Nepali Times Asian Paints
Guest Column
Justice delayed


The political transition of the past two years, from monarchy to republic, from interim constitution to elections, has been surprisingly smooth. That this has happened through political negotiation and not violence is equally astonishing. We now have the chance to achieve real social and political progress as the task of drafting a new constitution gets under way.

But the end of the war does not mean we are at peace. Violence continues in the Tarai, and the first challenge of the new Maoist-led government will be to restore law and order. As for the tens of thousands of Nepalis whose relatives were killed or 'disappeared' during the conflict, their pain continues unabated. (Vanished without trace)

In the week that we remember the more than one thousand Nepalis whose whereabouts remain unknown, we must reassert our political commitment to seek justice and truth. The peace process will be unsustainable unless the uncertainty, grief and anger of the families of the 'disappeared' are addressed. We want the truth, and we want justice.

Today, more than two years after the conflict ended, families who were too afraid to do so earlier are now coming forward to report the disappearance of relatives and friends. We have not yet begun to systematically document the enforced disappearances and executions that occurred.

The warring sides are now in government. The erstwhile chief of the PLA is now prime minister, a guerrilla commander is the defence minister, the chief Maoist ideologue is finance minister. There is a commitment in the Common Minimum Program to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Individuals and families showed great personal and collective courage to survive, resist and actively struggle for change. But many of those in positions of authority who were responsible for their subjugation remain in their posts despite the regime change.]

The perpetrators of war crimes on both sides are known. We know where they are and in what position. Some guilty CDOs, DSPs and army officers remain in the same districts, where they continue to resist the struggle by victims' families for justice.

Those responsible for illegal detentions, torture, 'disappearances' and custodial killings are walking around openly. The families of their victims will never forget who they are and history will brand them. But this is not enough. As long as they continue to blatantly flaunt their freedom, they insult the dignity of the dead and the suffering of the families of the 'disappeared', many of whom have lost hope that even with the new government, anything much will change.

Many families still suffer post-traumatic stress, while children who witnessed violence carry deep psychological scars even though there may be no physical wounds. Activists and human rights groups say they are working on peace and reconciliation, and keep themselves busy writing proposals and reports. But they haven't yet reached us in remote districts. This may be the way the organised politics of victimhood works, but it leaves the real victims without hope.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal often promised in the past two years that he would publish the names of the 'disappeared' and form a high-level commission to investigate forced disappearances. If the peace process is as high on the agenda as the prime minister says it is, he must fulfil these promises.

We have died many times in the years since our relatives 'disappeared'. We demand the truth about our dear ones. If you can't tell us their whereabouts, then declare them martyrs on 31 August.

Ram Kumar Bhandari's father was 'disappeared' by the army in 2001. He is the coordinator of the Committee for Social Justice in Lamjung.

Vanished without a trace - FROM ISSUE #415 (29 AUG 2008 - 04 SEPT 2008)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)