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Nepal: where have the missing gone?

30-08-2008 Feature

The armed conflict in Nepal between the government and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist ended following the 2006 ceasefire agreement. The ICRC in Nepal is working to clarify the fate of people missing as a result of the conflict. The ICRC’s Moheindu Chemjong reports.

   

  ©ICRC/K. Kayastha / np-e-00213    
 
  Families of the missing    
    The armed conflict has come to a halt but its impact in humanitarian terms still lingers. One such impact is the human tragedy of missing persons. It is a tragedy for the person who disappears, but the other victims are the families suspended in limbo, suspecting their loved ones are dead, yet unable to mourn or move on and, in the absence of proof, tormented by countless unwelcome possibilities – a secret prison, or even a new life in a for eign land.

The pain is not only emotional; often it can be financially crippling. The impact of this tragedy on families is manifold and long-lasting.

Ram Janaki Tharu of Rajapur, Bardiya district, is one of the hundreds of Nepalese parents whose offspring have gone missing. “No matter how difficult it is to mourn the loss of a loved one, it is even more distressing not to be able to mourn at all”, she sobs. She clearly remembers the night her son was taken away. Since then, she has knocked on the doors of many authorities and spent her entire life savings on a fruitless search.

   
   
 
  Who are the missing?
  •   In Nepal, the ICRC defines a missing person as an individual who is unaccounted for as a result of the armed conflict in the country between 13 February 1996 and 21 November 2006, and whose family is still waiting for one or more of the following:
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  • a satisfactory answer from the authorities clarifying their fate;
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  • an acknowledgement of the disappearance from the government (in the form of a declaration of death, a death certificate or the granting of a special status);
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  • support from the government to receive reparations;
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  • if deceased, information on the location of human remains and the recovery thereof;
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  • legal redress.
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 Searching for answers
 

The ICRC has redoubled its efforts to tackle the issue of missing persons on a global scale. To help people like Ram find answers to questions about missing family members, the ICRC is carrying out a range of humanitarian activities.

The organization advocates families’ right to know what happened to their missing relatives. It reminds the former parties to the conflict ­– the authorities and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist – of their obligation to provide information that might help shed light on the fate of missing people. It also reminds the authorities of their duty to support such people’s families.

Together with the Nepalese and other National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the ICRC accepts requests from families wishing to find relatives who disappeared during armed conflicts. Through its contacts, whether among former parties to the conflict, individuals or institutions, the ICRC gathers information to help trace the missing relatives.

The ICRC raises public awareness of the problems faced by the families of missing people. It also encourages individuals to come forward with information that might provide answers.
 

 A herculean task
 

A lot remains to be done to address this pressing humanitarian issue and help families clarify the fate of their loved ones. International organizations play an important role in the process, but they all agree that national authoritie s must ultimately lead the way. 

Preventing the disappearance of people during armed conflict or violence and clarifying their fate once they have disappeared is an arduous task. This is further complicated by the absence of political will among those directly concerned – government authorities and parties to the conflict – and lack of cooperation by those who might persuade them to act.
 
 Everybody’s business
 

There is a need to work together for humanity and strengthen local and government partnerships in confronting complex humanitarian challenges. These include worldwide efforts to resolve the issue of people unaccounted for as a result of armed conflict or internal violence - and in so doing, to bring back together families torn apart by such events. Only when this issue is given the priority it deserves will society’s wounds begin to heal. Then the development of a beautiful new Nepal can begin in earnest.