The Supreme Court delivered a verdict of considerable import on June 1, by directing the government to compensate 83 families of those who had disappeared from the custody of the security forces. The apex court has also asked the government to bring to book people guilty of the enforced disappearances or killings of the detainees. While the verdict comes as belated justice for the aggrieved, it is regrettable that the eight-party governing combine, drawing its strength from the massive people’s movement of April last, has thus far failed to do so on its own — something it was supposed to do in line with the spirit of Jana Andolan II and the peace agreement. The court’s mandamus tells the government to enact a law criminalising enforced disappearances and to form a commission to ascertain the whereabouts of those gone missing in the past ten years.
At least, hundreds of people (put at 900-plus) have not got justice for years despite the fact that they have run from pillar to post — army barracks, police stations and jails — in the hope of obtaining some information on where their arrested kin were. They, and for that matter, the people in general, do not know whether most of those said to have
“disappeared” are dead or alive. The failure of this highly powerful government to make public the status of the missing persons has led many to argue that the state security forces are yet to be modernised, yet to fully embrace democratic ethos. Doubters question why the government that says it will build a new Nepal has been unable to discharge a basic function like this, though it came to power more than a year ago. The relatives of the missing have been in deep mental agony for too long without a hint whether they will ever know what happened to the missing after their arrest.
The court fixed rupees two lakh for those killed in custody and one lakh for those who disappeared after arrest. The two-member bench also directed the government to launch relief packages like providing employment and education to the family members. The bench also took note that the country lacks a law to punish those perpetrating torture and causing disappearances during the conflict and stressed the need to secure the rights of the victims’ families. As the court admits, the amount of compensation now prescribed can come nowhere near the quantum of the loss of lives, it is, nonetheless, being given, considering the amount of time and energy the families have expended and to encourage them to continue to chase the truth. In a country where even apex court decisions have been ignored whenever these have run counter to the interests of the powerful, one should, however, give the government the benefit of the doubt, particularly because it is a government of the parties that spearheaded the Jana Andolan II. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, who often speaks of never compromising on the noble tenets of democracy, ought to show that he means what he says by acting on the court’s decision in full. In this context, it is also important to ensure that the pending Bill on Disappearances embraced international norms and human rights standards, starting with the very definition of enforced disappearance.