Kin of disappeared wait for justice even 16 years after end of insurgencyGovernment and parties want to settle transitional justice process without ensuring justice to victims, say activists.
When the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons was formed in 2015, Laxmi Baral from Sunabarshi Municipality-2 in Morang was optimistic. She hoped that justice would be served soon as her husband was forcibly disappeared during the decade-long Maoist insurgency.
But it has been seven years since the commission was formed. Baral does not know yet whether she would be told about the whereabouts of her husband, Jagannath.
Jagannath is among those who were disappeared during the Maoist “people’s war”.
The commission has been defunct for over a month now as the government didn’t extend the terms of its chairperson and members.
The government is preparing to appoint a new team after an amendment to the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act 2014. Though the bill was tabled in Parliament on Monday, there is no clarity when it will be endorsed. Conflict victims and human rights activists have already expressed their reservations about some of the amendment provisions.
“We were told the commission will find out whereabouts in two-three years. Now we hear the new team appointed after the amendment to the Act will carry out the investigations,” Baral told the Post. “Who guarantees the upcoming leadership won’t be a failure like the previous ones? It seems those in power are testing our patience.”
On December 29, 2003, a group of then CPN-Maoist combatants came looking for Jagannath, Laxmi’s husband. The combatants said they would drop him back to his house after a brief inquiry. However, he never returned.
“Only the sufferers know the pain of losing their loved ones and without even knowing for two decades whether they are dead or alive,” she said. “It seems I will have to wait my entire life for justice.”
As the world marks the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on Tuesday, the kin of the victims of the enforced disappearances from the Maoist insurgency from 1996 to 2006 say they are losing their patience waiting for justice.
The Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons was formed along with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as per Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Maoists and then government in 2006. Political wrangling and a lack of will delayed the formation of these two commissions.
The disappearance commission has received 3,223 complaints of enforced disappearance at the hands of both security forces and the Maoists.
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.
After looking into the complaints, the commission has identified 2,484 cases as genuine. However, the victims from only half of the cases have received interim relief of Rs1 million from the government.
The report of the disappearance commission shows only 1,227 such families have received the compensation. After a preliminary investigation into the complaints, the commission recommended a relief amount to the families of 591 victims—of which, 91 received the amount.
Baral’s family is among those which are yet to receive the relief money.
Other than receiving the complaints, the commission, in the last seven years, has conducted preliminary investigations, recommended relief in some cases and provided identity cards to the family members of 400 families.
However, it has failed in accomplishing its main job: finding the whereabouts of the victims and recommending prosecutions against perpetrators, leaving hundreds of victims in distress.
Durga Bahadur Chhetri from Baijanath Rural Municipality in Banke district was arrested by the area police office in Shamshergunj of the district on August 5, 2002. A primary teacher in Jumla, police accused him of being a Maoist supporter. Chhetri was transferred from the police station in a few days without informing where he was taken.
“I am making every attempt to find him since his arrest with no progress even after 20 years,” Usha, his wife, told the Post over the phone from Banke. She said her hope for justice has been shattered repeatedly.
The victims were assured of justice with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord in 2006, first and when the commission was formed in 2015, for the second time. Usha said they have been deceived by the state.
The Maoists laid down their arms and officially joined peaceful politics with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on November 21, 2006. The agreement stipulated that both sides—the state and the Maoists—would make public, within 60 days of signing the deal, the information including the real names, castes, and addresses of the people who were disappeared or killed during the insurgency, and inform the victims’ family members.
However, that never happened.
As the government and the Maoist were reluctant to abide by the accord, a group of the victim's families in 2007 moved the Supreme Court seeking its intervention. The court on June 1 same year directed to immediately investigate all the allegations of forcible disappearances from the insurgency by forming a commission of inquiry that complies with international standards.
The court’s order was never fully implemented.
“Now we have been told that the amendment to the Act will resolve the problem,” Usha told the Post. “Let’s hope that it does not turn out to be yet another lie.”
The government on July 15 registered an amendment bill on the Act in Parliament which landed in controversy after the victims, human rights activists and the human rights organisations said the ultimate motive of the bill is to shield the perpetrators, even in the cases of serious human rights violations, from prosecution. The government waited more than a month to table the bill in Parliament following the controversy.
Minister for Law and Justice Govinda Sharma Bandi has been claiming that the amendment will pave the way for a credible transitional justice process ensuring justice to the victims. However, the victims and human rights defenders have submitted recommendations for amendment in around a dozen of provisions in the bill.
“The government has accepted the demand for the revision of the bill,” Bandi told the Post. “We will decide on the issues that can be revised after discussions.”
The ruling parties, however, aren’t ready to fully accept the recommendations of the victims and human rights organisations.
Human rights defenders say the transitional justice process has been stalled for so many years because the government and parties want to conclude it without ensuring justice to the victims.
“Providing justice to the victims should be at the core of the transitional justice process,” Mandira Sharma, a senior international legal adviser to the International Commission of Jurists, told the Post. “However, the focus of the government and parties is towards settling the process without holding the perpetrators accountable as per law. This is not going to work.”
Meanwhile on Monday, 20 victims and human rights activists wrote to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, urging him to press upon the Nepal government and political parties to change the flawed provisions.
Listing out the flawed provisions, the letter states: “The amendment bill is designed to provide de facto immunity to perpetrators of both sides (Maoists and state security personnel).”