The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) were established in 2015 to investigate conflict-era rights violations. Since their deadline is set to expire on February 10, the government has approved an ordinance to amend the existing Act to extend the tenure of the Commission for a second time. Surya Kiran Gurung, Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, spoke to The Record about the TRC and its future.
What is the status of the investigations of complaints TRC received?
The Commission has registered 60,298 complaints of the victims, although few of them are still coming in. Besides, the CIEDP has handed over 410 files to us as they come under this commission’s jurisdiction. The commissioners have completed preliminary investigation of 827 cases. However, the Commission is yet to decide on these cases.
What kind of the complaints you received?
We have not gone through all the complaints yet, although they are categorized based on the nature of the cases. The complaints could be against the highest government officials as well as leaders. Banke, Kanchanpur and Bardiya have complaints of disappeared, but incidents of murder, sexual violence, looting, arson and displacement are scattered all over.
What happens to the complaints not investigated within the deadline?
The Commission will hand over the documents with recommendations to carry out investigation. If the government does extend the mandate of the commission, we will make public the progress made so far and a strategy for the future. The Commission will make sure the confidentiality and safety of the victims are guaranteed before handing over the documents to the concerned authority. We will also make public the record of all cases, so that the information is not lost, without disclosing victims’ identities.
Why is it taking so long to start the investigations?
As we started, we had to draft the required bylaws and regulations. The government took 14 months to approve the regulations. Meanwhile, the 2015 earthquake devastated the country. It took us almost 7 months to set up the office. As we were collecting complaints, the constitution was promulgated. The Madhes protests and border blockade followed that, disrupting our task. Despite all adds, we collected data, screened them and completed data entry. When we started investigations in all provinces by setting up field offices, the local and provincial elections happened. Our staff were deputed to the elections. The government staff have not returned to the field offices till date.
Why did you not hire the staff then?
The government has provided the Commission with 60 percent of the 100 postings approved. We have been seeking the approval of the government to hire more people, but in vain. the government should either provide us with human and other resources, or allow us to hire the required personnel ourselves.
Do you think this is a well calculated move to handicap the Commission?
It’s a valid point. They keep promising to support. After hearing their hollow promises for two years, I had decided to quit. I insisted the government streamline legal provisions and provide necessary resources as a condition to return to the job. The government assured me of all support, which the Commission has not received yet.
I am not blaming the bureaucracy, but at times they have rejected the directives of higher authorities. For instance, the Prime Minister approved our request for vehicles for field offices, but this request was rejected by the Finance Ministry.
As a chair, what do you think should be the standard for punishment or amnesty in TRC cases?
We must accept the fact that one of the differences between the criminal justice system and the transitional justice system is the severity of the punishment. We neither have criteria for punishment nor policy for reparation. If we decide punishment for the incidents that took place during the conflict period as set by the criminal justice system, we will not be able to resolve the conflict.
What do you think the minimum standard should be?
It varies. For instance, the South African transitional justice process is considered a successful one. There, the commission’s focus was on reconciliation and compensations went up to $ 6,000. Cambodia’s hybrid commission looked at only a few cases and took them to trial, and there was no financial compensation except counseling. So, it depends on country’s situation and agreement. It is not up to the commission to determine the criteria. Besides, if you look at the practices of transitional justice, not all individual cases are investigated. Instead, the pattern and nature of the crimes are analyzed to recommend actions. Our TRC is different. We are to call for complaint registration, investigate into individual case, identify perpetrators, provide compensation and recommend action as per the victims’ desire. As per the existing Act, the commission is required to look into all 60,298 individual complaints.
Do you believe the Office of the Attorney General will follow the commission recommendations for action TRC makes?
I have been warning political leaders not to meddle with the human rights accusations. If we dismiss the cases of rights violation, the international community will not keep quiet. We have already had an unfortunate arrest of Nepal Army’s sitting colonel. We have to make sure it does not happen again. Now that Nepal has been elected as member of the UN Human Rights Council, it has to be more responsible and accountable.
What are the most important things that need to change for TRC to complete its task?
First, amendment to the Act. The Comprehensive Peace Accord was signed in 2006, which envisioned the Commission would be formed within six months. It took almost nine years to form the Commission. As per the existing law, the FIR of rape cases should be registered within six months from the time of incident. How can we take up the cases [of sexual violence]? Torture is within our jurisdiction. The draft bill has criminalized the act of torture committed by the state only. But the rebels also tortured. And there are a host of amendments referred by the Supreme Court. Finally, the government has not set up the Special Court to look into TRC cases as required by the law.