Victims of sexual and gender-based violence during Nepal’s 10-year-long civil war still face major obstacles to justice, concluded the participants of a virtual consultation on 19 June 2021, on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in conflict.
The consultation was organized by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), in collaboration with the Conflict Victim Women National Network (CVWN), to address “Enhancing Access to Justice for Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence”. The Nepali version of ICJ Briefing Paper on “Nepal: Transitional Justice Mechanisms with Gender Perspective” was also launched as part of the consultation.
The ICJ consultation with stakeholders highlighted Nepal’s obligation under international law to ensure right to an effective remedy to the victims of sexual and gender-based violence of Nepal’s decade-long armed conflict, which came to a close with a peace accord in 2006.
Around 80 participants, including human rights defenders and conflict victims from different parts of the country attended the consultation. The participants expressed particular concern at lack of attention to gender issues in the context of Nepal’s transitional justice process since its very beginning, and urged that gender considerations be mainstreamed in the transitional justice process.
Ms. Shrijana Shrestha, Chairperson of the CVWN, underscored the lack of government data on victims of conflict-related sexual violence, and denounced the hurdles victims face in seeking justice, due to social and cultural taboos, lack of a support system, and the current statute of limitation to register complaints of sexual violence.
Ms. Mandira Sharma, ICJ Senior Legal Adviser, highlighted that, as a party to various international human rights instruments, Nepal has an obligation to ensure victims’ right to an effective remedy. Further, she expressed concern about the lack of political will since the beginning of the peace process to address the needs of women victims, in particular of victims of conflict-related sexual violence. She emphasized the need to amend the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Act in consultation with victims of the armed conflict.
Similarly, Dr. Susan Risal, human rights activists, emphasized the need to develop strong strategies to deal with conflict-related sexual violence in Nepal, taking into consideration the best practices of different countries.
Ms. Laxmi Pokharel, ICJ Legal Adviser, pointed out that the ICJ Briefing paper (“Nepal: Transitional Justice Mechanisms with Gender Perspective”) has analyzed the TRC legislation comprehensively, and can therefore be of use as a powerful advocacy tool for legal reform. She summarized the main findings of the briefing paper and its recommendations, including:
- Amend the TRC Act, through consultative and participatory process, in line with the Supreme Court’s order and Nepal’s international obligations;
- Ensure the participation of women in both Commissions (i.e., the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission on Investigation of Disappeared Person) at all levels of staffing and in the appointment of Commissioners with a view to ultimately achieving gender parity;
- Provide gender-sensitive training to the Commissioners and staff of the Commissions in order to enhance their ability to address gender issues in their operation;
- Amend the Criminal Code to remove the statutory limitation for filing complaints of rape and other instances of sexual violence;
- Ensure that amnesties and mediation will not be granted to perpetrators of gross human rights violations, including rape and other forms of sexual violence.
During the discussions, the participants highlighted the following major concerns:
- Despite more than six years of its establishment, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission on Investigation of Disappeared Person (CIDP) have failed to ensure victims’ right to truth, justice, reparation and guarantee of non-repetition;
- There is an urgent need to identify victims of conflict-related sexual violence and provide them with support in order to address their immediate needs;
- The TRC Act needs to be amended in consultation and with the participation of all main stakeholders;
- The existing statute of limitation to file complaints of rape and other forms of sexual violence is a major barrier for victims of conflict-related sexual violence, and must be amended so that victims can access justice.
The event was organized under the ‘Enhancing Access to Justice for Women in Asia and the Pacific’ project funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). Due to the COVID–19 pandemic, the webinar was conducted virtually via Zoom and broadcasted live on Facebook. The webinar was conducted in Nepali with simultaneous English translation.
Laxmi Pokharel, ICJ Legal Adviser – Nepal, e: laxmi.pokharel(a)icj.org