Junio 15, 2007

Nepal's disappeared a legacy of civil war

This Saturday marks one year since Nepal's Maoist chairman met the Prime Minister, leading to a peace agreement five months later.

For many families in Nepal, however, the pain of war continues, as they search to find out what happened to relatives forcibly disappeared during the conflict.

The so-called Summit Talks in June 2006 were the first time Maoist chairman Prachanda appeared in public in the capital, to meet the Prime Minister and other political leaders.

The comprehensive peace agreement officially ended a decade-long insurgency which claimed more than 13,000 lives.

During those 10 years of conflict, however, hundreds of people were arrested and interrogated by the army, and many remain missing to this day.

The International Red Cross has a list of 937 people reportedly disappeared by the authorities, while the UN has documented around 500 cases.

Sandra Beidas, chief of protection at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, told Radio Australia's Connect Asia program that the impact of disappearances on families is enormous.

"Obviously not knowing whether their loved ones are alive or dead, what happened to them, is just a constant anguish, and in a sense it's a form of mental torture," she said.

"Especially sometimes when the authorities say they were killed in a confrontation when the families know very well that they were actually taken away to a military barracks and disappeared from the military barracks."

Detailed investigations, little follow up

The UN has made detailed investigations into several cases, including that of 49 people who reportedly disappeared from an army barracks in Kathmandu in late 2003.

The case has become a high profile test of the army and government, yet despite the UN's report of imprisonment, torture and disappearances from the barracks, the UN says there's been an inadequate response from the military.

Sandra Beidas says they are extremely disappointed by the lack of follow up.

"We know that there was an army task force that investigated the cases following the report but the army did not give us a copy," she said.

"They have given us some information on what they say has happened to a very small number of those individuals and in a number of those cases we have actually seen that the information is inaccurate and we still consider the people disappeared."

The Nepal Army however, in a rare interview to media, has defended its efforts to stamp out human rights abuses within its ranks.

Colonel Dharma Baniya, deputy director of the army's human rights directorate, admits that while the Nepal Army did commit violations when they first entered the conflict in 2001, they have since implemented a zero tolerance attitude to human rights abuses.

"In 2001, when army was mobilised initially, we had not educated knowledge, to be very frank, at that time we had committed some violations [in] 2001,2,3," he told Radio Australia.

"After 2003 and 4, it got down: 2005 we have got less than five, less than 10 allegations, in 2006 and 7 we have committed zero violations.

"So this justifies how the Nepalese Army is, how serious we are to protect human rights - to protect and promote human rights and international humanitarian law."

Colonel Baniya says the army has received 3,837 allegations of forced disappearances and has investigated 79 per cent of them, which still leaves 783 cases pending.

In many of these cases, he says, organisations such as the UN or Red Cross have not provided enough information to properly investigate.

Compensation gives hope

However, efforts to clarify the fate of those who disappeared received a boost recently.

Last week, Nepal's Supreme Court ruled that 83 people who are missing, were in fact taken by the security forces and ordered compensation to be paid to families.

The Court also recommended the government form a high-level commission to investigate disappearances and punish those responsible.

Colonel Baniya says the Nepal Army will fully cooperate with the new commission and try to uphold its lucrative reputation as a source of troops for UN peacekeeping missions.

"We do not want to defame our organisation by the name of one guy," he said.

"If he violates the human rights, if commits some serious violations, why should we save him by spoil our name, you see?"

With King Gyanendra effectively sidelined by last year's People's Movement, the responsibility to investigate falls on the interim government, led by Prime Minister GP Koirala.

But with Nepal's transition to peace so fragile, it could be some time before the truth is known about those still missing.

The full story is available on Connect Asia's homepage: www.radioaustralia.net.au/connectasia

Posted by marga at Junio 15, 2007 11:04 PM | TrackBack
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