DR GOPAL KRISHNA SIWAKOTI
The extension of the mandate of the UN rights body – Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – is critical for a sustained support to the rights- and justice-related transitional management in Nepal. The OHCHR’s time-tested expertise is crucial not only to enhance efforts to work quickly and effectively in re-establishing the rule of law and the administration of transitional justice but also to support fragile domestic institutions and lend assistance to build peace and capacitate the state in putting forth a long-term domestically-owned and nurtured human rights protection regime.
Assistance in training, advising, monitoring and generating programs and resources for rule of law and human rights safeguards initiatives especially the “peace-through-justice” program as well as devising an effective and legitimate transitional justice policy for the prevention of future human rights abuses is an unparalleled task that the OHCHR could accomplish. OHCHR is constitutionally-mandated to monitor the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and it deserves a graceful exit only after the peace process is completed.
Since the signing of the CPA, the key players of the peace process have remained grossly disloyal to the rule of law. Most of the human rights-related provisions in the CPA have gone astray. The absence of a high-level mechanism to observe the compliance and implementation of the CPA and indifference to bringing the violators of the past abuses to book makes the peace process further delicate. Safeguarding human rights under such a scenario becomes an unattainable dream project.
The image of the law-enforcement agencies is badly tarnished with their involvement in various notorious scandals. Incidences of abductions, killings, tortures, extortions, violence and trans-border crimes have become common phenomenon. Occurrence of organized crimes in both urban centres and far-flung corners has today become routine. Weak rule of law and justice administration capacity continue to massively erode the moral authority of the state apparatus.
The never-ending political transition is confronted with non-integration of former combatants and gross negligence to resolve the highly-contentious state restructuring agenda.
Governance is weak resulting in diminished public confidence in state authorities and increased instances of threat to public security. National human rights institutions have been made redundant due to politics of compromise. Human rights defenders and media persons continue to work under exceptionally difficult circumstances of threat and insecurity. The undue and perhaps intentional delay in establishment of the Truth Commission to probe those involved in serious violation of human rights and crimes against humanity has added salt to the injury of the victims. Establishment of an independent Disappearances Commission to disclose the whereabouts of the victims of enforced disappearance is in limbo.
Curbing post-conflict violence too is critical to prevent the peace process from breaking asunder. The profusion of petite disruptive outfits has continued to increase resulting in massive violation of human rights and threat to law and order. One report listed more than 100 active armed groups in the Tarai and in the eastern hills. Lawlessness is promoting ethnic-based tensions and increasing resentment against the establishment.
Key international human rights instruments such as the Rome Statute on International Criminal Court, Disappearance Convention and Optional Protocol to Torture Convention warrant immediate ratification. Setting human rights benchmarks in the new constitution is fundamental to institutionalize the growing aspirations of people for the full enjoyment of all rights for all. The international human rights principles must not be compromised in the new constitution under any pretext.
Indeed, the commitments on transitional justice in the peace agreements and their uneven implementation to date reveal a fundamental tension between Nepal’s stated wish to end impunity and its clear reluctance to introduce the measures that would be required to make this change. Deteriorating public security, threats to the rule of law, diminishing political space and increased political violence demonstrate that the state is not seriously committed and adequately equipped with necessary will, expertise and commitment to strengthen the democratic process and respect human rights, rule of law and political pluralism. Indigenous social and political forces, including the state machineries, are yet to demonstrate their competence and credibility to effectively manage these overarching transitional challenges.
The unity among violators and division among victims is also rooted on the unavailability and/or maneuvering of the victims´ statistics and the perpetrators´ profile. The dubious role of international political community toward pursuing a unified agenda for transition further jeopardizes transitional justice mission. Similarly, heavy projectization of transitional justice movement injected by different donor-driven external agencies also creates sheer division among victims, which is further compounded by the theory of divide and rule of the post-conflict transitional regimes who generally believe in ´forget and forgive´ with a blunt self-amnesty canon.
Such a uniquely critical transitional scenario in the country affirms unconditional presence of a trustworthy international interlocutor(s) to oversee the development of transitional justice mechanism and their functioning. In a typically complicated peace process founded on politics of appeasement and impunity, the international community, including the powerful neighbors, cannot be taken as a single coherent entity devoid of political interests. Although it is primarily the indigenous political and social forces who have to break this impasse and usher the country to a new horizon, the actors of the home-grown peace process have failed to comply with international norms, constitutional essence and the provisions of the CPA on safeguarding human rights and ending the culture of impunity that has badly ruptured the fabric of our society. Thus, abruptly terminating the mandate of the human rights watchdog – OHCHR – at this critical hour may result in peace and freedom paying a heavy price.
The writer is President of INHURED International