Two representatives from the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), an INGO based in New York City, came to COCAP yesterday afternoon. We entitled the presentation “Transitional Justice in the Context of Nepal,” and over 50 human rights activists, civil society members, lawyers, and students crammed into the meeting room. I was excited to see what the discussion would bring. I had done my undergraduate thesis on implemented and potential reconciliation methods after the Rwandan genocide, so this topic was of personal interest to me.
For those who aren’t familiar with the topic, transitional justice refers to the mechanisms societies emerging from armed conflict or authoritarian regimes use to deal with past atrocities. Transitional justice mechanisms use various measures, namely trials, reparations, and truth commissions, to ensure accountability for crimes, and utilize both judicial and non-judicial modes of justice. There is much debate on the efficacy of transitional justice measures, in particular the use of truth commissions, which can be portrayed as a means for perpetrators of injustice to avoid prosecution. Often a battle between creating peace and finding justice are at odds when implementing transitional justice measures. ICTJ provides assistance, guidance, and research to countries that are trying to tackle these complex dilemmas.
The two speakers were extraordinary. Mr. Graeme Simpson was a leading activist during the fall of apartheid in South Africa, and is currently the Country Programs Director at ICTJ. Dr. Vasuki Nesiah is originally from Sri Lanka, and specializes in gender issues and disappearances. She is currently a Senior Associate at ICTJ and is also an Adjunct Associate Professor at Columbia University. Both speakers, as voices from countries that have faced conflict and transition, had personal experience – not just academic knowledge – in the topic of discussion.
After a brief introduction and discussion on transitional justice by Mr. Simpson and Dr. Nesiah, the floor was opened up to questions. Mr. Simpson made it clear that ICTJ, when working in a transitional country, is focused on South-South dialogue by bringing in experts from developing countries, that the process is more about “mutual learning.” They, Mr. Simpson and Dr. Nesiah, were not the experts on Nepal and what was needed to create a transitional justice system here – the members of the audience were. As civil society representatives, they will largely be part of any system of transitional justice. The presentation was more of a seed from which serious discussion on the possibilities for Nepal could occur.
The questions and comments brought up by the audience reflected the rather tentative political situation here. People are anxiously waiting for decisions to be made about the future of the government through the constituent assembly, and the fragile peace that has emerged may not be able to sustain any more pressure. As elections for the constituent assembly may begin as early as next year, and the hope is that those that will hold power are not those that committed human rights violations in the past. If reparations are to be given, there will be difficulty to provide such compensation, due to Nepal’s dwindling economy. And the list of potential problems and concerns continue.
Transitional justice measures, according to Mr. Simpson, must be implemented strategically. Unfortunately, there are no blueprints to work off of. Each country and each conflict face different challenges, and transitional justice measures must be tailor-made. Nepal has seen an immense amount of change in just a few months. By the turn out and the conversation that developed at the meeting, it is obvious that transitional justice strategies are wanted in the community. It will be interesting to see if and how these tactics are implemented in the coming year.
Posted By Lori Tornoe Mizuno (Nepal)
Posted Jul 21st, 2006