For the families of the hundreds of disappeared, the long wait for justice continuesEven 14 years after the end of the civil conflict and five years since the formation of the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons, not a single family has been told what happened to its loved one.
There is not a day that passes by without her husband’s memories haunting Lila Devi Tamang. And when it does every day, for the past 17 years, tears flow down her cheeks.
Tamang had gone shopping for the Tihar festival when her husband Tanka Lama, a Maoist sympathiser, was arrested from near his home at Sunbarsha Municipality-6 in Morang district, in October 2003.
When she returned, her two children were crying.
For two days she did not know what to do, she said. None of her neighbours were ready to help her since there was a state of emergency in the country. It all happened during the height of the fighting between security forces and the Maoists.
“I finally gathered the courage to go to the authorities two days later,” recalled Tamang. “The only answer I got from the local police post, the district police office and the district administration was they had not arrested him.”
This despite, according to Tamang, there were eyewitnesses who saw him being taken in a van by the police.”
Since then, Tamang, now 40, has cried before the politicians, knocked the door of courts and talked multiple times with the human rights defenders and the media.
But she still does not know the whereabouts of her husband.
The story of Seema Oli of Bardiya is similar.
Suresh Kumar Oli from Barbardiya Municipality-9 in Bardiya district was arrested by the local police on December 23, 2002 from Bhurigau on charges that he was a Maoist.
The police allowed one of Seema’s sisters to meet him the next day. A few days later when her mother went to ask his whereabouts, police told her her husband had fled.
“That was incredible. Wouldn't he come to us or at least make a contact if he had fled?” said Seema Oli, his youngest daughter, who was just eight years then.
The family does not know till date where he is.
“Whenever I asked about him, my mother would say he had gone far away and start crying herself,” she said. “It took me a few years to understand the meaning of ‘far’.”
Seema’s memory of her father has become blurred with time. She keeps on looking at his picture to renew her memory.
“I often can’t control myself when I look at his photo. I, therefore, lock myself inside a room whenever his memory haunts me,” said Seema.
It is during the festive season she misses her father the most. “We haven’t celebrated any festivals without tears. And, we have no answers how long will it go like this,” she said
It was not only security forces that have been responsible for the disappearances.
Phul Ram Chaudhary’s son Kanhaiya joined the Maoist People’s Liberation Army in September 2002, leaving behind a six-month-old daughter. He returned to meet the family a few times and would write to them of his whereabouts.
Having learned that he was in regular touch with the family, security forces would threaten his family members to reveal where he was.
“It was a difficult time for us as the fighting was at its peak,” Chaudhary from Thakur Baba Municipality in Bardiya district told the Post.
Meanwhile the family was told that Kanhaiya had been arrested by the Maoist guerilla force itself for allegedly violating the party’s moral conduct.
“The party never produced him before us,” said Chaudhary. “The Maoist leaders, who used to come every day to persuade the family to take Kanhaiya in the party, never showed up after his disappearances.”
There are hundreds of families like Lila’s, Seema’s and Phul Ram’s who are still waiting for answers on their loved ones as Nepal, along with countries across the world, marks the International Day of the Disappeared on Sunday.
The latest report by the International Committee of the Red Cross says 1,333 people are still missing in connection with the armed conflict. However, the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons has received just 3,223 complaints.
The decade-long fighting between the government and the Maoists officially ended on November 21, 2006 with the signing of the historic Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
The agreement stipulated that both sides—the state and the Maoists—would make public, within 60 days of signing, information about the real name, caste, and address of the people disappeared or killed during the war, and inform family members.
In 2007, families of 80 victims moved the Supreme Court as the accord wasn’t implemented in the stipulated time. The court on June 1 that year ordered the government to immediately investigate all the allegations of the enforced disappearances by forming a commission of inquiry that complies with international standards.
But it took another eight years for the government to constitute the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate into the cases of disappearances and the atrocities committed during the insurgency.
However, five years after its formation, the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons is yet to complete investigation into a single case of disappearance.
Of the 3,223 complaints received, the commission is investigating only 2,506, saying other cases did not fall within its jurisdiction.
The commission so far has completed preliminary investigation of the cases from 67 districts and yet to investigate those from 10 other districts. Officials at the commission, however, say they are committed to provide justice to the victims.
“We will start taking statements from the alleged perpetrators once the threat of Covid-19 is over,” Sunil Ranjan Singh, a member of the disappearance commission, told the Post.
For the families of the disappeared, meanwhile, the wait continues.
“I feel so frustrated at this delay, “ said Lila Devi Tamang.
For the last 18 years, Oli’s family has made every effort seeking answers from the state to make his status public but has come to nothing.
Suresh Kumar Oli’s family thought as he was arrested on charges of being close to the Maoists, the party would work to make his whereabouts public once coming to power.
“But that proved to be just an illusion,” said Seema.
The Maoist leadership has headed the government three times since signing of the peace deal and the Maoist party after uniting with the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) to form Nepal Communist Party is in power at present. But families of those disappeared in the years of insurgency are still waiting for justice.
“There is nothing as painful as not knowing whether your child is alive or dead.” Chaudhary, who is in his mid-sixties, said.
He is gradually losing hope that he will ever get to know the whereabouts of his son during his lifetime.
“No party is concerned about victims,” he said. “They used us as a ladder to get to power, leaving us in tears.”