns, and the two commissions to better explain their investigation process. ICTJ also provides assistance to the Conflict Victims’ Common Platform in support of their work to advance transitional justice and improve the functioning of the two commissions.
Research: ICTJ has conducted in-depth research on the needs and aspirations of victims of conflict-related violations, published in the report titled To Walk Freely with a Wide Heart (and in a victim-friendly version), and on the socioeconomic impact of enforced disappearances on the wives of the disappeared, published in the report titled Beyond Relief.
Awareness-Raising: ICTJ, in cooperation with Equal Access, produces “NIkaas,” a regular radio program on the transitional justice process, including interviews with relevant state officials, explanations of complaint processes, and discussions of key themes such as gender considerations in the work of the commissions, and cooperation between the commissions.