Day of the Disappeared
The International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, marked on August 30th every year, is perhaps the right time to remember all those Nepali citizens who ‘disappeared’ during the decade-long Maoist war. Even though no one knows for sure how many people went missing in the course of the war, the most often cited estimates ranged between 1,000 and 1,500. That was before the formation of the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP)—one of the two transitional justice bodies envisioned by the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)—in February, 2015. Till date, the commission has received 2,870 complaints on enforced disappearances, suggesting that the number of the disappeared people could be higher than was initially thought. But determining the right number is only a part of the challenge of bringing justice to victim families. The new constitution gave the twin transitional justice bodies only two years to complete their job—with a possible one-year extension—from the registration of the complaints to the final recommendation on each case. But it is hard to see how such a by nature lengthy process can be completed in such a short time span.
The CPA had fixed the two-year timeframe for the twin bodies as its drafters, chiefly Girija Prasad Koirala, believed that it was important to quickly end the peace and constitutional process. The country could then embark on the path of sustained economic development.
The other worry of the drafters of the CPA was that vital evidence from conflict period could be compromised the longer the transitional justice process dragged on. But in the rush to end the process soon, they perhaps forgot that transitional justice is a slow, painstaking undertaking. But for the longest time, the two commissions could not even be formed owing to differences among political parties. And when they finally agreed on the TOR of the two bodies, it became controversial from the start, the combined bill tabled in the parliament was criticized by the Supreme Court and national and international rights bodies alike.
Such delays and contestations in turn are adding to the hardship and inconvenience of victim families. At least the conflict victims who know that their loved ones are dead for sure can move on. There is no such consolation for the families of those who were forcibly disappeared and whose status is still unknown. They face other practical hurdles too. For instance the son of a father who had disappeared during the civil war may not be able to inherit his father’s property as there is no way to tell for sure whether his father is dead or alive. A wife whose husband went missing during the war, likewise, might not be able to marry again. Such problems, big and small, are a legion for these families. Perhaps the leaders of our major parties can take some time to listen to the grievances of these families on this somber day. Only then can our political leaders be expected to appreciate what needs be done to bring them justice.