Frustration mounts among war victims’ families

Kathmandu, August 29

“What is the commission actually doing?” asked Keshav Khanal from Syangja whose father went missing during the armed conflict that lasted from 1996 to 2006.

Khanal is among several family members of those disappeared during the 10-year Maoist insurgency who expressed frustration over the snail-paced progress made by the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons at an event held on the eve of the International Day of the Disappeared here today.

Two-and-a-half years have already passed since the formation of the commission and its tenure is coming to an end in February next year. Originally, the commission was formed in February 2015 with a two-year mandate to investigate human rights abuses during the conflict. Its tenure was extended by a year in February.

Even as just five months remain for the commission’s tenure to end, conflict victims doubt if justice will be done. “If the commission cannot deliver, it should come clean, and its members should resign and join our movement,” said Sharmila Tripthi, whose husband Gyanendra Tripthi was disappeared from Kathmandu in 2003-04. “But please do not keep us in the dark.”

The participants also expressed displeasure over the government’s failure to ensure justice to the victims. “The government’s responsibility is to ensure security to its citizens. We just want the government to tell us the whereabouts of the disappeared,” said Khanal. “If they are dead, show us the grave, we are ready to dig it up. Or else, please do not dilly-dally.”

Ram Bhandari, founder and director of National Network of the Families of the Disappeared and Missing-Nepal, demanded that disappearance be criminalised.

He said even though there were some shortcomings in the law, the issue was of such grave concern that the commission could not shrug it off. “But the commission is seeming not serious about the issue,” said Bhandari. “Yes, the commission members visited the homes of the victims in several places, but almost all the victims say they were kept in the dark about its work progress’.”

Bhandari also warned of a decisive protest if the commission shut shop without seriously dealing with the issue.

In his reply, Sudarshan Prasad Dhakal, joint secretary at the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction, said the government was serious about the issue and that it was committed to ensuring justice to the family members of those disappeared.

“Please do not worry. It may take some time since it is a complex issue. But let me assure you justice will be done,” he said at the event jointly organised by NEFAD, International Committee of the Red Cross and Nepal Red Cross Society.

CIEDP Chairman Lokendra Mallik said despite several limitations, the commission was indeed making progress, albeit at a slow pace. “How could we make false promises? The truth has yet to be established,” he said.

Mallik, however, said it was not possible for the commission to complete its task in the given tenure. “There are 3,093 complaints to investigate and we just have five to six months,” he said, adding that even though they have a few cases that are complete, they have not been able to forward them due to the lack of clarity in the law.

“Since our law has not criminalised disappearances, we are not clear what type of charge should be levelled against the alleged perpetrator,” he said. Mallik, however, said they would do their bit to settle as many cases as they could during the commission’s tenure.

Of the 3,093 complaints received, the commission has approved 1,323 for detailed investigation, while 1,332 cases still need further study, according to Mallik. The commission has already started detailed investigation into 157 cases, all from Kathmandu Valley. “Detailed investigation into cases from outside the Valley will begin after Dashain,” he said, adding the commission has mobilised eight investigation teams for the purpose.

In his closing remark, head of the ICRC mission in Nepal Andre Paquet said the ICRC in Nepal placed missing persons at the centre of its action. “The ICRC and the NRCS will continue to remind authorities of their obligation to clarify the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared / missing persons,” he said. “In addition, while respecting its mandate, the ICRC will continue reinforcing the capacity of both commissions of transitional justice.”