An independent, powerful and high-level truth commission on disappeared citizens is needed to look into disappearances and abuse of human rights in Nepal. People need a forum where victims, their families and witnesses can share their stories and begin the healing process. The commission’s findings will become a permanent record and used for testimony in courts.

Disappearance is an abuse of human dignity and right to life and needs to be dealt with on a humanitarian basis. A truth commission contributes to finding the whereabouts of the disappeared and provides justice to the victims by making public the atrocity and allowing those involved to give their testimony. It is only when truth is acknowledged and justice sought that justice will be done.

President Kim Dae-Jung of South Korea formed the Presidential Truth Commission in 2000 to investigate deaths of citizens opposed to authoritarian regimes. By 2002, the commission had investigated 82 cases, but the final reports were largely obscure. A second commission could expose the truth.

In Sri Lanka, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, in 1994, formed the Commission of Inquiry in the Involuntary Removal or Disappearance of Persons to investigate disappearances beginning in 1988. It presented a report in September 1997 after investigating 16,742 cases. The report was made public, relatives of some victims given compensation, 400 security forces charged with rights violations but most of them were never prosecuted.

In Nepal, after the restoration of multiparty system in 1990, a Commission of Inquiry to Find the Disappeared Persons was formed in 1994, which presented a report of 35 missing persons during the erstwhile Panchayat regime.

However, most of its recommendations were never implemented. On July 1, 2005, the government formed a five-member committee to investigate disappearance claims. By 2006 end, the committee published its reports eight times, identifying 578 missing citizens. Besides, the then RNA published names of disappeared persons. The loktantrik government was compelled to form a single member committee of Baman Prasad Neupane to find the whereabouts of the disappeared. The committee’s report announced the names of 174 disappeared citizens, mostly false or repeated, among 776 persons it acknowledged. But not much has been achieved.

One of the main obstacles to the formation of such a commission is that those in the erstwhile governments involved in rights violations have returned to power. Hence in comparison to the successes of the truth commissions in Argentina and Chile, the ones in Sri Lanka, the Philippines, South Korea and Nepal have either failed to issue a comprehensive final report or have dissolved without much progress.

As enforced disappearances constitute multiple rights violations, Nepal has a duty to punish the perpetrators. Under international law, Nepal should search for the “disappeared” and “undertake speedy and impartial investigations.”

The Seven Party Alliance-Maoist agreement of November 8 provides for a truth commission. The civil society’s role is most important in ensuring the effective outcome of such a commission. Rights activists, professionals, families of victims and civil society should keep up the pressure.