Victim-centred transitional justice and understanding the needs of wives of the disappeared in post-conflict nepal

Victim-centred transitional justice and understanding the needs of wives of the disappeared in post-conflict nepal


Transitional justice aims to address issues arising from violations committed during conflict or political violence. It does this however in largely prescriptive and institutional ways, often elite led and subject to existing power relations; as a result many transitional processes fail to consider the demands of transition of victims of conflict and in particular those most socially excluded such as women. Here an effort is made to steer a 'victim-centred' transitional justice by considering the priorities of the wives of the disappeared. Whilst disappearance is a violation perpetrated by men on men, wives of the disappeared are most impacted by the violation. This empirical study uses participatory and ethnographic research methods to understand the needs of the wives of those disappeared during Nepal's Maoist insurgency. It is seen that an answer regarding the fate of the disappeared, economic support and social issues are their priorities and that they have been ill-served by the lack of transitional mechanisms and by civil society's emphasis on an exclusively prosecutorial agenda. A victim-centred transitional justice is likely to be one that consults broadly with such victims, and dispenses with the narrow legalism that dominates the discourse today. [To update, or use as is?]

Victim needs and transitional justice


Disappearance is a violation that overwhelmingly targets men. As a result, it is women, notably the wives and mothers of the victims, who are most impacted by disappearance. Here, an empirical study of the broad needs of wives of the disappeared in post-conflict Nepal are examined, with a view to understanding the limits of the current practice of transitional justice in addressing those needs.

The discourse of transitional justice has arisen as a response to the needs of societies emerging from conflict or political violence and has become the preferred lens through which to examine democratising states. Typically, it describes institutional responses to violations of international humanitarian law, human rights law or domestic law that occurred during a previous regime. Despite a widespread understanding that it is the poor and disempowered who suffer most in conflict and political violence, a sustained engagement with such constituencies has not become part of the mainstream practice of transitional justice. Transitional processes and the mechanisms (such as trials, truth commissions and reparation schemes) through which they work tend to be top-down:[1] they are created by elites, often those who were themselves involved in the conflict that preceded the transition, supported by an international community remote from the context and from indigenous understandings. In many cases processes of consultation with victims and communities have been cursory.[2] Some literature is now emerging to challenge this deficit, [3] but there remains a dearth of praxis that interrogates the idea of a transitional justice driven by the grassroots.

To privilege a victim perspective, studies are required that engage with those who have experienced violations, understanding the meaning that populations give to such events and the symbolic and social worlds people occupy. To root a response to gross violations in the experience of those most affected demands an empirical and an ethnographic approach to reach a holistic understanding of the transformations wrought by conflict. Such an approach necessitates empirical work of a highly interdisciplinary nature and an understanding of the role of the so-called "primary" institutions of the family and community that hold the key to recovery from such extreme events. Here, an effort is made to explore how a victim-centred transitional justice process could be constructed; to ground such a paradigm in the needs expressed by victims, to explore the empirical methods by which such needs are evaluated and to make a study of the needs of a particular set of highly disempowered victims, namely the wives of those disappeared during Nepal's decade long Maoist insurgency.

This article begins by discussing the limits of current practice in transitional justice in serving victims and then reviews existing theory and practice with an emphasis on efforts to understand victim agendas in transition. The literature addressing the violation of disappearance is then briefly discussed, before reviewing the context of Nepal, in terms of the conflict, its ongoing transition and approaches to the issue of disappearances. The participatory ethnographic methodology of the study is discussed and the findings summarised in terms of the needs identified by families of the disappeared. These are briefly analysed in the light of the ongoing transitional process in Nepal, and the implications reviewed for policy in the country and for transitional justice practice more broadly.

Transitional justice: The limits of current practice

The 'pillars' of transitional justice have been described as "prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations, institutional reform and reconciliation initiatives".[4] Such a prescription constrains transitional justice to be largely an institutional process and this has been challenged by those who assert that recovery from conflict must be rooted in an understanding of how mass violations have impacted and transformed affected populations.[5] This institutional approach is necessarily distanced from victims of violations, since a majority will never access these institutions directly. The one mechanism that should in principle have greatest contact with victims is that of reparations, but in both literature and practice, prosecutions have led the agendas of those advocating for transitional justice. [6] The priorities of international agendas can be seen by comparing the billions spent on the International Tribunals for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia in comparison with reparative processes and that spent through the Victims' Trust Fund of the ICC. (refs)

Both the literature and practice around gender issues in transitional justice emphasise sexual violence against women, and more particularly judicial process to address such violations (refs). This discourse reduces women to their injury in a violation centred way, rather than discussing the gendered power relations that lead to violations:

"It is really amazing," said one Kosovar women working as a secretary in UNMIK, "that the international community cared only about Kosovar women when they were being raped - and then only as some sort of exciting story. We see now that they really don't give a damn about us."[7]

The focus on sexual violence allows the cultural and socioeconomic issues that often underlie disempowerment to be neglected, and ignores the fact that in a context such as Nepal female victims are also marginalised by their ethnicity, caste and class. Studies in low income states show that victims emphasise basic services rather than processes which focus narrowly on the violation that victimised them (Rubio Marin ++). The emphasis on livelihood demonstrates that victims seek to challenge the status quo ante, rather than seek a return to it through a purely restitutive process (Rubio Marin). It also suggests that many victims are unaware of rights or the possibilities of rehabilitation or compensation. This challenges thinking about what could drive a reparations process in such contexts.

If transitional justice is " address the past in a constructive future-oriented manner" (Rigby, 2001: 2) then it must confront the structural violence of social exclusion that led to conflict. Nepal's conflict emerged from systematic social, economic and political marginalisation on the basis of ethnicity, gender caste and class (refs). Those most disempowered in Nepal seek a transitional justice that aids their empowerment. The dominant role of victims in the mechanisms that constitute contemporary transitional justice is in the giving of testimony, a necessarily passive interaction. This study suggests that mobilisation of victims is a strategy that will both increase victims' role in the creation of transitional process and empower them. This will aid the creation of a transitional justice that that is not violation and perpetrator centred, but one that is victim centred and addresses the histories of marginalisation that define the lives of the excluded and enable violations.

The term victim-centred has been used by many transitional processes most often in an attempt to suggest that the process places the victim at its centre, in a reference to one of the principles of restorative justice [8]. Here, the term victim-centred is used to define a transitional process or mechanism that arises as a response to the explicit needs of victims, as defined by victims themselves. A victim-centred approach thus requires a process either of broad consultation with victims, or for victims and their representatives to be engaged at all levels of the planning and implementation of transitional process.

Whilst the rights discourse underpins transitional justice, here needs are taken as the focus of the study for several reasons. Firstly, it will be seen that in the context of Nepal most victims know little of rights and instead articulate needs. The language of rights is an alien one to many and victims' daily experience confronts them with unmet needs, very often the most basic. Whilst it is asserted that since rights can be claimed they give victims agency,[9] privileging an external discourse can in practice empower elites and outsiders at the expense of victims,[10] particularly the most disempowered who have both the greatest needs and least access to the language of rights. Secondly, whilst the rights discourse claims to address all rights equally, in practice civil and political rights are prioritised over others, notably the social, economic and cultural.[11],[12] Thirdly, the result of ignoring the needs of victims can be a perpetuation of the cycle of conflict, which is largely driven by attempts to address perceived grievances that arise from previous violence. One implication for practice of privileging victim needs over more abstract notions of rights is that victims must be engaged by transitional process: local visions of the future or local meanings of justice must inform the process.

Understanding victim agendas

- Wives as victims?

- Victims: not only direct, but indirect

In many post-conflict interventions both the individual and collective consequences of violations remain largely unexamined. Indeed, much of the literature of transitional justice is of experts speaking for victims.[14] The roots in law of the human rights discourse leads human rights practice in conflict and post-conflict environments to place an emphasis on the collection of testimony and the investigation of the facts of violations, prioritising outcome over a process of engagement with victims. Disappearance gives rise to a need for truth and justice, but the range of needs goes far beyond this. Studies have been made of both the general impact of war on civilians and of families of the disappeared in particular, dominated by approaches that privilege investigations of the psychological sequelae of trauma, and in particular posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[16] Such approaches have been critiqued both for ignoring indigenous understandings[17] and using evidence that the impact of disappearance is very different from that of a single, traumatising event, being of a chronic nature that has emotional, psychological, economic and social consequences. The net impact on families and individuals of having a missing relative will be the sum of these effects, subject to the resources of individuals and communities to cope. Ambiguous loss is an explicitly relational perspective that characterizes the stress of disappearance as external and ongoing that has been applied to families of soldiers missing in action and of victims of the 9/11 attacks on New York whose bodies were never found.[19] The issues of missing persons and human remains necessarily engage with context specific emotional, psychological and spiritual constructs and as such demand an engagement with culture to create process that is steered by needs that are highly local.

A recent development has been the use of social science research methods to determine the attitudes of populations of states in transition as a tool to make transitional process responsive to the perceptions and needs of those most affected. This approach, pioneered by the Berkeley Human Rights Centre, uses a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods with the ambition of delivering "evidence based transitional justice".[21] It has been used in several contexts, including the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Rwanda and northern Uganda.[22] Whilst these studies have permitted the priorities of affected populations to emerge, including in some cases the needs of families of the missing and disappeared, their research goals were not to understand the needs of research subjects, but focussed on externally defined agendas. A more recent study in the east of the D.R.Congo used both quantitative and qualitative approaches with a specific remit to 'understand the priorities and needs of Congolese civilians affected by the conflicts'.[23] In Nepal one empirical study has been made explicitly targeting victims of the conflict,[24] but using methodologies that have been subject to criticism for reflecting an external agenda of retributive justice, and emphasising civil and political rights over victims' priorities in terms of basic needs. Such exercises can allow transitional justice to respond to needs, but are likely to be less effective than the direct mobilisation of victims. Disappearances in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s gave rise to longstanding victims' movements, such as the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, whose members provided both support and solidarity to each other and were able to represent victims' views to the authorities. Here, empirical studies to understand victims' agendas are made in collaboration with victims' organisations.

Disappearances in Nepal

Nepal's Maoist insurgency was driven by a legacy of centuries of feudalism in a Hindu kingdom built on a codified framework of social and economic exclusion that marginalised indigenous people, lower castes and women. Women marry to gain access to property and social acceptance but have no inheritance rights (ADB, 1999). Their status in the family is traditionally subservient and can be precarious; they are expected to work and to produce sons and their value to the family lies largely in this. As a result the loss of a husband can have catastrophic consequences. Women consistently fall behind men in educational achievement and skill development, often leaving them with few livelihood opportunities. The vast majority of the nation's almost 30 million people live in rural areas, working in agriculture and living lives of desperate poverty. In 1996 a small party from among Nepal's fractious Marxist left, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) [CPN-M], declared a 'People's War' against the newly democratic regime. The insurgency grew rapidly from its initial base in the hills of the impoverished Mid-west with the Maoists conducting military operations throughout the country. They propounded a politics that explicitly encompassed an end to exclusion on the basis of ethnicity, caste and gender and as a result a significant fraction of their cadres were drawn from these marginalised groups. The CPN-M has claimed that 40% of its cadres (both military and political) are women but it remains the case that the leadership, even at more junior levels, is dominated by higher caste men.

Whilst disappearances had occurred from the start of the conflict, and even before it, the introduction of the Royal Nepal Army into the conflict in 2001 dramatically increased human rights violations of all kinds[28]. Between 2000 and 2003 Nepal was responsible for a greater number of cases of disappearance reported to the UN's Working Group on Enforced Disappearances than any other state;[29] disappearance has become the defining violation of the conflict. The conflict came to an end in April 2006, with a second 'People's Movement' uniting the Maoists and the constitutional parties against a king who had seized absolute power. As part of an ongoing peace process the monarchy has been abolished and following elections to a constituent assembly the Maoists are now the largest party in the legislature. The conflict has left a legacy of some 15,000 dead,[30] and more than 1,200 unaccounted for.

Whilst disappearances[32] were perpetrated by the Maoists, the vast majority were the responsibility of the forces of the state, apparently as a deliberate strategy of war by military commanders at several levels in the hierarchy. One motivation was the elimination of those perceived as part of the Maoist threat, and this appears to be what drove the disappearance and apparent extra-judicial execution of students and others perceived to be Maoist activists, often from the streets of Kathmandu. In rural areas there were additional dynamics that encouraged disappearance linked to the traditional power structures of caste, class and ethnicity that were the underlying cause of the conflict. In Bardiya for example, the district worst affected by disappearance, the People's War was perceived by many as the continuation of a long running conflict over land between the majority indigenous Tharu community and high caste landlords who had established control of much agricultural land over recent decades. In addition to disposing of Tharu activists, the RNA leadership in the region had an interest in enforcing traditional power relations, and the wave of disappearances that followed the declaration of the state of emergency in 2001 achieved this. In Bardiya, the arrest of victims from their homes at night, in many cases by forces acting on information from informers, was in the tradition of authoritarian regimes deliberately creating an atmosphere of terror in communities perceived as being loyal to the insurgency. One of the most well known cases of disappearance in Nepal concerns a fifteen year old girl from a dalit[33] community who was arrested by RNA troops, tortured to death and buried at an army camp; the same group of soldiers had earlier raped and killed other teenagers from the community, putting issues of caste and gender at the heart of the violations.

Families close to the CPN-M first established an association of families of the disappeared in Kathmandu during the conflict, bringing together families to campaign for the state to inform them of the whereabouts of relatives. Soon after the end of the conflict family associations were established in other parts of the country, organised at the district level by families themselves, often independent of any political party and trying to represent victims of both sides. Family associations have articulated the demands of victims, seeking livelihood assistance and advocating for truth and justice from the authorities; they have also been a valuable mechanism of solidarity and support. They have had a sometimes problematic relationship with human rights agencies and in contrast to well funded agencies have had little success in gaining donor support. The authorities have largely declined to engage with the family associations. As in all arenas of life in Nepal, men have taken lead roles in the family associations. Women, however, constitute the bulk of those active in family associations and agendas that emphasise those issues of greatest priority to women, notably the economic, form a large part of the advocacy of their advocacy.

Methodology of the study

The research methodology is driven by the aim of allowing the voices of victims to contribute to the debate about dealing with the past. The research design and conceptualisation process was executed in a participatory way with the family associations who determined the goals of the research process and the methodology. The output of this process was that the research would be rooted in an advocacy effort, would be ethnographic, and that the family would be the unit of analysis. Families wanted their needs to be communicated; the final research report allowed the dissemination of the results as a tool of advocacy. Whilst the methodology presented here does not replace the mobilisation of victims to represent themselves, it does allow for a process that engages victims and their organisations in a way that not only allows their voices to be heard and identifies local resources, but gives those organisations a concrete advocacy tool to increase their effectiveness. The study emphasised the goals of transition, motivated by the lack of knowledge of potential mechanisms by victims.

Different perceived needs exist in rural and urban, rich and poor families, and between families with significant contact with human rights agencies and those without; this demands a process that delivers a representative sample of such families. The sampling frame used for this study is a list drawn up by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) of 1,227 persons missing as a result of the conflict, compiled during ICRC's presence in Nepal since 1998, through visits to rural communities and from statements made by families who visited ICRC's offices. A selection of 10 of Nepal's 75 districts was made that enabled the worst affected districts to be included, whilst also ensuring a spread by region, geography (plains, hills, mountains), ethnicity and alleged perpetrator (state, Maoist). These 10 districts account for 43% of those on the ICRC list. Within these districts a random selection was made, and families visited in their homes. 86 families were interviewed, the majority with the family as a unit; since the power relations within families were visible, where possible younger wives of the disappeared were met alone or in peer groups so as to understand potentially problematic dynamics within the family. The data discussed here focuses on 26 wives of the missing interviewed with their families, alone and in peer groups. The sample of women met can be summarised as follows:

- 21 came from traditionally excluded indigenous ethnic groups or lower Hindu castes;

- 20 cases involved disappearances perpetrated by the state and 6 by the CPN-M.

Interviews typically lasted around 90 minutes and were semi-structured, based on a 7 page script that had been developed in conjunction with family associations over a 2 month period prior to the research. Families were invited to prioritise their needs relating to their disappeared relative through a series of open questions, and then probed about specific elements of those needs. Additionally, 10 focus groups containing a total of 74 relatives of the disappeared were conducted with peer groups selected by family associations; these included groups of wives of the disappeared, members of particular ethnic groups, and groups defined by the perpetrator of disappearance. The research was conducted over a six month period two years after the end of the conflict. Disappearances discussed here took place between 12 and 2 years prior to the study, and on average 5 years before. The disappeared are victims but so too are their families, for whom the suffering of war continues. Whilst a minority of the disappeared are educated and urban most come from rural peasant backgrounds and their families are illiterate and poor. The typical interviewee is thus a rural woman of low educational level from an indigenous ethnic group. All interviews and focus groups were recorded and these translated and transcribed; these texts were iteratively coded for analysis by both frequency of topic data and for selection of relevant text segments.

The collaboration with the family associations served to build trust with research participants and allow effective 'emotional access'. The easily understood advocacy aim of the research ensured an ethical relationship between the researcher and the researched and eased issues around informed consent. In addition to steering the research goals and methodologies, the community of victims was able to provide counselling and support to families around the research process. The response of families to the study varied; some were angry that many agencies had collected data from them, but no action had been taken. In the majority of cases, however, particularly in rural areas, family members were grateful that an interest was being taken in their issues, and understood the advocacy goal of the research: 'Through you our voice reaches the Government and the work starts as soon as possible.' (Wife of disappeared man, Kathmandu.) During interviews families were asked about human rights, with none outside the leadership of the family associations having any good idea what rights were:

Sometimes I think that when they took our people, they should not have killed them, they have the right to live. [...] It is treating them like beasts to kill them immediately after arrest. They treated our people like dogs. But I don't know exactly what rights are. (Focus group participant, Bardiya)

For the majority of those met in this study the fact that they have rights, to redress, to justice and to reparation, plays no part in the formulation of their demands in response to their victimhood.

Needs of families of the disappeared

We, the women of Nepal, are living bearing this type of pain. We can't cry in front of the children, we have to try to console them. (Focus group participant, Gorkha)

Needs of victim families are not static: as the understanding of the fate of loved ones has changed over the years of the conflict and as the peace process has developed, so needs have evolved. This study represents a 'snapshot' of those needs at a particular time. The first question asked during the interviews was an open question about the family's priorities; three types of response emerged far more frequently than others as needs:

§ An answer about the fate of the disappeared, the truth: 'Is he dead or alive?' (mentioned by 65 percent of wives).

§ Economic support: 'compensation', or a demand for privileges regarding education, medical treatment and jobs for family members (85 percent).

§ Justice, in terms of the punishment of those responsible (15 percent).

The needs expressed by the men or families represented by men in interviews are compared with those expressed by wives in Table 1.




Economic support



An answer regarding fate






Table 1 Fraction of interviewees expressing particular need; comparison of wives of the disappeared with male respondents.

This demonstrates the gender dependence of needs: women overwhelmingly emphasise the need for economic support and truth, while men prioritise such support, truth and prosecutions similarly. On asking families if they would like to see someone punished, the vast majority said they would: thus this represents a hierarchy of relative priorities, rather than a set of alternatives. There were also dramatic differences in priorities between more politicised and educated urban families, and poor rural families, most notably concerning justice. For example, of families from rural Bardiya district, predominantly from the indigenous Tharu group, only 7 percent mentioned justice as a priority, while in the capital 69 percent did.

Need to know the fate of the disappeared

Knowing the fate of the disappeared was a priority, not least to end uncertainty:

We hear that our husbands are dead but no one has confirmed if that is true or not. How much longer can we wait and hope for answer? It seems like our life will be finished by waiting. (Focus group participant, Bardiya)

Of wives met, 77 percent demonstrated a degree of ambiguity about what had happened to their husband:

I haven't made any rituals. I still wear the symbols of marriage. I wear them because I haven't seen him dead: maybe he is alive somewhere. The Government hasn't recognised what happened to him. (Wife of disappeared man, Bardiya.)

For families of the disappeared, due to the lack of clarity over their fate, the death of their loved one is something almost impossible to admit to themselves. This can disrupt the normal grieving process and may lead to arrested grief or atypical reactions, known as 'complicated grief'. This phenomenon can be understood in terms of ambiguous loss:

... ambiguous loss is the most stressful loss because it defies resolution and creates confused perceptions about who is in or out of a particular family. With a clear-cut loss, there is more clarity - a death certificate, mourning rituals, and the opportunity to honor and dispose remains.

Only 6 of the 26 women met accept that their husband is dead; others maintain hope, even after many years that their loved one will return. The time that has passed has reduced hope, but has not extinguished it. In most of the cultures of Nepal traditional healers are consulted that can give hope to families:

I went to a Tharu guruwa and Indian baba. According to them he is still alive abroad. The Tharu guruwa showed in the mirror my husband walking through the jungle and mountains, and the Indian Baba told me he is in another country. (Wife of disappeared Tharu man, Bardiya.)

In one untypical case, it was a message from a traditional healer that ended the ambiguity over one woman's husband:

I visited 3 different traditional healers. Two of them told me that he is alive and one told me that he's not alive. That was 3 years ago. One day my daughter was suffering from a stomach ache. I called the guruwa that night, and she told me that my husband is killed so it's giving you trouble. (Wife of disappeared Tharu man, Banke.)

Others have told of contact with the spirits of the disappeared, often in dreams, which have reassured them their loved one is alive. For many wives of the disappeared such access to the spirit world is very real and can significantly impact on their understanding of the fate of their loved one. It can also permit an understanding grounded in culture of the repeated dreams that often result from a disappearance. For families to move on, to conduct rituals and to look to the future rather than the past they need an answer that convinces the family beyond all doubt that their missing relative is dead.

Need for human remains

There appears to be a primal need to see the bodies of the dead: it is suggested that the rituals around death break down its denial, permit grief and promote detachment. The traditional treatment of the dead will vary between cultures in Nepal, with Hindus burning bodies and Buddhists, animists and Muslims burying them. Religious attitudes and ritual obligations after death shape views of the importance of human remains to families. Across the diverse religious traditions of Nepal there is however unanimity among families in their need to satisfy religious obligations: they need either the body or absolute evidence of death in order to complete rituals. A dilemma for the families of the disappeared is that without a body they have no proof and so the body is not only required for religious ritual, but becomes the proof of death. Especially for families that are illiterate a document cannot communicate something as important as the death of a relative: 71 percent of wives sought to retrieve the body of their husband:

We need the body because we have to the rituals and even to believe that he is really dead. (Wife of disappeared man, Dhading.)

It [retrieving the body] is important for me. He was my husband. I want him dead or alive. At least it will confirm to me about my husband's situation. We can't make rituals even he is dead: I have nothing and no support to afford the rituals. (Wife of disappeared man, Bardiya.)

For many families this reflects that the issue of closure is also an economic issue, with much money spent searching for missing husbands and expensive rituals required if death is confirmed. Families' distrust of the state extends to a lack of confidence in any remains that might be returned to them and they themselves propose two potential solutions to this problem. One is to trust tests, such as of DNA, that some families are aware of. The alternative is that a 'chain of truth' could be established that would link the arrest, often witnessed by the family, to the body in the ground that has been exhumed.

To perform the ritual we need something like his clothes, his bones or anything like that but I don't think it's possible. But they have to tell us the entire scenario how they killed our person, where they buried him and only then will the lama will be able to perform the ritual. (Wife of disappeared man, Kathmandu.)

Economic needs

The disappeared husbands have an average age of 33, with 76% aged between 18 and 40, an age where their economic contribution to the family is crucial. The parents' generation will often be too old to work, while some are often still at school; families have been deprived of breadwinners and women of husbands, often with young children to support, reducing their economic security. As a result, many of the needs discussed here are the same as those of the poorest in Nepal, whatever the reason for their poverty. Women defined necessities as food, medical treatment and the education of children: all but three of the women met were unable to afford all of these; three-quarters were in debt The most extreme cases are women heading households who have little capacity to earn a living: some had to beg to eat. For most women the greatest sacrifices they have to make concern health care and education. The husband would have worked to support the family throughout his life and this often underlies the need for long-term support. The solution as far as wives are concerned is to give them a sustainable way to pay for the necessities of life. This could mean that the Government guarantees education and health care for families of the disappeared, or that family members are given jobs that guarantee an income that will permit them economic security for the future.

Whilst most rural Nepalis have little contact with the formal state, the issue of land is one where ownership documentation has become very important. Land and property constitute the most pressing administrative issues as a result of the uncertain and undocumented fate of their disappeared relatives, and were mentioned by 15 percent of women met:

We have no proof he is missing, which make it very difficult to use the property of our husband or father. The people whose family members are dead, they can register their name and use the property but the families of the missing can't resister because the authority doesn't believe that they are missing. (Focus group participant, Bardiya.)

Emotional and psychosocial impact

Families of the disappeared are mostly found to suffer from normal emotional distress, rather than psychiatric disorders. In many wives the disappearance gave rise to repeated thoughts and dreams about the disappeared, disturbed sleep and sudden feelings of anxiety: 67 percent of women met described such symptoms. This generalised anxiety disorder was the most common symptom encountered, together with expression of extreme pain, and appears to allow the problems facing most families to be discriminated from PTSD. Whereas PTSD is linked to a specific event of trauma, the anxiety expressed by families was about the disappeared person, rather than the event of disappearance: i.e. consistent with ambiguous loss. Women described dreams where they see their disappeared relative, often in a position of suffering: this appears to be an unconscious expression of guilt at no longer being able to fulfil their traditional role as a mother or wife and provide for their missing man.

42 percent of those met talked of how their mental capacity has been impaired as a result of the disappearance; 29 percent of wives complained of chronic physical symptoms that they ascribed to the disappearance, most often as a result of the constant tension and anxiety, and presumably somatic:

Whenever I go to check up my health, the doctor tells me that I have been suffering from chinte rog [my worries are my disease]. [...] My son has been also suffering from the same disease, the disease created by worry. [..] He has given me medicine to sleep. (Wife of disappeared man, Gorkha.)

It has been suggested that the somatic symptoms many wives display, although involuntary, may represent a continued connection to the disappeared:

Sickness ... related to political violence represents a refusal to break ties with the person who was killed or disappeared. [...] such refusal circumvents the goals of disappearance or death, which is to wipe out a person's existence. The women thus embody the acts perpetrated against their husbands. (Discussing widows of Guatemala's violencia.)

The body is seen as demonstration of a continued attachment to the disappeared, and revising attachment as the solution to ill-health. Somatism may also be a way for women, whose pain is poorly understood, to manifest the impact of disappearance in a way that renders their suffering socially meaningful. A phenomenon that emphasized this approach in Nepal was where women had acknowledged that their husband was likely dead, but persisted in wearing the symbols of marriage (bangles, red sindhur powder in the hair) as a protest with two aims: one to establish their right in the community to wear such symbols as long as death was not proved, and another to demonstrate to the authorities that they were still awaiting an answer. This appears to be a way for women to reclaim the symbols that most demonstrate their need for closure from being used against them; a move from despair to protest using symbols of attachment to the disappeared.

Impact in the home

The joint family that is the building block of Nepali society can offer great support, economically and emotionally but can also become the greatest single stressor if individuals are alienated from it. Within traditional families there are power relationships, dominated by older men and with the younger wives at the bottom of the hierarchy, expected to be subservient to their mother-in-law. Young women are dependent for their status within the family on their husband, or on their children, notably boys. The greatest problems with families are thus seen when younger women's husbands are missing, where their status may be less well established.

There is substantial stigma in a woman leaving the family home and/or remarrying, which is seen as a betrayal both of her in-laws' family and of her husband; in high caste culture that has become a model for many Nepalese even remarriage after the death of a husband is forbidden. As long as a woman remains ambiguous about her husband's fate she may not consider remarriage a possibility. In many cases where a woman has no children she will leave and remarry, escaping stigma but ensuring economic security through another man. As a result within the family the wife of a son who is missing will often be perceived as seeking an opportunity to leave, typically through elopement with another man. This often leads to the stigmatisation of wives of the disappeared:

My in-laws call me very bad things such as prostitute, witch, widow, etc in front of my children when they see me around. (Focus group participant, Katarniya, Bardiya.)

Thus, a wife may be trapped within a family that resents her presence, but does not want her to leave due to the social stigma that would result. The family may perceive the wife as seeking to betray the family by running off with another man, and seek to constrain her movements to prevent this, or expel her from the home:

The family also sees the wife whose husband has been disappeared in a different way. In many cases, the family members suspect her in many ways. Even when she is busy searching for her husband she is accused of having gone for something else. [...] There are even some mothers-in-law who suspect that the daughter-in-law has other boyfriends. The mothers-in-law don't allow these daughters-in-law to enter the house. See the case of S.M., she has been denied food and expelled from her house. (Focus group participant, Kathmandu.)

In some cases the wife is blamed for the disappearance:

The mothers in law in such households think that the son disappeared because the daughter in law was alachin ko [thought to bring ill-fate to the family]. (Focus group participant, Kathmandu.)

Economically, a woman may be perceived as bringing nothing to the family, but being another mouth to feed and a burden on the family. The net result of this web of obligation and resentment can often be an environment of extreme difficulty for such women. Leaving the house is an option, but this would usually require a woman either to remarry or return to her maternal home, otherwise she would be without economic support. Often she would be expected to leave her children behind:

The relationship with my relatives and in-laws has been ruined. They see me as someone else's daughter, so I am an outsider and relations continue to get worse. They see the other sons [of the family] bringing money home and they see my children and me as just a financial drain: money is important to them. [...] Sometimes I feel like leaving the house, but because of the love I have for my children, I cannot go. (Wife of missing man, Dhading.)

One woman reported that her father-in-law sought to abuse her sexually and to take her as a second wife, an extreme example of the confusion over identity that all wives faced. 32 percent of wives reported that they had problems in the family and 12.5% of these had extreme problems.

Impact in the community

The issues that lead to wives being stigmatised in the family also lead to problems in the community:

There are not good relations with community members. When I go to ask for something from anybody, others say there may be some illicit relations with me and therefore nobody comes to help me anymore because I am still young. (Wife of missing man, Siraha.)

In one community when the research team inquired about the whereabouts of two wives of the disappeared, the gentleman being asked described the two as "whores", confirming the extent of stigmatisation. Most Nepali cultures have a great respect for widows; the wives of the disappeared are stigmatised because they are women without men who do not adopt the identity of widows, in terms of removing the symbols of marriage. The ambiguity over a women's marital status and her persistence in wearing the symbols of marriage permits a perception that the wives of the Missing are somehow predatory in their search for a new husband. The vulnerability of being a single woman combined with the perceived reputation of the wives of the disappeared led to extreme problems in some cases, including sexual assault:

Previously, drunks used to come at night and tried to scare, beat and rape me. Many times I had to run away with my crying babies. Many times I went to sleep in other's houses. They were from other villages. After some days, our villagers came to know what was happening with me. They organised a meeting about this issue and made them pay, anyone who comes to harm me in this house. Since then I could sleep in my house. (Wife of missing man, Bardiya.)

28% of wives said that they had problems in their community. One woman sees the solution to these problems as being a resolution of the ambiguity of their status, by the authorities giving a proper answer regarding their husbands:

We have been trying our best, but I think the state should solve these community problems. If the Government announces that our people are dead, we would make rituals and give up the symbols of marriage. At least the community would not have the problem of seeing us in married clothes and signs. And if my husband is alive they should publish his name so that also the community could be quiet. (Focus group participant, Gulariya, Bardiya.)

Resilience and coping mechanisms

The impact of disappearance will be the sum of the emotional, psychological, cultural and social effects discussed here, subject to the resources of individuals and communities to cope. The ability of individuals to withstand the impact of traumatic events has been called resilience: "good outcomes in spite of serious threats to adaptation or development".[47] It is the "ordinary magic" of resilience that allows survivors to survive. In this study there is evidence that in most cases individuals show sufficient resilience to not suffer from significant disability as a result of their psychosocial problems, i.e. they continue to function relatively well despite their suffering. This indicates the need for psychosocial interventions to also be preventive in nature, i.e. they should aim to work to support and promote such resilience.

Coping mechanisms have been seen to be both positive and negative. The most common negative coping mechanism was repeated thoughts about the disappeared, often becoming an obsession with continuing to search for the missing person. Whilst peers, especially other wives of the disappeared, are identified as a potentially valuable support, they can also contribute to negative coping through reinforcement of behaviour that traps women in a cycle of obsession. However, in this study peer interaction appeared positive, indeed the most discussed positive coping mechanism was to share problems with peers. The value of such support was emphasised by the very positive response of those who had regular contact with a family association, since it solves the major problem of having access to someone who not only understands but shares your problem:

Yes, we do share our problems with those with the same problems but we never share with those who have a husband. We never share our problems with our elders or relatives because we don't want to give them pain and trouble, we only share with friends. The main thing is that the one who is suffering, only they can feel it. (Wife of missing man, Kathmandu.)

These comments confirm that one of the problems for families is the search for meaning in the disappearance. Meaning is socially constructed, or reconstructed, in the sharing of experience with those suffering from the same problem and potentially allows families to reach some understanding of their loss. 36 percent of wives however reported that there was no-one in the family or community with whom they could talk. This reveals the dilemma of those who find themselves isolated with no-one who can understand their problems, and the fact that those facing problems within their families or communities are those most likely to be isolated. Even where there are other families of the Missing, wives wish to talk with other wives to share problems. Only 46 percent of those met said that they had contact with a family association, and there is some evidence that having contact with a family association can reduce the levels of problems women see. This is an indication that contact with a family association is a genuine coping mechanism that promotes resilience.

One common and effective coping mechanism for those whose loved ones were made missing by the state was political engagement. Many relatives of the Missing had not been politically active until their relative was taken, at which point they found political commitment as a way to both justify the sacrifice that had been made and to continue the struggle. More than this political activity brings family members into contact with others who share the beliefs of their loved ones and who appreciate the family's sacrifice, but see this as positive: [the Party] helps us a lot and to fulfil the dreams of our husbands we are more involved in the Party. We work together and we talk about each other; that definitely helps a lot. (Wife of Maoist activist, Kathmandu.)

Perhaps most obviously families see the truth about the fate of the disappeared as an integral part of their being able to cope with the impact of the loss of a husband. In that sense there is no division for families between action on the psychosocial issues and that on the fundamental issues of truth and justice: progress on these issues will also be part of addressing the emotional and psychological needs. The solution to many of the threats to the wellbeing of families of the Missing is often given as "closure", i.e. giving families the proof they need regarding the fate of their loved one. However, for most of the families it is unlikely that the truth as they feel they need it, and the body of their loved one, will be found. Boss has suggested that a better approach is to acknowledge the great difficulty of resolution and instead address living with ambiguity:

The goal is to find meaning in the situation despite the absence of information and persisting ambiguity. Here, resiliency means being able to live with unanswered questions. Instead of the usual epistemological question about truth, we ask, 'How do people manage to live well despite not knowing?'

Justice and accountability

When asked what justice meant to them, almost half of wives gave no answer, indicating that even the concept was something quite remote from them. This who did give an answer replied as follows:

- prosecution, 35 percent;

- compensation, 38 percent;

- truth / an answer, 23 percent;

Whilst some seek prosecutorial justice, many see justice in terms other than retribution. Many victims of both sides made the point that prosecuting lower level actors would not satisfy them; some emphasised that responsibility was political, and went to the very highest level, on both sides. It is not obvious that informers can be prosecuted, even though many families feel they are directly responsible for disappearances, as long as they have not committed an offence. There was a consensus that legal process should ideally be local, since that would give the victim families the greatest access to it; there was no interest in an international process.

The Government's draft Truth and Reconciliation Commission Bill included a broad amnesty for perpetrators, but many families rejected amnesty:

The truth about the facts should be clarified, but the perpetrators should not be given amnesty. If they are given amnesty, the mentality of the victim families will remain as it is, so amnesty should not be given. (Wife of disappeared man, Siraha)

42 percent of wives were either unable or unwilling to comment on amnesty; of those who did only 1 could envisage amnesty, with the rest opposed.

Reparation, relief and compensation

Compensation is the thing when you destroy someone's property and give some money to cover the loss; but how you can cover the loss of our husbands, a person? It's not possible at all. (Wife of disappeared man, Kathmandu.)

Whilst a minority refused to countenance compensation, this was the term most used when discussing economic support. Families expressed the view that the most reparative act of the authorities responsible is to reveal the truth about the disappeared. There is a concern among families that payments of compensation are somehow designed to distract families from pursuing the truth about their loved ones. For all families there is a dilemma between the need to feed themselves now, the need to know the truth before any compensation or reparations can be accepted and the very idea of putting a value on the life of the disappeared by accepting money from the authorities. A number of women resolved this dichotomy through the concept of relief.

If they give us 1 lakh [100,000] Rupees as relief then I will take it, if they say it is compensation then there is no way I am taking it. (Wife of disappeared man, Dhading.)

In this way families can address their immediate needs, without sending a message to the authorities that they believe the issue of the disappearance is closed.


Families, particularly those that are politically engaged, have a burning desire to see the sacrifice of their loved ones acknowledged. Unofficial efforts to memorialise the disappeared are under way, demonstrating the enthusiasm of communities to see such acknowledgement. The wives met during this study mentioned their need for memorials to the disappeared, most seeking a local memorial. For example, in one district in the plains a statue is being constructed of five local students who were arrested by the security forces during the conflict and remain missing: the junction it sits in has been renamed Martyr's Crossroads.

Institutional reform and attitude to the state

An essential component of reparation is satisfaction, notably giving families assurances of non-repetition of the offence. 79 percent of wives of those taken by the state believe they will never be able to trust the state, while none of those whose husbands were taken by the Maoists believe trust can be rebuilt. If the issue of disappearances is not addressed, a majority of the victims of the state say they would react: half would take part in a political movement, while a significant minority (15 percent) say they would be prepared to launch a rebellion with the use of arms:

If the Government will do the job, but will take time then we are ready to wait but if the Party betrays us then we will not hesitate to take up guns against our own party. (Wife of disappeared man, Kathmandu.)

The informer and those responsible are both in this village and they are moving freely. That teases us. They are laughing at us, [...] for them and we are nothing. Now our children are growing up and thinking to take revenge. (Focus group participant, Bardiya)

Given that many of these families are cadres of the Maoist party, the implications for the future of the peace process of ignoring the needs of such victims should not be under-estimated.

Analysis and implications of the study

Victims' agendas for transition

The needs of wives of the disappeared in Nepal are dominated by a need for the truth about the fate of loved ones and access to human remains where they are dead, and economic support to ensure livelihood. They also face often extreme social problems as an impact of disappearance in traditional communities. The issues in family and community and the relatively low priority women give to judicial process conflict with dominant narratives around transitional justice, in Nepal and elsewhere. Many of the needs discussed, and indeed the general impact of disappearance, emerge from the unique social and cultural position of affected families, indicating that approaches that do not consider the context in which victims live will be unlikely to meet their needs.

Not knowing the fate of missing husbands has left many women suffering significant emotional and psychological problems, including sleep disturbance, somatism and generalised anxiety order. The most extreme impacts however are social in nature, where wives of the disappeared have experienced loss of status within the family and identity issues in the community resulting in stigmatisation. This serves to confirm that within the marginalised communities that were most affected by conflict, women are further disempowered by disappearance. The positive role that family associations have played in supporting those affected by disappearance, suggests that solidarity and sharing is a crucial coping mechanism. This is consistent with the ambiguous loss model that sees the social reconstruction of meaning and identity as a prerequisite to living with the ambiguity of loss. Those who have coped least well have become fixated with the ambiguity of their loss and with seeking closure: this strongly suggests that human rights led interventions with families of the disappeared that emphasise truth and justice over all other aspects can be potentially damaging by reinforcing such negative coping; interventions should aim to help families to live well despite ambiguity. Beyond their own organisations and communities, victims have little or no access to medical facilities or other psychosocial support. Many of the impacts of ambiguity, such as being unable to perform the expected rituals for the dead, demand not only that families receive an answer concerning the fate, but also that they have access to human remains. This demands a comprehensive process of investigation, exhumation and identification.

It is unsurprising that economic needs are emphasised, given the profile of many victims as the poorest and most marginalised in a highly unequal state. Families seek not a simple payment of compensation, but livelihood guarantees that will allow them to feed and educate their families in perpetuity, restoring the economic security that their missing breadwinner enabled. In this sense, reparation can be understood as filling the economic role of the disappeared. Reparation should also mean addressing the health issues, notably the psychological impacts that have arisen as a direct result of disappearance. The long-term marginalisation by the state of many communities that were also most impacted by the conflict leads to demands for recognition. These arise initially as a response to their victimisation, through demands for memorialisation, martyr status for the dead and compensation. Recognition however is also seen as giving a place in the nation to those long denied it, a goal for which many families believe their loved ones have given their lives. The behaviour of the state and local elites in rural areas during the conflict was a continuation of how the disempowered have always been treated in Nepal. As a result the demands of victims go to the heart of the goals of transition, demanding that the 'new Nepal' that emerges is inclusive and representative.

Transitional justice process in Nepal, like the transition itself, is blocked as the parties who fought the conflict clash in the deadlocked provisional legislature over the future shape of the state. Whilst draft bills on both a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and a Disappearance Commission have been published, no progress toward the creation of these bodies has been made. The only measure to address disappearances has been a payment of Rs. 100,000 ($1,360) made to some fraction of the affected families. Political actors on all sides as well as the armed forces remain reluctant to see any process that might lead to judicial proceedings. The human rights community in Nepal has exacerbated the fears of those in power of any transitional process by emphasising an agenda for transition in which primacy is given to the need for prosecutions and all other goals of transition made subservient.

Towards a victim-centred transitional justice

- Generalise to other victims

Many of the needs expressed by wives of the disappeared in Nepal are shared with the rest of the family, including needs for truth, justice, acknowledgment and institutional reform, and these can largely be addressed by the institutional approaches that have characterised the practice of transitional justice. The study suggests however that neither the contemporary theory nor practice of transitional justice addresses the full range of needs of wives of the disappeared in Nepal. A focus is needed on how transitional justice debates can advance the material cause of women in transitional contexts, rather than trying to 'fix' prescriptive transitional justice frameworks. This leads to an emphasis on modalities, rather than mechanisms (???).

In Nepal, the lack of substantial consultation has led to women generally, and women from excluded communities in particular, having little input into the shape of transition. More than this, efforts to advocate for transitional justice remain elite led and the rights community has failed to articulate the agendas of the disempowered. Marginalised women have no agency in the process.

Justice projects have been described as being committed either to redistribution or recognition. Recognition drives the current global transitional justice project, with an emphasis given to institutions such as courts and truth commissions that can recognise violations and define victims and perpetrators. A redistributive approach must be included if the needs expressed by the wives of the disappeared in Nepal are to be addressed; redistribution not just of resources such as money and land, but of power, from unrepresentative elites to the mass of the Nepali people and from male hierarchies to all members of society.

This study has shown that for the wives of the disappeared in Nepal impacts occur not just in the 'public sphere', but in the 'private sphere' of family and community. The overlaying of the violation of disappearance on the highly unequal gender relations of Nepal results in impacts in spaces that would appear insulated from conflict, such as the home. In both family and community place is transformed by a phenomenon beyond normal experience in a way that enhances the disempowerment of women. The ever present structural violence against women is exacerbated as a direct result of violations committed against a man, as a result of the fact that a woman's relationship to the family are constructed through a man. The wives of the disappeared see their status reduced as a result of ambiguity in their identity that fails to coincide with social expectations; they are neither wives nor widows, but defined by ambiguity.

The discourse of transitional justice has always restricted itself to the public sphere, allowing the pursuit of redress and equality at an institutional level to blind it to inequality and marginalisation arising from social practice. As a result, transitional justice promises little to the women of Nepal who see the greatest impact of violations in the primary institutions of family and community. Gender is always enmeshed in a nexus of discursive practices, including the legal, political and social (ref). Transitional justice, with its roots in law, has always preferentially sought to address the legal. Whilst the political discourse around the practice of transitional justice has also become integral since its origin (Teitel), the social remains an area where transitional justice appears to fear to tread. This reflects feminist discourse that has long seen the distinction between the public and the private as serving to depoliticise the domestic space: (Giles) the home ceases to be a site for the assertion of rights.

More generally, the transitional agenda continues to marginalise social, economic and cultural rights in favour of the civil and political. The conflict arose as a result of deep inequalities around class, caste, gender and ethnicity. Addressing these demands a broad view of transition that encompasses fundamentally changing the basis of social relations in Nepal; the agendas of transitional justice, development and social inclusion intersect. The traditional political parties and human rights agencies, both led by elites who have benefitted from the social stratification of the past, show no willingness to engage with these broader issues. Legalists advocating a transitional justice agenda restricted to civil and political rights emphasise the judicial, shrinking the emancipatory possibilities of the rights discourse. This study demonstrates the imperative for those who seek to speak for victims to consult with victims, support their mobilisation and ensure that the practice of human rights is inclusive. The challenge for those tasked with creating mechanisms to address the needs of both victims and the broader society arising from the conflict, is to ensure that in a society that has never listened to the most marginalised, a way can be found of ensuring the agency of victims in the transitional process.


- Preston cites the example of the Madres de Mayo in Argentina, a group of mothers whose sons had been "disappeared" during the Dirty Wars in that country. By seizing and occupying the space of the Plaza de Mayo, one of the most important public spaces, this group transformed many Argentinians' views about women's "place" in political participation (Preston 1996). Sites of war and peace are ultimately linked; both can be sites of violence.

- UN Security Council Resolution 1325 calls "on all actors involved, when negotiating and implementing peace agreements, to adopt a gender perspective, including, inter alia: (a) The special needs of women and girls during repatriation and resettlement and for rehabilitation, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction."

- Define "victim-centered" TJ

- TJ inherently conservative?

* The "bounded change" (Teitel:229) that transitional justice promises often appears to put limits on the extent to which society can be transformed and social relations that led to conflict challenged. In this sense the discourse is inherently conservative, and will struggle to serve the disempowered.


- Addressing PS issues linked to empowering women:

o Solidarity and self-organization, livelihood, status is home and community -> all linked

- Reparation as livelihood assistance:

- Challenge HH as a unit of congruent interests, among whose members the benefits of available resources are shared equitably, irrespective of gender (p.13) [e.g. compensation to women, not to head of household, pension, MEI etc.]



Kevin McEvoy and Lorna McGregor, 'Transitional justice from below: An agenda for research, policy and praxis', in Transitional justice from below: Grassroots activism and the struggle for change, ed. Kevin McEvoy and Lorna McGregor (Oxford: Hart, 2008).

Patricia Lundy and Mark McGovern, 'Whose justice? Rethinking transitional justice from the bottom up', Journal of Law and Society, 35(2), 2008: 265 - 292.

McEvoy and McGregor, supra n. 2 at 2.

Vasuki Nesiah, 'Discussion lines on gender and transitional justice: An introductory essay reflecting on the ICTJ Bellagio workshop on gender and transitional justice', Columbia Journal of Gender and Law 15(2002) 3: 799-812.

See, for example: Béatrice Pouligny, Bernard Doray and Jean-Clément Martin, 'Methodological and ethical problems: A trans-disciplinary approach', in After Mass Crime: Rebuilding states and communities, ed. Béatrice Pouligny, Simon Chesterman and Albrecht Schanbel (Tokyo: UNU Press, 2007); Mary Breen Smyth, Truth Recovery and Justice after conflict: Managing Violent Pasts (London: Routledge, 2007).

Pablo de Greiff, "Introduction. Repairing the Past: Compensation for Victims of Human Rights Violations," in Pablo de Greiff, ed., The Handbook of Reparations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006): 1-2.

UNIFEM, Women, peace and war,

Republic of South Africa 2003. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa report (final report). Available at (accessed 3rd December 2009); Raquel Aldana, 'A Victim-Centered Reflection on Truth Commissions and Prosecutions as a Response to Mass Atrocities', Journal of Human Rights 5:1 (2006),107-126.

Michael Ignatieff, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003),164.


Louise Arbour,'Economic and social justice for societies in transition', NYU Journal of International law and politics, 40 2007-8.

With specific reference to Nepal: Tafadzwa Pasipanodya, 'A Deeper Justice: Economic and social justice as transitional justice in Nepal', The International Journal of Transitional Justice 2 (2008): 378-397; Daniel Aguirre and Irene Pietropaoli,'Gender equality, development and transitional justice: The case of Nepal', The International Journal of Transitional Justice 2 (2008):1-22.

Haley Duschinski, 'Try out participatory justice', Combat Law 7: 2008(4).

Sarah Cullinan, Torture survivors' perceptions of reparation, (London: The REDRESS Trust, 2001), 19.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Working with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: A Handbook for NGOs (Geneva: OHCHR, 2006).

e.g. Gregory J. Quirk and Leonel Casco, 'Stress disorders of families of the disappeared: a controlled study in Honduras', Soc. Sci. Med. 2004 39(12): 1675-1679; Pau Pérez-Sales, Teresa Durán-Pérez and Roberta Bacic Herzfeld,'Long-term psychosocial consequences in first - degree relatives of people detained - disappeared or executed for political reasons in Chile. A study in Mapuce and Non-Mapuce persons', Psicothema 12 (2000) Supl.:109-116.

See for example: Derek Summerfield, 'Cross cultural perspectives on the medicalisation of human suffering', in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Issues and Controversies, ed. G. Rosen (London: John Wiley, 2004); Gillian Mezey and Ian Robbins, 'Usefulness and validity of post-traumatic stress disorder as a psychiatric category', BMJ 2001 323:561-563; Sebastian von Peter, 'The Experience of 'Mental Trauma' and its Transcultural Application', Transcultural Psychiatry 2008 45(4): 639-651

Margriet Blaauw and Virpi Lahteenmaki,'"Denial and silence" or "acknowledgement and disclosure"', Int. Rev. of the Red Cross, December 2002 84 (848): 767-783.

Pauline Boss, Loss, trauma and resilience: Therapeutic work with ambiguous loss, (New York: Norton, 2006), 35; Pauline Boss, 'Ambiguous Loss Research, Theory, and Practice: Reflections After 9/11, Journal of Marriage and Family 66 (2004): 554.; XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Shari Eppel,'Reburial ceremonies for health and healing after state terror in Zimbabwe', The Lancet 360, 9336 (2002): 869-870; XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Phuong Pham and Patrick Vinck, 'Empirical Research and the Development and Assessment of Transitional Justice Mechanisms', The International Journal of Transitional Justice, 1 (2007): 231.

Miklos Biro et al.,'Attitudes toward justice and social reconstruction in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia', in My neighbour, my enemy, ed. Eric Stover and Harvey M. Weinstein, (Cambridge: CUP, 2004); International Center for Transitional Justice and the Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley, Iraqi Voices: Attitudes Toward Transitional Justice and Social Reconstruction, (ICTJ / HRC Berkeley, 2004); Phuong N. Pham; Harvey M. Weinstein; Timothy Longman, 'Trauma and PTSD Symptoms in Rwanda: Implications for Attitudes Toward Justice and Reconciliation', AMA. 2004;292(5):602-612; International Center for Transitional Justice and the Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley, Forgotten Voices: A population-based survey on attitudes about peace and justice in Northern Uganda, (ICTJ / HRC Berkeley, 2005).

International Center for Transitional Justice and the Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley,Living with Fear: A population-based survey on attitudes about peace, justice and social reconstruction in Eastern DRC, (ICTJ / HRC Berkeley, 2008):1.

International Centre for Transitional Justice and Advocacy Forum, Nepali Voices: perceptions of Truth, Justice, Reparations and The Transition in Nepal. (Kathmandu: ICTJ / AF, 2008).

XXXXXXXXXX; Pasipanodya; Aguirre and Pietropaoli, supra n. 11 at 3.

Susan Hangen, 'Creating a "New Nepal": The ethnic dimension', Policy Studies 34, (Washington: East-West Center, 2008).


Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC), Human Rights Yearbook 2007, (Kathmandu: INSEC, 2007).

Human Rights Watch, Between a rock and a hard place: Civilians Struggle to Survive in Nepal's Civil War, (Washington: Human Rights Watch, 2003).

INSEC, supra n. 7 at 7.

International Committee of the Red Cross, Missing persons in Nepal: The right to know, (Kathmandu: International Committee of the Red Cross, 2008).

According to the definitions of international human rights law only forces linked to a state can perpetrate disappearance (although states are obliged to investigate those perpetrated by non-state actors); here, the term disappearance will be assumed to also include cases of abduction perpetrated by non-state parties to the conflict in Nepal, notably the CPN-M.

Dalit: a self-designation for a group of people traditionally regarded as low caste or untouchables.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, The torture and death in custody of Maina Sunwar: summary of concerns, (Kathmandu: OHCHR, 2006).


XXXXXXXXXX Published report of research results.

International Committee of the Red Cross, Missing persons in Nepal: The right to know, (Kathmandu: International Committee of the Red Cross, 2008).

These include dalits, the hill indigenous groups, Tharu from the plains and Madeshis, residents of the plains considered to more recent arrivals from India.

UN Declaration on the Right to Restitution for Victims of Gross Human Rights Violations, UN General Assembly, A/RES/60/147 (New York: UN General Assembly,1999); International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (New York: OHCHR, 2006), (accessed 2nd December 2009).

Richard Bowd, From Combatant to Civilian: The Social Reintegration of ex-combatants and the Implications for Social Capital and Reconciliation, Unpublished PhD Thesis (York: PRDU, University of York, 2008)

XXXXXXXXXX (Methods paper)

Blaauw and Lahteenmaki, supra n. Error! Bookmark not defined. at 6.

Boss, supra n. Error! Bookmark not defined. at 6.

Boss, supra n. Error! Bookmark not defined. at 6: 551-566.

Pauline Boss, 'Ambiguous Loss: Working with families of the Missing', Family Process, 41 (2002):14-17.

Linda Green, Fear as a Way of Life, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 117.

Masten, 2001: 2


Boss, 2007: 106.

Government of Nepal, Draft Bill for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, (Kathmandu: Govt. Of Nepal: Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction, 2008).

Paul de Grieff, 'Justice and reparations', in The handbook of reparations, ed. Paul de Grieff (Oxford: OUP, 2008), 452.

Simon Robins (in review),'Ambiguous loss in a non-Western context: Families of the disappeared in post-conflict Nepal', Family Relations.


This argument is made in: Bell.

Simon Robins (in review), 'Transitional justice as an elite discourse: Human rights practice in post-conflict Nepal', Critical Asian Studies.

Nancy Fraser , Justice interruptus: critical reflections on the "postsocialist" condition, (New York: Routledge, 1997).


Bishnu Raj Upreti, 'Social exclusion and conflict', in The inclusive state: Reflections on reinventing Nepal, ed. Anand Aditya (Kathmandu: SAP-Nepal, 2007).