|Nepal - Missing: The Right To Know
The families have the right to know the fate of their disappeared loved ones.
The 10-year conflict in Nepal (1996 to 2006) brought tragedy for many families: thousands of people were killed during the conflict, and over one thousand three hundred families still have no information on the fate or whereabouts of their loved ones. Not knowing whether their loved ones are alive or dead, families and communities are unable to put the violence of the past behind them. Their anguish continues years after peace has returned, and they are unable to move on to rehabilitation and reconciliation, either as individuals or as communities. These wounds harm the very fabric of society and undermine relationships between groups, sometimes decades after a conflict has ended.
International humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) uphold the right of families to know the fate and whereabouts of their missing relatives. States must therefore make every effort to prevent people from disappearing, to search for missing persons and to deal with the consequences of such events. Under international humanitarian law, the authorities are obliged to do everything possible to provide families with answers that will end the agony of uncertainty so that they can begin mourning the loss of a beloved husband or wife, caring father, loving son or daughter.
Over the years, families of 3250 missing people reported to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) the disappearance of their relatives, often following their alleged arrest or capture by one of the parties to the conflict, or during armed encounters. While the fate and whereabouts of hundreds of people has been established, 1325 people are still missing, almost thirteen years after the end of the conflict.
As a neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian organization with an international mandate to alleviate the suffering of the victims of armed conflicts and other situations of violence, one of the tasks of the ICRC is to assist all parties to the conflict in Nepal to fulfil their obligations to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing persons. The various field assessments conducted by the ICRC and the NRCS on the needs of these families have repeatedly shown that their primary need is to know what happened to their missing loved ones, even years after the events took place.
As per Nepal's Comprehensive Peace Agreement and several subsequent agreements the government set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and a Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) in February 2015. With the creation of these commissions, the ICRC is urging the authorities to clarify the fate and whereabouts of all those who went missing as a result of the armed conflict and to grant them an official status (such as a certificate of absence). This status would allow their families to access government support programmes that address their specific needs, which provide psychological and material support, dealing with the specific legal problems they face (regarding inheritance, property rights and marriage, for instance), and access to judicial procedures in connection with the disappearances, if the families wish so. Clarifying the fate and whereabouts of missing relatives and taking the above-mentioned measures to respond to the practical, legal and administrative challenges that confront the families of the missing are both critical: they will allow the families to begin the process of mourning, reconciliation and rebuilding their lives.
The ICRC has also been working with national institutions, authorities, forensic experts and non-experts and other stakeholders in promoting best forensic practices, supporting capacity building and creating awareness on the use of forensic sciences for humanitarian purposes. The ICRC supported the establishment of a body of technical expertise, Forensic Coordination Committee (FCC), to assist the Government of Nepal in dignified management of the dead including forensic human identification.
What is this Publication?
The aim of this publication is to bring public recognition to the families of missing persons in Nepal as a result of the conflict and to highlight their suffering and their needs. It also constitutes an appeal to the government of Nepal, and all former parties to the conflict to clarify the fate (and when possible the whereabouts) of those who went missing during the conflict and to ensure that all families of missing persons are included in government programmes put in place to support the victims of conflict.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) has published 10 publications in 12 years (2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018) of the updated lists of missing persons in Nepal. Since 2010, this list is also available, in English and Nepali, on ICRC's website(www.familylinks.icrc.org/nepal).
The list only includes names of 1324 missing persons whose families are still seeking information on the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones and want the ICRC to follow up their cases.
Who is a “missing person”?
In Nepal, the ICRC defines a “missing person” as an individual who is unaccounted for as a result of the armed conflict that took place in the country between 13 February 1996 and 21 November 2006, and whose family is still waiting for a satisfactory answer, acknowledgement of the disappearance or where possible recovering remains of their missing relative.
How you can help?
• GENERAL PUBLIC
IS ONE OF YOUR RELATIVES MISSING AS A RESULT OF THE CONFLICT?
If one of your relatives went missing during the conflict and his/her name is not on this list or if you are expecting a response from the authorities, please contact the ICRC office or the district branch of the Nepal Red Cross Society to report his/her disappearance.
CAN YOU PROVIDE INFORMATION ABOUT ANYONE ON THIS LIST?
If you have any information on the fate or the whereabouts of anyone whose name appears on the list, please contact the ICRC office or the district branch of the Nepal Red Cross Society.
- Ensure all families of missing persons are included in government programmes supporting the victims of the conflict, such as for Interim Relief, Scholarships, Single Women Assistance, Orphan Assistance, Trainings, etc.
- Provide a satisfactory answer from the parties to the former conflict clarifying their fate;
• Acknowledgement of the disappearance in the form of a declaration of death, a death certificate or the granting of special status;
• If the person is dead, information on the location of his/her remains and the chance to recover them.
Missing persons: International law applicable in Nepal
The conflict in Nepal was considered a “non-international armed conflict” from the standpoint of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The specific provisions of IHL that apply to this situation are therefore contained in:
• The four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 (common Article 3);
• Customary IHL: families have the right to know the fate and whereabouts of their relatives (Rule 117). Furthermore, whenever circumstances permit, all possible measures shall be taken, without delay, to search for the dead, prevent their bodies from being despoiled, and decently dispose of them. This includes recording all available information prior to disposal and marking the locations of the graves (as contained in the ICRC study on customary IHL in Rules 112, 116 and 117).
Suffering of the families
People have gone missing for as long as wars have been fought. The circumstances of disappearance vary: people are killed and buried in unmarked graves; they are taken off the street or from their homes and subsequently die in custody without their next-of-kin being informed. Other missing persons include people (civilians or fighters killed in combat) whose remains are not identified or recovered. Although it is a tragedy for the person who disappears, their family are victims too. With nothing to prove that the person is alive or dead, the family is unable to obtain closure. The suffering of the families is not only emotional – having a relative go missing can be financially crippling. Missing persons are often the breadwinners, and the loss of income can plunge a family into poverty. In Nepal, the situation is made worse by the legal requirement that a person must be missing for 12 years in order to officially be declared dead. During this period, family members are unable to move on, transfer property, remarry, or simply perform final rites. Until they obtain adequate proof of death, relatives cannot mourn, and they may feel guilty if they do attempt to begin the mourning process.
The right to know
The families of missing persons have told the ICRC that what they need above all else is to know what happened to the person. The right of a family to know what has happened to a relative is enshrined in international humanitarian law (IHL) and human rights law and must be respected. The legal obligations are laid down in the Geneva Conventions, their Additional Protocols and in the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. International law is clear on the matter: it is illegal to make people disappear, and the next-of-kin must be informed without delay when a person is captured, detained, or dies. Authorities must do everything they can to prevent people from going missing and to deal with the consequences of disappearances when they do occur. When a missing person is believed to be dead, locating, recovering and identifying their remains is an indispensable component of the healing process for the families and communities.
Supporting the families
In 2010, the ICRC launched an accompaniment programme called Hateymalo. While providing psychosocial support to the families of the missing, the ICRC, in collaboration with national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS), delivers psychological, economic, legal, administrative and socio-cultural support to them. With support groups of relatives of the missing being at the core of its multi-faceted interventions, the programme helps families cope with their specific problems and rebuild social and community bonds. Since, the beginning of the programme, 90% families of the missing have benefitted in 46 districts. The programme was completed in March 2016.
Groups of families who share the common trauma of having a missing family member have formed family networks or associations. The ICRC and the NRCS encourage these initiatives, which aim to:
• Provide mutual support and help to meet socio-economic and psychological needs;
• Enable families to transcend the status of “victim” and start addressing their own needs;
• Raise awareness among a wider audience of their plight and of their right to know;
• Get State authorities and former parties to the conflict to fulfil their legal obligations.