(New York) – Nepalese political leaders should not grant an amnesty for international crimes, the International Commission of Jurists and Human Rights Watch said today.
Negotiations are under way among key Nepali political leaders to grant a broad amnesty in connection with creating transitional justice commissions to address abuses committed during Nepal’s civil war, which ended in 2006. The proposed amnesty would extend to crimes under international law, including war crimes.
“Amnesty for gross human rights abuses – such as torture, including rape, and enforced disappearance – would violate international law,” said Frederick Rawski, country representative at the International Commission of Jurists. “Amnesty for these crimes would also contradict well-established Nepal Supreme Court jurisprudence and the government’s own public commitments at the UN Human Rights Council.”
The draft legislation to establish the framework for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, envisaged in the November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, is under consideration by Nepal’s parliament. Political leaders have proposed amendments that would empower the commission to grant amnesty to leaders and members of both government forces and armed groups for acts that would amount to serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law.
Providing amnesty for the most serious crimes would violate the government of Nepal’s obligations to prosecute and punish crimes under international law, such as torture and enforced disappearance, and war crimes, such as unlawful killings carried out in armed conflict.
The parties have also agreed that appointments of members to Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission on Disappearances will be made based on the vague term “political consensus,” which would appear to allow the appointments to be made politically, undermining the commission’s independence, the groups said.
Experience from other post-conflict settings suggests that providing amnesty for the most serious crimes of the recent past will further entrench a culture of impunity in Nepal, the groups said. The International Commission of Jurists and Human Rights Watch expressed support for Nepali civil society activists, lawyers, journalists, victims, and their families who have spoken out against attempts to politicize the proposed commissions. During a public protest on April 18, 2012, a group of 154 human rights defenders urged the government to form transitional justicecommissions in a transparent manner, and to allow the commissions to act independently.
Granting amnesty power to the commissions creates the possibility that amnesty would be offered in exchange for the truth of what happened, the groups said.
“Victims are entitled to both knowledge of what happened and to effective remedy and reparation, including the prosecution of those responsible,” said John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch.
“Victim participation in any truth-seeking process is essential,” Rawski said. “However, witness and victim protection mechanisms are a prerequisite for effective participation to ensure that the politically powerful cannot use intimidation to prevent the truth from being heard or to protect themselves from accountability.”
The organizations called upon the government and political parties to ensure that transitional justice legislation explicitly excludes the possibility of amnesty for international crimes, serious human rights abuses, and serious violations of international humanitarian law, while ensuring a transparent nomination and appointment process and requires adequate measures to protect witnesses and victims.
This would allow the parties to fulfill their obligations under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement while respecting international law, the decisions of the Nepal Supreme Court, the needs of victims and their families, and their own public commitments to end impunity and uphold the rule of law, the groups said.
“To function effectively, the nomination and appointment process and the operations of the commissions need to be transparent and open to public scrutiny,” said Sifton. “Past experience – in Nepal and throughout the world – has shown over and over again that politicized commissions rarely represent the interests of victims.”