Kathmandu, March 24 (IANS) The inclusion of an amnesty provision in law will make it impossible for thousands of victims of human rights abuses in Nepal to obtain justice, rights activists said.
The amnesty provision has been added to Nepal's new Truth, Reconciliation and Disappearance Ordinance, a coalition of international human rights organisations said.
The Asian Centre for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), and TRIAL pointed to fundamental flaws in Nepal's new law, passed by President Ram Baran Yadav March 14.
"The new ordinance leaves open the door to amnesties for persons implicated in gross human rights violations and crimes under international law," said Ben Schonveld, ICJ's South Asia director in Kathmandu.
"Amnesties for serious rights violations are prohibited under international law and betray the victims, who would be denied justice in the name of political expediency."
At least 13,000 people were killed and over 1,300 subjected to enforced disappearance in Nepal's decade-long conflict between government forces and Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist combatants.
The fighting ended with the signing of the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, consolidating a series of commitments to human rights.
However, the government has yet to take steps to ensure that those responsible for crimes under international law during the fighting are identified and prosecuted.
International and local human rights groups have consistently decried the government's efforts to side-step promises of justice and accountability, represented most recently by this new ordinance.
The revised ordinance calls for the formation of a high-level commission to investigate serious human rights violations committed during Nepal's armed conflict from 1996 to 2006.
It grants the commission discretion to recommend amnesty for a perpetrator if the grounds for that determination are deemed reasonable.
The government then decides whether to grant an amnesty. There is no definition of what is reasonable.
Confusion over scope of amnesty provision
The ordinance states that "serious crimes," including rape, cannot be recommended for an amnesty, but it does not define what other "serious crimes" are not subject to an amnesty.
Gross violations of human rights, such as extrajudicial killing, torture and enforced disappearance, are not mentioned. Torture and enforced disappearance are not specific crimes under Nepali domestic criminal law.
The organizations expressed concern that the commission's powers to recommend prosecution may mean little without crimes being adequately defined in law.
The final decision on whether to prosecute can only be made by the attorney general, a political appointee of the government, instead of an independent entity.
Human Rights Watch, ICJ and TRIAL have previously documented the systematic failures of the Nepali criminal law system to address serious human rights violations.