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UN Report on Conflict-related Disappearances in Bardiya District, Nepal

by sacw.net, 19 December 2008

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United Nations News Centre

United Nations
- Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

December 2008

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Conflict-related Disappearances in Bardiya District

“I will take with me the lasting memory of the accounts given by the Tharu and other families whose relatives disappeared in Bardiya District during the conflict. I believe their stories. The suffering they expressed is testament to the fact that disappearances are on-going human rights violations. The parties to the peace accord must act without delay to clarify the whereabouts or fate of all those who disappeared, and to provide justice and redress for their families.” 1

Executive Summary

This report sets out the findings of OHCHR’s investigations into enforced disappearances and related serious human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL) violations in Bardiya District in the context of the conflict between the State and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M). OHCHR has received information on over 200 cases of enforced disappearance after arrest by the security forces in the district, the highest number of reported conflict-related cases in one district in the country. Of these, OHCHR has investigated 156 cases so far, most of which took place following arrests between December 2001 (following the declaration of the first State of Emergency on 26 November 2001 and the deployment for the first time of the then Royal Nepalese Army (RNA)) and the subsequent ceasefire in January 2003. OHCHR’s investigations into enforced disappearances by the State authorities focus on this period, which was one of the most intense of the conflict in the district. Fourteen cases of actions tantamount to enforced disappearance after abduction by the CPN-M between November 2002 and October 2004 were also documented in Bardiya District, 12 of which have been acknowledged by the CPN-M.

The disappearances by both parties were part of a broader pattern of widespread human rights and IHL violations which occurred during the conflict nationwide. Many of the victims were civilians not taking part in hostilities. Although many other serious violations of human rights and IHL were committed during the conflict - including extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, abductions, torture, assaults and extortion - this report focuses on disappearances because of the urgency of establishing the whereabouts of the disappeared.

The question of resolving conflict-related disappearances has remained one of the pending issues of the peace process. There have been very significant developments in Nepal since the 2006 ceasefires, including an end to hostilities, the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the formation of a newly-elected and for the first time broadly representative Constituent Assembly, the abolition of the monarchy and declaration of a republic, as well as the formation of a new government. These developments mark a historic new phase in Nepal’s peace process. The Supreme Court of Nepal, in a landmark judgment on enforced disappearances in June 2007, directed the Government of Nepal to ensure justice and redress to the victims, and the CPN-M and other political parties involved in the peace process have made repeated political commitments to take action on this critical issue.

The formation of a new government and the Constituent Assembly offer a unique opportunity for the authorities to demonstrate a real commitment to human rights and ending impunity by taking concrete and effective steps to resolve conflict-related violations of the past, including the disappearances documented in this report. During the high-level debate of the UN General Assembly in September 2008, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal affirmed the commitment of the Government of Nepal to protect and promote the human rights of its people and to end the culture of impunity.

As this report was being finalised in November 2008, welcome steps were taken by the Government to establish the Commission on Disappearances, including the sharing of draft legislation on disappearances and its approval by the Council of Ministers pending referral to the Legislature, as well as a Council of Ministers decision to provide interim relief to families of the disappeared.

Following the end of hostilities in May 2006, the climate of fear which had prevailed during the conflict diminished, and information started to emerge about the scale of the disappearances in Bardiya District, especially by security forces. Three units of the RNA were based in Bardiya District between December 2001 and January 2003 and were primarily responsible for arbitrary arrests, unacknowledged detention and enforced disappearances in the district: Bhimkali Company, Barakh Company (which was upgraded to a battalion during the period) and Ranasur Company – all of which fell under the command of the 4th Brigade and the Western Division of the RNA. The Nepal Police (NP) and Armed Police Force (APF), sometimes working with the RNA, were responsible for arrests in a smaller number of cases. OHCHR documented the consistent refusal by the RNA to acknowledge arrests, the systematic use of torture in at least one place of detention and secret killings in custody, suggesting that the RNA deliberately arrested and removed detainees from the protection of the law to coerce them into providing information on the CPN-M and to eliminate CPN-M presence from the area. Given the scale of these violations and the failure to take necessary action to prevent or restrain them, the leadership of the Western Division of the RNA at that time must bear considerable responsibility, as must individual company commanders. There is also a need for investigations to establish broader chain of command responsibilities within the hierarchy of the security forces and the Government of the time.

1. Extract from a statement made by Louise Arbour, the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, during her visit to Nepal in January 2007.

Conflict-related Disappearances in Bardiya District, Nepal
December 2008