In 2009 I travelled to Nepal as a journalist for the IBJ JusticeMakers program and spent 5 months documenting the activism of Ram Kumar Bhandari. I have continued to support Ram since that time, having recently returned to Nepal to collaborate on a joint research project aimed at bringing victims’ agendas into greater prominence in the national transitional justice discourse.
Since 2009 Ram has continued his work with families affected by enforced disappearance in Nepal. Ram’s father Tej Bahadur Bhandari was kidnapped by state police forces on December 31st 2001. Along with 1,300 others that were taken by both State and Maoist forces between 1996 and 2006, this record of disappearance has become one of the greatest unaddressed legacies of Nepal’s Civil War.
Families of those disappeared continue to languish in pain while the government by and large continues to overlook the issue. For much of the past 5 years the government has been involved in a number of post conflict transitional justice initiatives including the framing of a new constitution, integrating the state and rebel army and developing a plan for state restructuring. In addition, the comprehensive peace agreement signed in 2006 laid the groundwork for two commissions – one on disappearances and one for truth and reconciliation – meant to deal with the injustices and human rights violations perpetrated during the conflict. Neither of these commissions has been formed and no cases of disappearance, extrajudicial killing or human rights violations have been tried in court. The human rights community has rallied around numerous emblematic cases, bringing much needed attention to some of the violations that took place, but for the most part families continue to wait in silence. While the government has provided some monetary reparation, families seek the truth and remains of their loved ones in order to perform the last nights required in the Hindu tradition.
These are but a few of the barriers to justice and reconciliation for the families of the disappeared in Nepal. The end of the conflict in 2006 brought a surge of hope and belief that the country could and indeed would move forward, forging a ‘New Nepal’ that would respect the rights of its citizens. It is these families and rights that Ram Kumar has been working to defend for the past 5 years. His work began in 2007 and was in large part enabled by the IBJ JusticeMakers Fellowship. Today Ram is the founder and chairman of the National Network of Families of the Disappeared and Missing (NEFAD) that represents more than 1300 families across Nepal that have suffered the disappearance of their loved ones. NEFAD works tirelessly to bring the voices and concerns of these families to the capital, Kathmandu, to be included in the national transitional justice debate.
IBJ’s work focuses on investigative torture, pre-trial detention and the usurping of freedoms within poorly functioning judicial systems. Those who were disappeared during Nepal’s Civil War were done so without legal precedent and without trial. In many cases, including that of Tej Bhandari, people were accused by the state of being rebel supporters and were detained without proof. Unfortunately those violations cannot be undone, but activists like Ram fight everyday to achieve truth and reconciliation for the families. New Nepal has yet to arrive, but gradual progress is being made everyday on these issues and hopefully one day the families of the disappeared in Nepal will be able to rest in peace, having learned the truth about their family members.
If you would like to read more about Ram’s work, please visit the NEFAD website.