Truth On Disappeared Fleeting
Recently the government extended the term of the Commission on Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Formed three years ago, performance of these two transitional justice mechanisms has not been satisfactory particularly in the eyes of the victims of the enforced disappearance during the decade long (1996-2006) armed conflict. In the last three years, not a single case has been finalised by any of the two commissions. They have been saying the investigation is going on. But, if we compare their performance vis-à-vis their original tenure of two years and extended tenure of a year, it is hard to expect they will be able to perform their task within the extended period of one year. The CIEDP has said that it has sorted out 2,300 cases out of total 3,093 complaints it received for detailed investigation.
According to CIEDP member and spokesperson, Prof. Dr. Bishnu Pathak, detailed investigation of some 206 cases related to district such as Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Nuwakot have already been started. But he is sure that the CIEDP needs at least 3 years to complete its task if necessary amendment to its Act is made as put forward by the CIEDP. Given the fact that past three years went by in preliminary investigation and that the CIEDP is unlikely to perform its task unless the laws are amended, the victims have no reasons to expect that the truth about those who were made to disappear during armed conflict will ever be established. Investigation into the disappearance is bound to be a Herculean task.
A situation of hopelessness for the victims of the enforced disappearance or for the family members of those who were made to disappear during the armed conflict and those whose whereabouts have yet not been established started when the mechanisms to investigate into disappearance were not made within 60 days as pledged in the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) in 2006. However, the victims’ hopes got raised when the Supreme Court issued an order to the government in 2007 to provide relief to the victims and form the commissions to probe the cases. By this time, in a course of a decade, most victims have got the relief announced by the then Maoist-led government in 2008. But, they have been waiting for the justice, which, it seems, will be like running after a rainbow.
The armed conflict that began in 1996 ended after a decade in 2006. People were made to disappear at the hands of the government security forces or the rebel militias during the period. Clearly, the families of the forcibly disappeared persons have been waiting for the truth about their near and dear ones for roughly two decades. Even after 11 years of the end of the conflict, the whereabouts of a single person has not been established.
Despite all odds, the victims still had expected that the CIEDP formed nearly eight years after the CPA would somehow establish the truth about what had happened to their family members. But now they have lost their hopes again given the fact that the CIEDP will be unable to perform its task if necessary laws are not amended and amendment to the law as put forward by the Commission is unlikely to take place. The political parties had taken almost six years to agree on the governing law of the transitional justice mechanisms - the CIEDP and the TRC. And it is unlikely that they will agree to improve the Acts as demanded by the members of the commission or the other human rights groups.
In the past, families of the disappeared persons would occasionally take to street to press the government for justice. But, now they have stopped it. It shows they are exhausted and hopeless now. They may as well have lost all respect for the state and the political parties. One can easily understand their plight and psychological trauma for failing to compel the state to establish the fate of their beloved ones. Obviously, in most cases the disappeared persons were bread winners of their families. Government records collected for the purpose of relief distribution showed that about 1,500 are still disappeared. Even if we take this record as true, it is obvious that equal number of families have been waiting for justice for long.
A period of 22 years is very long in a person’s life. A person made to disappear at the age of 50 may have been 72 now if he/she is kept alive somewhere. But most victim families have apparently lost hope that their family members are still living. What they want is truth, the circumstances about them. Why they were made to disappear and what happened to them? Who was involved in such a crime? And the CIEDP has to find such a truth. It is so plain but the CIEDP says it is really complex in absence of laws.
Scar of injustice
If the CIEDP fails to establish truth, the victim families will live with the scar of injustice deep in their psyche. Sense of seeking justice does not end in one generation. If there is no justice, a sense of revenge takes place, which is not good for establishing peace in the society. If an objective of the CPA signed in 2006 was to establish peace, this objective cannot be met until the victim families of the disappearance get justice, until they know truth about their dear ones. Most victim families still have a dim hope that they will one day know the truth about their dear and near ones. Now, as the CIEDP has sought for amendment to its Act for effective work performance, it is up to the political parties to enable the Commission. Political parties cannot put blame on the Commission for non-performance nor can the Commission point at the political parties for its lack of performance. It is hoped that the new government of the Left Alliance will prevent the investigation into the disappeared person from being a herculean task, a never ending process.