Top court rebuffs Nepal government. Will credible transitional justice follow?


Suman Adhikari poses with a photo of his father Muktinath,

Suman Adhikari poses with a photo of his father Muktinath, one of the 17,000 victims of Nepal’s conflict, 1996-2006. © Marty Logan

This week the Supreme Court of Nepal rejected the government’s attempt to strike down the court’s own 2015 decision directing the government to follow international standards in delivering transitional justice.

The big question now is: will the Government of Nepal finally live up to its many pledges to provide justice to survivors and families of victims of the conflict 14 years after the government-Maoist civil war ended?

In 2015 the Supreme Court directed the government to amend its Transitional Justice Act to meet global standards. Specifically, it was told to remove amnesty for those accused of the most serious crimes committed during the civil war, which killed roughly 17,000 Nepalis from 1996 to 2006. Those crimes include torture, rape and other sexual violence and ill-treatment and enforced disappearance.

On Friday, international human rights groups released a statement praising the court’s decision. “With its latest ruling the Supreme Court has upheld the principle that there can be no amnesties for those suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law and human rights violations. More than 13 years since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of November 2006 promised justice to the victims, no one has been held accountable for any conflict-era crimes,” says the statement. It is signed by the International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, TRIAL International, and Human Rights Watch.

“With its latest ruling the Supreme Court has upheld the principle that there can be no amnesties for those suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law and human rights violations.”

Successive Nepal governments have been critiqued for not advancing on transitional justice despite repeated promises to do so. In April 2019, human rights experts noted that Nepal’s two transitional justice commissions were working too slowly, that the procedure for choosing new commissioners was not impartial, independent or transparent, and that the transitional justice law did not meet international standards.

The United Nations human rights office also responded to the ruling on Friday: “The Supreme Court’s decision reconfirms that the only way for the Government to credibly proceed with the transitional justice process is to abide by the key human rights and transitional justice principles reflected in the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling, including the centrality of victims and the importance of accountability for serious violations. Victims’ advocacy groups and civil society members have welcomed the court’s decision, and so do we.”

Nepal has been a member of the UN Human Rights Council since 2017 and is now campaigning for re-election for the 2021-23 term. Perhaps that will provide the motivation the government needs to finally give up delaying transitional justice.

“We stand firmly to our commitment to addressing remaining issues of transitional justice according with the comprehensive peace accord, directives of the Supreme Court, relevant international commitments, concerns of the victims and the ground realities,” Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Gyawali told the council on 20 February 2020.

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