International human rights organisations have urged the Nepali government to promptly enforce Supreme Court rulings and permit the regular courts to try cases of enforced disappearance and other grave international crimes during the conflict-era.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Commission of Jurists said this today on the occasion of the 30th International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. International human right watch dogs have also urged the Nepal government to act immediately to disclose the fate and whereabouts of disappeared persons.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly ordered the government to investigate the gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law during the conflict from 1996 to 2006, and to conduct a meaningful and effective transitional justice process to establish the truth and provide justice for thousands of cases of serious abuses.

Thousands of Nepali families are still struggling to know the truth regarding what really happened to their missing and loved ones who had gone missing during the conflict era even though the country's armed conflict ended 15 years ago. The government has failed to ensure accountability and perpetrators of gross violations of human rights are enjoying impunity.

"The Nepali government stands in blatant violation of express orders of the Supreme Court by failing to conduct a credible, timely transitional justice process," said Mandira Sharma, senior international legal adviser for South Asia at the ICJ.

The government later formed a Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons in 2015 as part of the transitional justice process to investigate civil war abuses. In 2020, the CIEDP published a list of 2,506 forcibly disappeared persons.

Since the government has failed to determine what happened to every single victim, nobody has been held accountable yet. The victims' families have attempted to pursue justice through the legal system, but successive governments have blocked the proceedings.

"The families of victims of the enforced disappeared persons are suffering deep anguish without knowing what happened to their loved ones, while the Nepal government has used a sham transitional justice process to block their efforts to discover the truth," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at HRW. She further added, "The current process does not provide truth, reconciliation, justice, or accountability, but instead shields perpetrators and denies victims their rights."

Nepal also established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which received over 60,000 complaints of abuses during the conflict era. However, it failed to complete the investigation of even a single case. Similarly, not a single person suspected of serious human rights violations or crimes under international law committed during the period have been brought to justice. The fate and whereabouts of more than 1,300 possible victims of enforced disappearance are still unknown.

In 2014, Nepal's Parliament passed the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, thereby providing a legal framework for the two transitional justice commissions.

However, the act also authorised these commissions to recommend amnesty and mediate cases, even in situations involving grave crimes and gross violation of human rights, including enforced disappearances.

In 2015, the Supreme Court struck down these provisions and ordered the government to amend the act. The government petitioned to overturn the ruling, but the court rejected the petition in April 2020.

With successive governments failing to amend the law since 2015, the UN has declined to engage with Nepal's transitional justice bodies because they do not meet basic international legal standards, especially with respect to the broad provisions of granting amnesty to the perpetrators.

The victims and civil society organisations in Nepal have been seeking meaningful consultations and appointment of commissioners only after amendment of the law.

Nepal's 2018 penal code recognised enforced disappearance as a crime in Nepali domestic law for the first time. The three human right bodies in a press release today said Nepal's justice system should take up the cases of enforced disappearance and prosecute the alleged perpetrators where sufficient admissible evidence exists. "Police in the past have refused to investigate cases, either initially by arguing that the acts of enforced disappearance were not criminal offences under the national law or on the pretext that the transitional justice commissions would carry out investigation. Three years since the penal code criminalised enforced disappearance, nobody has been prosecuted under that law," the press release reads.

A version of this article appears in the print on August 31 2021, of The Himalayan Times.