Those who were disappeared during the 'people's war' were the direct victims but the families they leave behind are also victims. Their relatives are still unaccounted for, and now they have to endure the agonising uncertainty of whether or not they are dead or alive.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Nepal this week released the report Families of Missing Persons in Nepal: A Study of Their Needs. It emphasises the needs, rather than rights, of the families. The study is based on interviews and discussions in 10 districts, accounting for 43 per cent of the missing persons in Nepal. For most families the right to truth, justice and reparation are not as important as survival and knowing what happened to their loved ones.
They talk about their daily struggle for livelihood, lack of jobs and money. They still don't want to believe their loved ones are dead. Although last rites can be performed in the absence of a body in our culture, many families refuse to do so. Wives of the disappeared face discrimination and ostracisation by their family members and live in terrible conditions.
Although justice is not a priority, families want those responsible for the disappearance of their relatives to be prosecuted and they reject amnesty outright. They believe that the trials should be accessible to victims and should be held in their local area. Most families think reparation and compensation must await truth. However, they do demand interim relief and to have the missing acknowledged as martyrs and memorials built if and when the truth of their fate is known.
Ram Kumar Bhandari of Lamjung is the son of Tej Bahadur Bhandari who was 55 when he went missing in December 2001. "The government is trying to pass the disappearance bill through ordinance. Why weren't we consulted? As families of the victims, don't we have a big stake in the process? They are just not ready to face us and discuss why innocent people were taken, which is why they are trying to rush the process."