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Justice still afar for Nepal’s conflict victims

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Transitional justice in Nepal just got more complicated. This follows the Supreme Court’s dismissal of a government petition asking for a review of the apex court’s earlier decision. There could be no amnesty for those involved in grave rights violations during the decade-long Maoist insurgency, the court had ruled on 26 February 2016. Two major parties back then, the Nepali Congress and the UCPN (Maoist), contended the verdict was against the spirit of the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that had peacefully settled the armed conflict. It was up to the two transitional justice bodies to rule on all conflict-era cases, they argued, not the normal criminal justice mechanism.

Now, by throwing out the government petition, the Supreme Court has closed the chapter of general amnesty. This has come as a relief to conflict victims and the human rights community. They feared the political parties, in the excuse of completing the peace process, could otherwise trade away the rights of conflict victims. Yet this latest apex court move threatens to further complicate the transitional justice process. Neither the two major parties, whose leaders were directly or indirectly involved in the conflict, nor the Nepal Army, itself accused of grave rights violations, is now likely to cooperate in the TJ process. The top leaders of these institutions fear being implicated in grave rights violations without a get-out clause of amnesty in transitional justice laws.

The process should never have taken this long. The CPA had provisioned for the formation of the two transitional justice bodies within six months of its promulgation—it would be nearly 11 years before it happened. The major political actors had made the peace process a tool of political bargaining, and were never serious about bringing justice to conflict families that had seen their loved ones either killed in cold blood or ‘disappeared’ during the insurgency. The sad fact of the transitional justice in Nepal is that any perceived progress for the conflict victims is seen as a setback by the political parties and the army, and vice versa. The two sides would be wise to quickly and amicably resolve all conflict-era cases. The internationalization of the process will be to the detriment of the aforementioned state and political actors, who will forever fear the long arm of international law. It will also be a long and torturous road for conflict victims who have already waited so long for justice.

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