Maiya Basnet's husband was a school teacher in Lamjung. She was pregnant when he disappeared during the conflict in 1999. Maiya was left to fend for nine dependents in addition to bearing society's stigma towards single mothers. No one from the community stepped forward to help Maiya cope, and some even sought to label her politically.
It has now been 11 years, but it is still a struggle. Maiya has talked with some city-based human rights groups, but has been given the brush-off so often she doesn't go to them anymore to seek help for the health and education needs of her children.
Nearly five years after the end of the war, it is becoming apparent that discussing the civil and political rights of victims of the conflict is pointless without first addressing their socio-economic vulnerability.
Nepal's 'peace industry', dominated by big donors and Kathmandu-based NGOs, often ignores the real needs of families of the victims. The parties make it worse by exploiting their suffering for their own ends. The bill in parliament on the setting up of the Disappearances Commission has taken four years of consultations, but the families of the disappeared are dissatisfied with provisions in the draft that deal with:
* Definition of Missing: The definition of 'disappearances' does not encompass missing persons who were not forcefully made to disappear. The law should entitle all families of those missing as a result of the conflict access to the Commission and the prerogatives granted.
* Statute of Limitations: The families demand the elimination of provisions that would deny justice where claims are not made within six months of the initiation of the Disappearances Commission.
* Independence of the Commissions of Inquiry: Further measures are required to ensure the independence of the commissions, including public hearings to approve nominated members based on competence, impartiality, and independence, not political affiliation.
* Role of the Attorney General : Investigations and prosecutions should be made obligatory and be carried out in an independent and impartial manner, avoiding the possibility that current provisions for government discretion can divert such cases or that the Attorney General will fail to provide reasons if prosecutions are not initiated.
* Victim and Witness Protection: More specific measures are needed for independent and competent victim and witness protection, including against perpetrators who may exploit vague amnesty and reconciliation provisions by pressurising victims to agree to them.
* Protection of Evidence: Specific measures are needed to ensure the protection of findings, particularly evidence, with mechanisms for safe archiving.
* Public Reporting and Notifying Families. Mandatory and time-bound public disclosure of findings are demanded, and the families should be notified of all pertinent details related to the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones.
* Exhumation and Mortal Remains: The Commission has the authority to order exhumation, and should do so systematically with the purpose of clarifying the circumstances of death. This information must be relayed to the families, and where possible mortal remains must be handed over to them.
The Disappearances Bill and the Truth and Reconciliation Bills have been prepared without adequate consultation with relatives of the victims. There is little awareness among victims of the scope and nature of these bills, including the meaning of key concepts including truth, justice, reparations, reconciliation, and amnesty.
The definition of 'victim' is not clearly understood or applied consistently either, and often reeks of political patronage. Under Nepal's international obligations, the state is duty-bound to provide a remedy without delay. Any delay of a judicial remedy for serious crimes is a denial of justice.
We, the families of the victims, are concerned that as in many other instances globally, the commission will obstruct rather than create conditions for justice. We are also concerned that the full truth will not be publicly disclosed, and that reparations will not be effectively implemented in order to avoid future conflict and a repetition of these violations.
To ensure hope for the future and a durable peace, an independent and powerful commission that respects victims' voices and addresses their needs is a must. Until the truth is uncovered and their needs are addressed, real peace is impossible.
Ram Kumar Bhandari, whose father was disappeared in 2001, is a human rights activist and chair of the National Network of Families of Disappeared and Missing (NEFAD)