February 10, 2015 / 12:08 PM / in 3 years

Nepal sets up panels to probe war crimes amid cries for justice

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal set up two commissions on Tuesday to investigate long-simmering allegations of human rights abuses and disappearances during the Himalayan nation’s decade-long civil war, a government minister said.

State forces and Maoist rebels alike have been accused of grave war-time abuses, including unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, rape and torture, during the years of conflict which ended under a 2006 peace agreement.

Both sides pledged to look into the crimes within six months after signing the peace deal.

But subsequent governments failed to investigate the accusations, fearing doing so would derail a tenuous peace between politicians and former rebels, leaving alleged perpetrators to rise through the military and political ranks.

“This matter had been entangled for more than eight years,” law minister Narahari Acharya told reporters on Tuesday in Kathmandu after a cabinet meeting during which the panels were set up.

Acharya said a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, modeled after the one set up in South Africa after the end of apartheid, would investigate abuses committed during the conflict.

A second panel, the Commission on Enforced Disappearances, would investigate the disappearances of more than 1,300 people still missing eight years after the end of the conflict.

Acharya said the panels had two years to finish their work.

Last month, New York-based Human Rights Watch condemned Nepal for failing to keep promises of post-conflict justice and accountability, saying political parties were seemingly “intent on ensuring ongoing impunity” for crimes.

Despite the long wait for action, advocates for victims’ rights were less than optimistic on Tuesday that the panels would deliver justice.

Human rights lawyer Hari Phuyal said a flawed provision in the legislation under which the commissions were set up could be used to let perpetrators off the hook by employing ambiguous wording which could be used to grant amnesty.

Suman Adhikari, a victims’ rights campaigner whose father was killed by rebels in 2002, said the panels were set up without consulting victims.

“I don’t think these commissions will be able to heal our wounds,” Adhikari said.

Dev Bahadur Maharjan, another campaigner who says he was tortured by security forces, said victims had appealed to the Supreme Court against the legislation. The case is due to come up for hearing on Thursday.

“The commissions have been set up under a law which was passed with a consensus among political parties who have no intention to give justice for us,” Maharjan told Reuters.

Editing by Krista Mahr and Robert Birsel

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