Where are they?The failure to address insurgency-era grievances inhibits our ability to build a peaceful future.
Like each year, various organisations in Nepal, as elsewhere in the world, will commemorate the United Nations International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. It is a day to remember the trauma and torture faced by the victims of enforced disappearances and their family and community members in finding the truth about their loved ones. It is also a day to raise public awareness about the culture of impunity that engulfs a society if the perpetual violation of human rights is allowed without a mechanism to address the problem of enforced disappearances. And like each year, we have little to show except for the stale commitments to address the grievances.
The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance states that no one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance, for it is a crime against humanity. It states that no exceptional circumstances may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearance. Moreover, states are responsible for investigating enforced disappearances and bring the offenders to justice. In principle, Nepal has committed to following the directions of the convention. Especially after the signing of the peace deal between the then Nepal Communist Party (Maoist) and the Government of Nepal, leaders from across the political spectrum have not failed to dole out promises to the families of victims of enforced disappearance. But whether they have followed up on their promises is for all to see.
A major commitment of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2006) was to find the truth about the people who were 'disappeared' or killed during the insurgency and to inform the family about the same. Not only did the twin sides to the conflict commit to making public the truth within 60 days of the signing of the agreement, but they also agreed to form separate commissions to institutionalise the search for truth and find ways for post-conflict reconciliation and reparation. Accordingly, the Commission of Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) was established almost a decade later, in 2015, along with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
However, in the six years of its existence, the commission has managed to publish a record of 2,513 persons based on the complaints filed by family members. The commission also claims to have found the whereabouts of 31 individuals during the investigation and has distributed identity cards to 532 individuals who are family members of the victims. Considering the extent of cases of disappearance and the urgency that such a sensitive issue demands, the action taken is too little and too late. The commission's work is so slow and dispassionate that family members of the victims and the public fear it will just be an eyewash and nothing else.
In failing to find the whereabouts of the disappeared, the Nepali state has been unable to provide a sense of security to its citizens. A state that does not care to ask for the whereabouts of its disappeared members cannot claim to be defending the human rights of its citizens. Ironically, Nepal has been re-elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council despite the country's failure to address the outstanding issues of insurgency-era crimes. Nepal is now preaching on the global stage what it is unable to put into practice at home. The failure to address this issue is not only a blot on our past and present but also inhibits our ability to build a peaceful future for ourselves.
What is disheartening is that the top-tier leaders across political parties who are all too familiar with the highhanded approach of the Panchayat rule that used torture, abduction and disappearance to subdue the voices of its opponents are now all inept. They should, therefore, come together to address the longstanding concern that brings into question our official claim that we have completed the peace process.