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Nepal Conflict Victims' Perceptions

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Key findings from two major studies on conflict victims' perceptions

Victims know better than anyone else about their suffering and concerns. A genuine transitional justice process ensures participation conflict victims in articulating their experiences, asserting their rights, and assessing their needs. To document the voices of these victims, a number of leading humanitarian and rights organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Amnesty International, International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), Advocacy Forum and INSEC have carried out interviews, surveys and focus groups across the country. The following are highlights from two such major surveys:

Perceptions of Victims
In October 2007 Advocacy Forum and the International Center for Transitional Justice completed a survey in 17 conflict-affected districts with 811 conflict victims (involving disappearance, extrajudicial killing, torture, and rape). In addition, 10 focus-group discussions (FGD) were conducted in the different districts and regional centers. Here's the summary of the victims' perceptions:

• Exclusion and structural inequality like "untouchability" were universally identified as major causes of the conflict

• The most common type of violation reported was torture (51 percent), followed by disappearance (23 percent), and extrajudicial killing (20 percent).

• There was consensus on the need to institute a truth and reconciliation commission and commission to establish the whereabouts of those who have disappeared. However, only 0.3 percent of respondents believed that a TRC would end the culture of impunity.

• The overwhelming majority of the respondents (90 percent) wanted trials and punishment of those found responsible for past human-rights violations.

• Almost two-thirds of respondents filing complaints with police said that no action was taken, they were harassed, or their complaint was refused and not registered. More than 80 percent felt the army would be not helpful. Respondents, however, said that institutions like the Nepal Bar Association, human-rights organizations, and the National Human Rights Commission had been helpful in addressing their complaints.

• Approximately 80 percent of respondents had neither read nor heard about the district peace committees, and 75 percent were unaware that victims had to register their cases with the CDOs.

• Respondents had the lowest amount of trust in the police and army, with about two-thirds of respondents stating they did not trust them at all. Around 40 percent of respondents said they had no trust at all in political parties, the Maoists, and Parliament. Respondents displayed the greatest amount of trust in the courts, with four-fifths saying they trusted them fully or to some extent, followed by NGOs and the UN.

• Almost two-thirds of respondents believed they knew the meaning of the term "amnesty". Among them, three-quarters said human-rights violators and perpetrators should not receive amnesty for their crimes.

• More than 99 percent of respondents said victims should receive reparations.

• Eighty percent defined reconciliation as living in peace and harmony with everyone. Only a very small number equated reconciliation with forgetting the past or granting amnesty to perpetrators.

• The majority of respondents identified immediate needs as basic requirements such as health, education, housing, clothing, and employment. They identified compensation, education, peace, security etc with their future needs.

• Focus groups showed that women were forced to radically change their normal roles to deal with the social, economic, legal, and political consequences of the human-rights violations suffered by their spouses and male family members. Sexual violence and rape were significant factors in the conflict but only a few women in the survey (a little over 1 percent) reported rape, perhaps because of social stigma attached to victims of sexual violence and rape.

• Because children were involved in conflict and they were victims of the conflict, participants often reported continuing fear of war and psychological effect of conflict on family units.

• During the conflict, large numbers of Dalits and Janajatis, especially Tharus, were direct victims of human-rights violations. Participants cited exclusion of Dalits and indigenous groups from social opportunities and benefits as one of the major causes of the conflict.

Source: Nepali Voices: Victims' perceptions of justice, truth, reparations, reconciliation, and the transition in Nepal (Advocacy Forum and the International Center for Transitional Justice, 2008)

Needs of Missing Persons' Families
While the families of the dead can mourn and find closure to their suffering, families of the missing continue to live with pain and misery, hoping to know about their lost loved ones. In 2008, the ICRC undertook a study of the disappeared with the objective to give voice to the families of people who went missing during the 1996-2006 armed conflict in Nepal, and to assess their needs.

Through interviews, focus groups and participation observation, ICRC collected the perceptions of 86 families of victims from 10 of Nepal's 75 districts that were worst affected.

• Most families agreed on their priorities: they want an answer regarding the fate of the missing and they want economic support in the absence of breadwinners. Only a minority of families, notably the urban and the educated ones, mention justice as a priority.

• Families were reluctant to believe that their loved one is dead. For most families the only conceivable proof of death is the body itself; 83 per cent of them require the dead person's body to perform death rituals.

• A majority of those met reported symptoms consistent with the impact of trauma, and a small minority were disabled by mental illness. A number of wives of missing persons face extreme stigmatization in their homes that has led to their being ejected by their in-laws, leaving voluntarily or continuing to live there in terrible conditions. In their communities the problems of missing persons' families are poorly understood; wives of the missing are often stigmatized for refusing to behave as widows are expected to.

• A minority of households face challenges in feeding their families, and a small number of households with no economically active member have no alternative but to beg for food.

• A minority of families are facing difficulty with transfer of land or property, owing to the ambiguity of the fate of a head of household. To resolve such issues, they seek for a legal status of "missing".

• Families want those responsible for disappearances to be prosecuted. They also hold informers, those who gave the orders and those at the political level responsible. Most reject amnesty outright. They believe trials should be accessible to victims and should ideally be held in their local area.

• The attitude of families to reparations is dominated by the need for economic support and for acknowledgement. For most, this results in an urgent demand for interim relief, while reparations and compensation must await the truth.

• Families also want to see the missing acknowledged as martyrs, if and when the truth of their fate is known, and to see memorials built in tribute to them.

• Whilst most state victims believe that the CPN-M-led government will address the missing persons' issue, hardly any victims of the CPN-M share this view.

• Around half of all families would be ready to join a protest movement if the authorities do not address the missing persons' issue, and 15 per cent of them said they could envisage to start a new insurgency over the issue.

Source: Families of Missing Persons in Nepal: A Study Of Their Needs (International Committee of the Red Cross, Kathmandu, April 2009). Summarized and adapted in Healing the Wounds: Stories from Nepal's Transitional Justice Process (Kathmandu: Media Foundation), pp. 75-78.

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Brihát Śhānti Sámjhautā, 2006
(Comprehensive Peace Agreement)

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