Plights of the Missing, Still Unheard

In the detailed peace agreement signed between the then CPN-Maoist and the Government of Nepal on November 21, 2006, it is mentioned about making public the situation of forcibly disappeared citizens. November 5 is recorded as the official end of the armed conflict started by the Maoists on February 13, 1996, in Nepali political history. The pain of the disappeared citizens’s families has not been soothed for 17 years despite the peace agreement declaring the formal end of the armed conflict. 5.2.3 of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement states that both parties agree to publish the information about the real names, surnames, and home addresses of the persons who have disappeared and those who were killed during the war within 60 days from the date of the agreement and also provide information to the families. According to this point of the agreement, the situation of the citizens who were displaced during the conflict had to be made public by January 19, 2007.

5.2.4 of the same agreement states that both sides have agreed to form a National Peace and Rehabilitation Commission to normalize the situation arising out of the armed conflict, to maintain peace in the society, to carry out relief work, rehabilitation for the victims and displaced persons of the war and to carry forward the related work through it. A separate name was given and after eight years, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Disappeared Persons Investigation Commission were formed. Even though the commission claims that it is working, no results have been seen so far.

During lawful arrest procedures, individuals in custody must not  be deprived of the opportunity to interact with pertinent individuals beyond a reasonable timeframe. Additionally, individuals must be promptly presented before the designated officer responsible for investigating the case. Failing to inform the detainee of their location, status, and condition constitutes what is commonly referred to as an “enforced disappearance.”

Disappearance also refers to the abduction of a person by a rebel party who claims to follow the rules of war and separates them from family information. In simple language, a person arrested and abducted by the state or other organized party and not made public is called a disappearance. Although it is mentioned in the detailed peace agreement that the situation of the disappeared citizens will be made public, both the then rebels and the government have violated this document. They have not followed the document. It can be suspected that there is truth in the allegation of the victim that the political leadership is indulging in the policy of deceiving and exhausting the victim. Killing and disappearance both are heinous crimes. Enforced disappearance in Nepal is defined as a crime in the Criminal Code. In the Civil Code Act 2018, it is mentioned that the disappearance of a person should not be done. It also mentioned that the offense should be dealt with accordingly. Section 206 to 210 of Chapter 16 of the Act provides for the offense of disappearance. However, this law does not address the case of people who were forcibly disappeared during the conflict. In the context of the formation and functioning of the Disappeared Persons Inquiry Commission, it is now necessary to find out the truth about the disappeared persons, identify the culprits, prosecute the culprits, and provide compensation to the victims’ families.

We have the Commission for Investigation, Truth and Reconciliation Act, 2015 (with amendments) on missing persons. The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance was promulgated on December 20, 2006. It is incumbent upon civil society and the media industry to direct the government’s attention towards formulating legislation in alignment with the provisions outlined in this convention. This convention, which commenced its effect on December 23, 2010, should be expeditiously ratified by the government. Only if there is no delay in this will the family members of the missing persons feel at least a little bit of justice. According to the statistics of INSEC, the number of forcibly disappeared citizens is 931. According to the Inquiry Commission of missing persons, 3 thousand 243 complaints have been received. While there exists a lack of consistency in the quantification of individuals who have gone missing, it remains an established reality that the phenomenon of enforced disappearances has been perpetrated by both state entities and opposing insurgent factions amid armed conflicts. Hence, an expeditious resolution of this issue is imperative. According to statistical data provided by INSEC, a total of 218 individuals have been reported as missing in the region of Bardiya. Subsequently, other districts with higher incidences of disappearances include Dang with 69 reported cases, Banke with 61 cases, and Salyan and Rolpa, each having 27 individuals reported as missing. Political will is needed to publicize the plight of the disappeared and bring justice to their families. This issue cannot be resolved until it becomes a priority of the political party. There is also a need for continuous pressure from the concerned community to make it a priority. The current exigency demands a collective effort from all stakeholders to foster the advancement of a tranquil society, marked by the cessation of both instances of disappearances and the associated uncertainties.