Dang police office registers complaint in conflict-era disappearance caseVictims are losing hope in transitional justice bodies and are turning to regular justice process.
In a first after the formation of two transitional justice commissions in 2015, police have received a First Information Report (FIR) in a conflict-era case of enforced disappearance.
The District Police Office, Dang, on Wednesday registered the complaint from Krishna Chaudhary from Ghorahi Sub-Metropolitan City-17 whose husband Briju was allegedly disappeared by the then Royal Nepal Army. A squad of the army had taken Birju under control on March 27, 2002 on the charge of being a cadre of the then CPN (Maoist), according to the complainant. He was never released.
The army said it never arrested Briju. However, those who were kept in the Ghorahi barracks of the army claimed to have seen him there. His wife Krishna registered a complaint at the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons. Without progress in revealing truth and providing justice by the transitional justice mechanism, she turned to the regular justice process.
“We had to file a complaint with the police as the commission did little to find out the truth and book the culprits,” Krishna told the Post. Together with her, the families of the victims of the conflict-era enforced disappearances from different districts turned to the local police to investigate their cases. However, all district police offices turned them away saying such cases come under the jurisdiction of the disappearance commission.
The victims from Baglung and Morang have even filed writ petitions in the courts against the police and the district attorney offices for refusing to receive the complaints. The petitions are sub judice at the Biratnagar High Court and the Baglung bench of Pokhara High Court.
“The Dang police too had refused initially. It accepted the FIR following the directive from the district attorney's office,” Binu Shrestha, an advocate who assisted Krishna to register the complaint, told the Post. “This is a good start. Now let’s see how the police take it further.”
The FIR has made the then chief of the Ghorahi Battalion of the army and the field officer who arrested Briju as defendants. Prakash Chaudhary is an eyewitness to Briju’s arrest as he spent around a month in the same room with him.
“We even ate from the same plate in the army barracks,” Prakash told the Post. “He was there until I was released in May 2002. The army knows where they took him.” Prakash said he was ready to give his statement to the police and in the court whenever needed.
Human rights lawyers say the failure of the disappearance commission is compelling the victims to seek justice from the regular criminal justice system. Gyanendra Aran, a human rights lawyer who has fought several cases on behalf of the conflict victims, says victims turning to the regular justice system shows their frustration towards the transitional justice mechanism.
He says the disappearance commission has completely failed in investigating the complaints, prompting the families of the victims to go to the police. “The victims have lost faith in the commission. Seven years is a long time but it hasn’t investigated a single case fully,” Aran told the Post.
In the last seven years, the disappearance commission has received 3,223 complaints of enforced disappearances perpetrated both by the security forces and the Maoists. After looking into the complaints, the commission has identified 2,484 cases as genuine.
The latest report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, however, says 1,333 people are still missing in connection with the armed conflict.
Except for providing a compensation of Rs1 million, there has not been any progress in providing justice. The report of the disappearance commission shows as many as 1,227 such families have received the compensation so far.
The Penal Code-2017 that came into effect in 2018 first criminalised forcible disappearance.
Section 206 (1) of the Penal Code prohibits enforced disappearance and lists it as a criminal offence for the first time.
Anyone convicted of disappearing an individual could face 15 years in jail and Rs500,000 fine or both. If the victim of the enforced disappearance is a child or a woman, the sentence could be increased to 17 years.
“In my knowledge this is the first FIR in the disappearance case after the formation of the transitional justice commissions,” Aran told the Post. “This is definitely a positive step. Now there should be a regular follow-up to how the police are doing their investigation.”
The District Police Office, Dang says it will focus on investigation as demanded in the complaint. “We registered the FIR after the district attorney's office asked us to do so,” Superintendent of Police Surendra Kafle told the Post. “Now it is our responsibility to find the facts.”
Human rights defenders say though there are doubts if the police genuinely take the investigation process ahead, Dang police’s move will increase pressure on the police in other districts to register such cases.
“It seems the district attorney and the police in Dang have some respect for human rights. It will compel the police in other districts to register similar complaints,” Govinda Sharma Paudyal, a former member at the National Human Rights Commission. “As the transitional justice mechanisms have failed to perform, the trend of victims turning to the regular justice system is going to increase.”
The complainants say they will make every effort to ensure the case is investigated thoroughly following the due process.
“We will regularly follow up with the police to track the investigation process,” said Shrestha, the advocate. “If the police genuinely perform their duties, this is going to be a huge victory for the victims of enforced disappearances.”