We are Committed towards the Justice of Victims

Dr. Gangadhar Adhikari

Spokesperson and Member of the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons

Dr. Gangadhar Adhikari is the member and spokesperson of the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons. Adhikari is the former chairperson of the Human Rights and Peace Society. He has 20 years of experience in the field of human rights. Adhikari was appointed to the commission in January 2020. This interview is focused on the status of the enforced disappeared persons and the work done by the Commission. Every year on August 31, the International Day of the Victim of Enforced Disappearances is celebrated. Here is an excerpt of the interview with the editors of Inseconline, Aarya Adhikari and Ramesh Prasad Timalsina.

On November 21, 2006, the Government of Nepal and the then conflict group had agreed on publicizing the status of the enforcedly disappeared persons within 60 days. However, this hasn’t happened yet. When will we know their status?

After the Comprehensive Peace Accord, it was decided to establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission on Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons. The Accord mentioned that the status of the enforcedly disappeared persons will be publicized within 60 days. It has been realized that the formation of the commission and publicizing the status of the disappeared citizens was taken lightly by those who reached an agreement at that time. Despite the preparation to form a single commission, two commissions were formed after the order of the Supreme Court. Although the commissions have been established under the same Act, the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons has been given a mandate. We have been working within the same mandate.

What are the works being done by the Commission?

The mandate guides us to ascertain the truth, issue identity cards to the victims, recommend reparations, identify the perpetrators, and recommend them to the Office of the Attorney General for further action, and to give the advice to prevent future conflicts. After the establishment of the commission on February 10, 2015, we have been engrossed in completing the aforementioned duties. We were appointed on January 23, 2020. After taking ownership of the work done by the former officials, we are now working based on the semi-annual, annual, and two-year action plan. During this period, the work of taking complaints from the victims has been completed. We started an investigation from Rolpa, the district from where the conflict initiated. Meanwhile, we were also obstructed by COVID-19. Our goals were hindered because firstly, the Act was not amended and also due to COVID-19. Both the victims and the stakeholders have raised the issue of the amendment of the Act. The Supreme Court has also instructed to amend the Act according to International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Standard. 

How many complaints have been received till now? What is the status of the investigation of those complaints?

We have received 3,243 complaints among which 2,496 complaints have been shortlisted for detailed investigation. Some of the complaints fell under the working area of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission while some of the victims mentioned in the complaint were found. Out of the complaints that we received; 32 victims have returned home. Some of the complaints were unrelated to the conflict and some were beyond the time of the mandate. We must find out the truth about the disappeared citizens from February 13, 1996, to November 21, 2006, identify the perpetrators and recommend further action.

During this period, we have almost finished the identification of victims. The process of identifying the perpetrators is also ongoing. Those 2,496 complaints have been divided into four groups for investigation. The groups have been led by four members and have been divided according to the province for investigation. Sadly, we have already spent 25/26 years after the conflict and it has already been 14/15 years since the initiation of the peace process. Even in such a long period of time, we are not able to do anything for the victims. We are working but we have not been able to reach a conclusion. And until we reach to any conclusion, results will not be visible. Only 1,227 out of the 2,496 complaints have received interim relief. Others have not received anything yet.

Identification of the victims took a long time. How do you think will the victims receive justice?

The process must be completed in accordance with the Act and regulations. I agree that it is too late. We cannot stop our work even if it is too late. We had to address something. We have been lagging behind but now we are determined to reach our goal. We are doing our best to provide justice to the victims. As I said before, until we reach any conclusion, results will not be visible. We are very sensitive regarding justice for victims.

Can you share something about the management of human resources for the investigation?

Exhumation is an important part of the investigation. For this, we have formed a Forensic Science Coordinating Committee and made four guidelines to work from the third week of May. Its preparation has been completed. As soon as the graph of COVID-19 declines, we will go to the field. Probably, during mid-September we will even start exhumation. This isn’t an easy job and it will take time. But we cannot delay. We have 70 positions of recruitment but only 20 can be deployed in the investigation. This is also technical work. After one learns the job, they are transferred. This is also a big problem. The nature of our work is complicated and is not limited to only office hours. Our employees have to work whenever it is needed and there is no time-bound for it. Unfortunately, we have not been able to provide anything to encourage our employees. On one hand, there is a lack of human resources and on the other hand, we are unable to give them incentives in return for their dedication.

How is the support of the government and political parties in your work?

The issue doesn’t seem to be the priority of the government and political parties. Until now no one has said that they won’t cooperate. However, this is not a priority. Unfortunately, we are dominated by power-centric politics instead of people-centric politics. We are committed to not letting justice die. We are committed towards justice for victims. This commitment is on the top of our heads.

What do you have to say on the allegation that the government and its mechanisms are involved in the strategy of giving false assurance?

This is not true, we have never even thought of doing so. People who come to this commission should not think in that way. However, it is natural to feel that things have been dragged on. We have not been able to work with direct services. I have considered five parties important in this issue. It is difficult to find a solution to this unless these five parties do not come to a common ground. The five parties are the commission, the government, the victims, the political parties, and other national and international stakeholders. We all need to have a uniformed understanding. We have to sit in one place and find solutions to this problem.

Since you mentioned the five parties, what should be done to bring them to a common ground of understanding?

We are not being able to bring all of them together. Dialogues have been held with all five of them separately. The government does not come to the place where the victims are, and vice versa. The victims also do not come as an institution. We want to end this situation and work largely. An atmosphere of cooperation has not been created yet. We are dedicated to creating this environment soon.

The government had formed the commission to complete the work within two years. It has been almost seven years now, but we have not received any result yet.

I think initially we took this issue lightly. Maybe we did not understand it then. Why would we need a commission if we were told who were the disappeared ones? After the commission was formed for detailed investigation, the duration of the commission had to be extended initially. This is where we lagged. Publicizing the condition of 2,496 people is a very challenging task. Therefore, it will take time.

Don’t you think the more it is delayed the more it is disarrayed?

As you mentioned, the evidences are likely to disappear when the process is delayed. Justice cannot be established without evidence. There is a saying that justice delayed is justice denied and we know it. This issue should not have been stretched so long. However, since the establishment of the commission, many aspects have been conducive to delays. After the government amends the act for the victims and other stakeholders to cooperate for the political parties to prioritize this work and to commit to implementing the decisions made by the commission, it will be favourable for us to work. If the Commission also makes the best use of this important opportunity, it will not be delayed. We do not have the excuse to delay.