Even though it’s late, victims will get something from the commission: Subedi

Shree Krishna Dai 1Kathmandu: Formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had become a ray of hope for all conflict affected people as they expected to get justice from the commission. The commission was formed with the objectives of investigating the incidents of human rights violations during the period of armed conflict, creating environment conducive for sustainable peace and reconciliation by enhancing spirit of mutual good faith and tolerance in the society, providing reparation to the victims and making recommendation for legal action against those who were involved in serious offences related to such incidents. However, the commission failed to deliver results as per people’s expectation due to delay in issuing necessary regulations by the government and conflict among members of the commission. Despite its snail pace, the commission finally started the process of investigating 7,000 complaints among 60,000 complaints it received from the victims. At a time when rights groups are raising question about the fairness of the investigation conducted by the commission and ability of the commission to provide real justice to the victims, one of the members of the commission Mr. Shree Krishna Subedi shared his views about ongoing investigation of the commission and other issues related with transitional justice. Here are the excerpts:

Can you brief us what the commission has been doing at the moment?

The commission was formed with five major mandates which are: Truth-Finding; Reconciliation; Amnesty; Justice and Reparation. The commission was also given the mandate to find the root cause of the conflict and recommend to the government what should be done not to repeat such conflict in the future. We initiated the process of taking complaints and started investigation on such cases. However it took a long time. We faced problems like limitation of resources and delay in issuing regulations, so we could not expedite process as it should be. The commission received around 60 thousand complaints so we got a bit confused on how to start the investigation process. If we look at the international practice some selective cases are investigated but the commission got the mandate of investigating all the cases. People were briefed that the commission would look into everything; as a result the number of cases went up drastically against our expectation. Having to address their concerns, the commission decided to open offices in seven provinces of Nepal and deployed investigation officers for the investigation process. The team, headed by the District Attorney and accompanied by the experts of different sectors has been investigating the complaints. Initially, we have assigned them to investigate 1,000 cases each and the investigation is ongoing in all provinces. Four members of the commission have been closely monitoring the investigation process.

How did you select the 7,000 cases among 60,000 complaints that the commission received and could you also brief us about the investigation process?

Although the Act has asked to prioritize the cases related with women, grave human rights violations etc, however we selected the files on first come first serve basis without prioritization. We have been following due process of investigation like recording the statement of the victims, seeing different documents, taking records and reports of different organizations like the National Human Rights Commission. Similarly, we have been given the mandate to the investigation team to do fact-finding missions at the incident site and if needed record the statement of the alleged perpetrator. In the past, the victims have been putting their thoughts through different means like during the interaction or other programmes, but now they come to the commission and file their statement. We have formally documented the process. The investigation team has given different orders like furnishing different reports. However at the initial stage, our focus is to establish the case like record the statement, identify the victim and access the loss, know the views towards alleged perpetrator. In this way, we are recording all statement of victims rather than focusing on the perpetrator. Once the process is complete we may record statements of perpetrators if needed.

Which means you may go for the second round of investigation if necessary?

Yes that’s true. The regulation mentions about two phase of investigation. If the investigation team feels that there is a need of detailed investigation in some cases, they recommend the cases to the commission for further investigation. Similarly, if the commission feels that some cases need detailed investigation, then the commission can directly start the detailed investigation. The process of detailed investigation still remains intact.

What is the provision of travel expenses and accommodation to the victims coming to file statements as they have to travel long distances and they may not have money to cover their expenses?

The commission covers all the expenses while coming to file statements. The commission covers the expenses of the victims, their witnesses and also supporters of the needy people. There is no complain regarding the expenses as the commission has been providing reasonable amount for covering their travel and accommodation.

Is the trial conducted in an open space or closed session and what about the observation of the trial by media and human rights activists?

The location of the trial sessions depend on the feeling of the victim. For example some victims want to tell their stories in a separate meeting, while prefer to organize interviews in group. The interviews are conducted as per the preference of the victims. Observers can go and observe the statement recording process after getting approval from the commission. However, the victim should feel comfortable to have observers present. It entirely depends on the wishes of the victims.

How long do you think the investigation process will take as the commission’s tenure is completing in coming five months?

It is true that we have limited time and we just started the investigation process of 7,000 cases which will take a long time. Similarly, we have to take some decision regarding remaining 53,000 cases. Now we are mulling either to increase the number of investigation officers or extend our contact offices in all the districts to expedite the investigation process. We are trying to do preliminary investigation in all the cases in remaining five months. However we have the time pressure as it is not sure whether the tenure will be extended. Therefore, we are working in two alternatives, either to conclude the present cases which are under investigation or extend the tenure and complete investigation in all cases. Investigation of these cases will reveal the status of the cases and pattern of human rights violations so that other bodies of the state can also take forward the remaining cases. We are for the extending the tenure of the commission only if the government amends the act which has different flaws and provides all necessary resources for expediting the work of the commission.

You said investigation of the 7,000 cases will present the scenario of rights violations but people fear that the government may not properly investigate all the cases and provide justice to the victims, so how will victims get justice without their cases being investigated?

There is no hurdle for providing justice to the victims even with the investigation of 7,000 cases. We can establish the pattern of human rights violations through seven thousand cases. At the moment we do not have sufficient time for investigating all the cases as the cases are very high. We can’t complete investigation in all cases, so if we investigate some cases and establish pattern, we can recommend what should be done in terms of reparation, action against perpetrator, then either the government extends the tenure of the commission or assigns court or other agencies to look after the cases. If the trend is established the victims will get justice through some mechanism of the state even if the commission is not there.

TRCWhat is your discussion with the government about the future of the commission and what was their reaction?

During our tenure of two years we did not start the investigation process as the government failed to issue the regulations on time and it also took a long time collecting complaints from victims. In a way we spent two years in preparatory works. Now we have started the investigation process, so even if our tenure is not extended we can conclude the investigation of some cases and exit. We are not in favor of extending the tenure of the commission as our position is that the government should amend the act and provide necessary resources to expedite the work of the commission so that we complete investigation of all cases and provide justice to the victims.
During our discussion with the government and political parties, they are very positive about our demands. They have been expressing solidarity to the commission but they could not translate their commitment into reality. The government mechanism has been reluctant to provide necessary resources including human resources to the commission, so the investigation process is progressing as expected. We want genuine commitment from the government side for the expansion of our tenure.

What are your reservations on the Act and with the government for extending the tenure?

The major weakness of the Act is that it does not discriminate incidents of grave human rights violations and human rights violations. It should distinguish what are the grave human rights violations which cannot be pardoned. The international community has also been criticizing the provision. This has raised the question that the commission may give amnesty in the incidents of grave human rights violations. Similarly, the act has not criminalized torture as we also do not have domestic legislation related with torture. Similarly, we should categorize disappearance as grave human rights violations. Similarly, how to address the cases pending at the court is also a concern as the Act says it should not investigate while the victims want such cases to be looked by the TRC. Apart from these, there are some minor issues like delegating authority to the employees and allocating necessary resources which are not major issues. Furthermore, there are some weaknesses in the regulation related with reparation. If these issues are addressed the tenure could be expanded for some time and we can complete the process otherwise we will complete whatever we can during the remaining five months as we don’t want to have unnatural death of the commission.

The commission also could not function effectively for quite some time due to internal dispute among members of the commission. What is the situation now?

We have now resolved internal problem and we are expediting the work of the commission. There was some problem in the past as people from different backgrounds are in the commission. There was some confusion due to various interest groups, which is reflected from different quarters not only among the members. There are some disputes but we have resolved it and are moving forward. This is not only related with the members of the commission but also from other sectors. For example, some people are coming to pressurize us to look their cases although their cases are not under the mandate of the commission. Although we could not do the work very efficiently due to some disputes and hurdles, we are now moving positively and in a fair speed.

People got frustrated as the transitional justice process took a very long time. What was their reaction while coming to record their statements and how you are managing their expectations?

Those who came to the investigation process are very happy as they feel that their voices are finally being heard. They say they gave up hope for justice as the process took very long but feel very happy to come to record their statement which they believe will lead them to the justice. They are very happy that the commission recorded their cases and are communicating the same message to others; many people whose cases are not in the list of investigation are also coming inquiring about their cases. However we are investigating a very limited number, so many people are still frustrated. We are trying to add to the team and expedite the process. However, if we fail to provide reparation and address their demands immediately they may get frustrated. We have explained that it will not be resolved immediately and tried to maintain their expectation. However, if the process gets delayed they may get frustrated, so we should immediately work towards reparation followed by other processes. We should ensure that we are addressing their grievances.

Do you have any message to our readers?
We delayed the process as it took time for legal formalities and we also received a very high number of complaints. We are working seriously to address all issues. The victims will get something from the commission. So we request all to support the commission for providing justice to the victims rather than pushing it into controversy.

(Editor’s Note: Nepalekhabar.com is a news portal trying to spread positive information in the society. We endeavor to give space to positive thoughts rather than spreading sensational information. How do you find this interview, please send your comments at: editor@nepalekhabar.com or editor.nepalekhabar@gmail.com)

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