Nepalese Civil Society Pursues Resolution of the Country’s Missing Persons Issue

Nepal 4

By Bojana Djokanovic

Around 30 people are believed to have been subject to enforced disappearance in Nepal between 1960 and 1989 – but this number increased exponentially during the ten-year conflict between Maoist guerrillas and the government in Kathmandu. More than 10,000 people died in the 1996-2006 war and more than 1,300 were reported as missing.

The conflict was launched by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) after it was prevented from participating in a national election. [1] Unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment were widespread and committed by both sides. According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, up to 9,000 cases of serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law may have been committed, although there is a widely acknowledged problem of underreporting, particularly in relation to cases of sexual violence. Many also suffered disruption to education, health, and basic government services; economic hardships were exacerbated by the conflict, and a climate of fear was widespread. [2]

Fighting ended in 2006 with the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) by a seven-party alliance and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (UCPNM). The agreement committed the signatories to establishing transitional justice mechanisms to address past violations and ensure that victims received justice and reparations.

Data in the Transitional Justice Reference Archive (TJRA) indicate that security forces were implicated in most cases of enforced disappearance, though the CPN (Maoist) were also involved in a significant number of cases. Both sides have repeatedly stated that they will address and clarify disappearances and that they will ensure that victims and their families receive justice. However, despite a number of investigations and extensive documentation by national and international human rights organizations, to date no person has been prosecuted in a civilian court in connection with an enforced disappearance in Nepal. [3]

The mandates of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission to Investigate Enforced Disappearances, both of which were recently established after years of political disagreement over their proper role and composition, have been criticized. Family groups say the commissions are part of a pact between the former combatants to secure immunity from prosecution for war crimes.

As in many countries affected by missing persons issues, the situation in Nepal is made worse by a legal requirement that a person must be missing for 12 years in order officially to be declared dead. During this period, family members are unable to transfer property, remarry, or simply perform final rites. Until they obtain adequate proof of death, relatives cannot mourn, and they may even feel guilty if they do attempt to begin the mourning process. [4]

The Common Platform (CP), formed on 5 September 2014, is a coalition of family members and Victims’ Groups representing thousands of conflict victims, family associations and their networks throughout Nepal. Representatives include victims of both State and Maoist actions during the conflict.

The main purpose of the CP is to bring a wide range of victims’ organizations together to build their capacity to contribute to the transitional justice process in Nepal without any external influence. The key goals are:

  • To help reframe the transitional justice debate by bringing victims’ needs to the fore;
  • To help victims overcome internal divisions (especially those separating victims of the State from victims of the Maoists) which have weakened the movement;
  • To support efforts to formulate a common position and common demands; and
  • To encourage the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission to Investigate Enforced Disappearances to adopt a victim-centered approach (for example, by opposing attempts to provide amnesties for serious human rights violations).

On 8 October 2015 a group of members of the Common Platform visited ICMP in Sarajevo for a briefing on strategies to address the issue of missing persons, including the development of appropriate and effective government institutions, initiatives designed to support the rule of law, civil society activities, and the optimal use of forensic methods including DNA-led identification. While at ICMP, the visitors from Nepal also met with members of the Regional Coordination Board of the Missing from Former Yugoslavia. In the Western Balkans, more than 70 percent of the 40,000 reported missing as a result of the conflict have been accounted for. In Nepal, where the political and legal mechanisms that can help to account for the missing have only just been established, there are believed to be about 1,300 people still missing from the war.

The visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was organized under the auspices of the UN Office in Nepal, offered family members of the disappeared an opportunity to learn about different techniques and strategies that can be applied in the effort to account for the missing. Above all, they learned about the necessity of a holistic approach that incorporates government and civil society, and (where this is useful) international agencies, and is based on properly functioning domestic institutions, the rule of law, and the efficient application of forensic sciences. This approach has been successfully modeled by ICMP and can be applied worldwide.



[3] Ibid.