John Narayan Parajuli
15 registered on the first day as rights defenders call for law criminalising disappearances
More than a year after it was formed, the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) started receiving complaints from families of conflict victims on Thursday amid questions about the credibility of the process and the ability of the transitional justice mechanism to deliver justice to the victims and their families.
The 60-day-long complaint registration that opened on Thursday through offices of the Local Peace Committees (LPCs) and CIEDP’s head office in Pulchowk saw complaint submissions from Banke, Bardiya, Kailali and Kaski districts in single digits. A total of 15 complaints were registered on the first day, raising doubts whether information about complaint registration was properly disseminated.
“I had no idea that they have started registering complaints,” said Sunita Pun who lives in Kathmandu these days. Her father Shanta Bahadur Pun had gone missing in 1999 from Rukum. While the family had heard rumours that Shanta Bahadur was killed by security forces, his body was never recovered.
“The investigation must start now,” said Sunita, who now plans to go to CIEDP’s office on Sunday to register her case.
According to the CIEDP, the number of people who still remain missing is somewhere around 2,200. “We hope to receive as many as 10,000 complaints,” said Bishnu Pathak, spokesperson for the CIEDP.
A vast majority of the projected cases could be about individuals who may be involuntarily disappeared for a period of time before they were released, according to officials. For the CIEDP, there are challenges galore: reaching out to families of all the victims, especially those living away from urban centres; convincing victims’ families that justice will be delivered; and assuring the witnesses that security and confidentiality would be maintained.
But one factor that rights defenders have continuously been pointing at is what they call the basic flaw. “In the absence of law that criminalises disappearances, the work of commission has no meaning,” said Charan Prasai, a human rights activist who has voiced his concerns about the flawed transitional justice mechanism. “There is risk that perpetrators will never be booked.”
The CIEDP has already asked the government to enact law that criminalises cases of torture and disappearance, provides legal status to the disappeared with the provision for reparation at the earliest. According to the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction, the number of enforced disappeared persons is 1530.
1 complaint in Kaski, 4 in Banke
One complaint in Kaski and four complaints in Banke were registered at local peace committees on Thursday. A woman of Rakhidanda in Lekhanath-4 registered a complaint that her husband was arrested by then Royal Nepal Army on February 5, 2005 and since then his whereabouts is unknown. According to Ananta Baral, chairman of the Disappeared Family Society, 23 persons were disappeared at the hands of then Maoists and the state during the decade-long Maoist insurgency.