The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has recently tabled its plan of action at the meeting of the Social Justice and Human Rights Committee of Parliament. The ambitious plan of the transitional justice mechanism aims to investigate conflict-era cases and submit its final report within 10 months. From mid-April, the commission will be filing the conflict-related complaints. Surya Kiran Gurung, Chairperson of the TRC, talks about the practicality of the plan of action, the lapses in the TRC Act and the efforts of the commission to make the process of transitional justice more victim-centric.
The plan of action that the TRC recently presented in Parliament aims to resolve all the conflict-era cases within 10 months. How pragmatic is this time frame?
Yes, from mid-April we will be registering conflict related cases and we are making the announcement in the media. The practicality of the time frame depends entirely on the number of complaints we will receive.
If you study transitional justice mechanisms around the world, either they have decided to investigate all the conflict-era rights violations or they have created some criteria to categorise the types and number of cases to investigate. Mostly, the ones that have tried to resolve each and every conflict-related case have not been successful. In the case of Nepal, given that the TRC only has 10 months to resolve the cases, it is imperative for the commission to lay down particular criteria to categorise cases and put the type of reparation in place for different categories. So the commission shall set the principles and lay the groundwork for the judiciary to address the conflict-era cases in the future as well.
How will the TRC select the cases?
At the moment, the commission is trying to set the criteria to categorise the cases. When we receive the complaints, a preliminary investigation will be conducted. It will not only look into the facts of the registered cases, but also analyse their seriousness. So we are going to look into only some major violations of human rights that occurred during the conflict, but we will set the principle for reparation for different types of cases.
But does the TRC have enough resources—human and financial—to execute the plan of action? Also, as transitional justice is a new concept in the country, how well trained are the officials?
We still do not have adequate staff and we have been requesting the government for more. But next week we are holding classes for the officials on the concept of transitional justice, the provisions of the TRC Act and the ways to interact with the victims.
They are going to be taught everything, from how to register complaints to how to investigate cases. All the involved entities in the transitional justice process—the TRC, Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP), Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction—will be holding classes for the officials. We have also hired international experts who will provide insights on the transitional justice process.
At the end of the day, the success of the commission largely depends on our workforce and we will make sure they are competent enough to carry out the tasks.
The TRC has asked the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and other rights organisations to hand over their records of rights violations during the conflict. How much authority will the transitional justice mechanisms—the TRC and CIEDP—have over the entire conflict-era cases?
We shall only work within the mandate of the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, 2014 (TRC Act). The TRC and CIEDP were envisioned in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and thus have been created for a particular reason: To investigate rights violations during the conflict, provide relief to the families of the victims and create an environment of reconciliation. According to the Act, the CIEDP will investigate the cases of disappearance and other conflict-related cases shall be investigated by the TRC. For us to do our job, we need to have all the records of rights violations. And it is not only rights organisations that are liable for giving us the records they possess; government bodies—except the judiciary—need to do the same. All the complaints registered with the concerned authorities need to be handed over to the commission.
What will happen to the cases the transitional mechanisms will not address?
As I mentioned earlier, we are not going to look into all the cases, but shall create legal recourse for different type of cases so that those that the TRC will not deal with can be taken up with the state. The NHRC, according to the TRC Act, is also responsible to monitor the implementation of the recommendations that the TRC will make in its final report. It is then up to the NHRC and the state that then will be responsible to ensure justice for the victims.
Why has the TRC asked for amendments in the TRC Act?
The TRC has been asking for amendments in the TRC Act so that its report is accepted internationally. We have presented our views to the concerned authorities. Even recently we discussed our concerns with the Social Justice and Human Rights Committee of Parliament where we made it clear that without amendments to the Act, our transitional justice process will not meet the international standards and we will fail to keep our international human rights commitments. Should that fail to happen, it can invite turbulence in the country. So all the concerned authorities need to be cautious and responsible. After our discussion, the Social Justice and Human Rights Committee of Parliament has sent a set of directives to all the concerned authorities regarding the urgency of the matter, given that we are going to register the complaints from this month.
What are the international concerns?
In recent times, other countries have begun to point at our lapses. We have signed many international treaties on human rights and we need to abide by them. Without rectifying our laws, we will not be able to address grave rights violations such as torture or rape. We do not have a law against torture; and rape needs to be reported within 35 days, which has been extended to six months but that does not really help. Such lapses need to be addressed. Moreover, what has not been highlighted in the media is that the TRC is not going to prosecute the cases. A special court needs to be in place to prosecute the perpetrators.
We have asked the government to clarify which court will be dealing with conflict-era cases—whether it is the special court that already exists or will another one be established? Once we start our investigation, we will want the cases that have been fully investigated to be forwarded to the court, so that people get justice on time. The TRC has asked the government to ensure that all the components of the transitional justice framework are in place for us to carry out our work in a timely manner.
How cooperative has the state been?
We have constantly drawn the attention of the state to our issues. It has been saying that it will address them. So we cannot say that it is not cooperating. But if it introduces the required amendments before we start our process, an environment for us to execute transitional justice on a par with international standards will be created.
How is the commission trying to make the process victim-centric?
Without the support of the victims, the commission will not succeed. We have made it clear to the conflict-victims that we want their maximum support. We are ready to discuss the provisions that they want. But when it comes to the investigation of the cases, we cannot involve them as they are directly connected to the cases. If victims are given the role to draw judgement as well, it coould compromise the general principle of law of neutrality.
The victims on the other hand are concerned that the cases registered with the TRC might be whitewashed and may not be addressed at all. What measures is the commission taking to address such concerns?
To ensure there are no weaknesses in our process, we are trying to create a separate oversight mechanism including victimes, to monitor our activities. Also, people need to understand that if the commission whitewashes cases or fails to ensure justice, the doors of other judicial courts will always be open to them.
What about concerns of their physical safety and the confidentiality of the information that the victims will provide to the commission? What measures has the commission taken to win the trust of the victims?
We have been discussing with the all the concerned authorities about these issues. From the district to state levels, we have been consulting all the state bodies, rights organisations, victims’ groups and civil society. We have even been speaking to the media. We have been doing all we can to construct a favourable environment for the victims to come forward. Witnesses and victims will be protected by TRC Act.
We have created proper software—with good privacy features—to register cases. We even have a provision of keeping personal information about the victims secret. We have made it clear to all the victims that if they feel any kinds of security threats, they can ask the state and local bodies for protection. We have widely broadcast our contact numbers. People are free to contact our local level offices or the head office in Kathmandu.