Years after war in Nepal, hundreds still missing
Kathmandu: Five years after a decade of civil war ended in Nepal, hundreds of people are still missing with no one punished for the extrajudicial disappearances and torture.
On Tuesday, observed as the International Day of the Disappeared, the international community as well as Nepal's leading rights organisations urged the new Maoist-led government to establish an independent and impartial inquiry commission to throw light on the disappearances and give priority to modifying a draft legislation so that it met international standards.
"This will bring hope to the thousands who are still awaiting justice," the European Union, and governments of Switzerland, Norway, Australia, Canada, Japan and the US said in a joint statement.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, more than 1,300 people went missing during the war that started in 1996. They include victims of the state security forces as well as of the Maoists' People's Liberation Army. Nepal's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) however estimates that 835 persons are missing still.
Though the western governments are urging Nepal to honour the pledges it made before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva by punishing all perpetrators, both from the security forces and PLA, human rights organisations lament that the government is planning amnesty for all war criminals.
Two major rights organisations, Advocacy Forum and Informal Sector Services Centre (Insec), said that new Maoist Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and his party had signed an agreement with five parties from the Terai plains to withdraw cases against all those found guilty of crimes during the Maoist war as well as subsequent agitations.
"No one has the authority to grant amnesty to the perpetrators except for the victims themselves," said Subodh Pyakurel, Insec chief.
The move to grant amnesty is also being viewed with anger and concern by the families of the missing people.
"Amnesty to perpetrators will not bring peace in Nepal," said Ram Kumar Bhandari, president of the National Network of Families of the Disappeared. "We are not asking the government for compensation, we are asking for the disclosure of the whereabouts of the missing persons."
In June 2007, Nepal's Supreme Court ordered the government to enact a new law to criminalise enforced disappearance and to establish an independent high level Commission of Inquiry on Disappearances.
However, neither has been implemented. To the contrary, the Nepal Army, one of the worst offenders, has flouted court orders to hand over its guilty personnel for punishment and the Maoists, now the ruling party, made party leaders charged with ordering killings ministers and MPs.
The UN rights agency in Nepal added its voice to the clamour for justice.
"Human rights violations and abuses during the conflict need to be investigated and action taken against the perpetrators to ensure justice," said the UN human rights office in a joint statement with the NHRC.
"Additionally, transitional justice mechanisms must ensure the right to truth, relief, rehabilitation, compensation and reparation for victim's families."