Action, action

Yesterday was the International Day of Disappeared. The fate of the disappeared persons in Nepal has been a topic of much discussion but of little action. The government has been unable, despite its formal commitments, to make their status or whereabouts public, compensate their families, and bring to justice those responsible for their disappearances. The case of the disappeared persons has been part of the eight-party agreements and the Interim Constitution, but much has still to be done to put the letter and spirit of those documents into practice. At a time when there is much confusion about the number of the missing, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has tried to update the figure by putting it at 1042, up from its February tally of 812. This has been possible, as more families have come forward to supply information about their missing members. As Mary Werntz, head of the ICRC delegation, told a press conference in the capital on Wednesday, the number is likely to go up in the future. The figure relates to the disappearances during the decade-long Maoist insurgency.

The government has not fulfilled its obligations regarding the disappeared persons under international humanitarian law. In its sensible advice, ICRC has urged it to form a fully empowered and independent national commission on missing persons charged with the responsibility of looking after the long-term needs of their families. Though the government is to form a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), it is difficult for this commission to address all the specific needs of the missing persons and their families. In this context, the ICRC suggestion for a separate commission for the disappeared merits consideration. Sadly, no concrete move has been made by the government to form the TRC, let alone a separate commission for the missing, even ten months after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

On June 1, the Supreme Court issued a mandamus, directing the government to compensate 83 families of the persons missing from the custody of the security forces, to punish the guilty, to launch relief packages for the aggrieved families, to enact a law criminalising enforced disappearances, and to form a commission to ascertain the whereabouts of those who disappeared during the ten-year period. In fact, the families of hundreds of persons have run from pillar to post — army barracks, police stations and jails — in the hope of obtaining some information about their missing kin — dead or alive — but in vain. This failure on the government’s part has led many people to form the impression that the state security forces are yet to be modernised and democratised. The separation or loss of kin has obviously had devastating impact on the families concerned. Disappearances have also occurred at the hands of the Maoists, who should also make the status of the missing public. The government should not wait for the constituent assembly elections to form the TRC and start the process of doing justice to the disappeared and their families.