17 years since peace accord, enforced disappearance victims still await justiceNo progress has been made to deliver justice even as the Maosts have led the government four times since the accord.
Sujan Tharu was sleeping with his father Raj Kumar when a joint team of the then Royal Nepal Army, Armed Police and Nepal Police encircled his house in Bardiya at midnight on October 20, 2002. Security people took Raj Kumar along saying they needed to interrogate him in connection with his alleged involvement in the CPN (Maoist), which was waging an armed insurgency against the state.
The family members cried and pleaded to leave Raj Kumar only to be threatened to be killed if they made noise. It was the peak of the Maoist insurgency. People were getting arrested indiscriminately with allegations of having maintained links with the Maoists. In Bardiya district, members of the indigenous Tharu community were the major target for arrest.
“I was a little over four years old then,” Sujan recalled in a phone conversation with the Post. “The incident left such an indelible impact on me that I remember every moment of the horrific day.”
They threatened to shoot him if he didn’t stop crying, Sujan remembers. As Sujan and his two siblings were small children, it was their mother who made attempts to get her husband released, to no avail.
“My mother saw him [father] kept at a local school at Manpur Tapara [in Rajapur Municipality],” Sujan said. “He was later shifted somewhere and was not to be seen again.”
It’s been nearly 21 years since that day and Sujan is now 25. As the world marks the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances on August 30, Sujan and his family are still struggling to learn about Raj Kumar’s whereabouts, and whether he is alive or dead. “Only we know what we have gone through for the last 21 years,” Sujan said.
Like Sujan’s, hundreds of families whose loved ones were disappeared during the insurgency continue to struggle to know about their status. They want the perpetrators to be brought to book. Seventeen years after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed, no progress has been made to deliver justice to the victims of enforced disappearance. The 2006 peace deal that brought the Maoist to the mainstream politics envisioned justice for the victims from the insurgency-era atrocities.
It 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 who disappeared or were killed during the war, and inform family members.
But neither the state nor the Maoists have abided by their commitments yet. The Maoists have led the government four times and barring a few, have been part of every government since 2006.
As the agreement was violated, families of 80 victims moved the Supreme Court in 2007 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.
Only eight years after the court order did the government in 2015 constitute the Commission of the Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons. However, another eight years since its formation, not a single case has been investigated. Rather, the commission has been lying defunct since July last year in absence of its chairperson and members.
“Successive governments might be thinking they will tire us out but let me warn them that we are not going to give up on our struggle unless justice is delivered,” said Rupesh Shah, whose brother was disappeared by security forces in May 2002 from Sunsari district. “The government must produce our loved ones—either alive or dead. And the perpetrators must be penalised.”
As many as 3,223 complaints were lodged with the disappearance commission but the commission said it would investigate only 2,484 cases, saying others do not fall under its jurisdiction. The International Committee of the Red Cross, in its latest report from 2018, says 1,333 people who disappeared during the conflict are still missing.
As most of the victims of enforced disappearances are men, their women relatives have been going through different hardships over the years, suggest study reports. A study conducted among the families of the enforced disappearances from Banke and Bardiya last month by the Human Rights and Justice Centre, an organisation advocating for the access to justice, says women victims have suffered dreadful economic, social, psychological and physical consequences as a result of enforced disappearance of their relatives who were the breadwinners for the families.
Bardiya has the highest number of victims of enforced disappearances. A report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights 2008 showed over 200 cases of disappearances were reported in the district alone. The disappearance commission has received 274 complaints of disappearance—among them 255 have been deemed eligible for a detailed investigation.
Bhagiram Chaudhari, former chairperson of the Conflict Victims Common Platform, says it is high time legal, social and political solutions to the long pending transitional justice be sought. “It is evident that transitional justice is a complex process and we will reach nowhere if we put much focus on prosecution,” Chaudhary, whose brother and sister-in-law are missing at the hands of security forces, told the Post. “What happened to our close ones is what we want to know first hand.”
In its report, the centre has suggested adopting a bottom-up approach in delivering justice to the victims. “Obstacles to finding the ‘truth’ on the fate and whereabouts of the forcibly disappeared persons should be removed,” the report reads, “including through the amendment of the Transitional Justice Act to bring in line with international standards and the decision of the Supreme Court, and ensuring access of professionals to conduct investigation, exhumation and identification of the mortal remains and return them to their families.”