ADVOCACYNET 409, July 1, 2024

Nepali Survivor to UN Security Council: Families of the Missing Hold the Key to Peace


Dr Ram Kumar Bhandari addresses the UN Security Council on June 12, 2024


In an address with major implications for human rights and peace-building, a Nepali advocate whose father disappeared during the conflict in 2001 has urged the UN Security Council to put family members of missing persons at the center of peace-making and actively help them search for their loved ones.

Ram Kumar Bhandari told the Council on June 12 that families of the missing and disappeared are single-minded in their quest for the truth, and that this makes them a major asset in rebuilding societies torn apart by war. He made his remarks during a Council debate on the protection of civilians and missing persons during conflict.

“We, the families, are much more than victims of wars and conflict,” he said. “Through our local influence and networks, we are the first to search when a person goes missing and to provide support and strength to each other. We put our lives at risk looking for any relevant piece of information. Families never stop searching.”

In spite of this, said Dr Bhandari, families are often viewed with suspicion and hostility. He urged governments to support the creation of family associations and produce “an environment in which families feel safe, protected, and legitimized in their search efforts is key to help us find our missing loved ones.”


Dr Bhandari has been a relentless advocate for families of the disappeared in Nepal since his father Tej Bahadur was seized by security forces during the armed conflict on December 31, 2001, never to reappear. He formed the Nepal Network of Families of the Disappeared (NEFAD) in 2009 and recently received a doctorate from Nova University in Lisbon. The Advocacy Project has partnered with NEFAD since 2014.

Dr Bhandari’s address is already reverberating in Nepal. His appearance before the UN’s top peace-making body also has implications for how the UN itself treats disappearances.

Up to now the practice has been viewed as a core human rights abuse by the state against its citizens, usually during peacetime. A UN working group that was set up in 1980 has asked 112 governments to explain 60,703 disappearances.

But the UN group has also exposed the limitations of dialogue. Of the cases submitted to governments, 47,774 remain unresolved. Dr Bhandari himself has taken his father’s case before the UN Human Rights Committee, only for the government of Nepal to ignore the Committee’s ruling. This has left him deeply disillusioned.

The recent debate at the Security Council – a body with powers of enforcement – could open up a new avenue for advocates.

The meeting was convened by Switzerland to observe the fifth anniversary of Resolution 2724 (2019), a Kuwaiti initiative stemming from the disappearance of Kuwaitis during the Iraqi invasion in 1990. 2724 is the only standalone Council resolution relating to missing persons in conflict. It formed the basis for a meeting on May 16 to discuss the seizure of hostages by Hamas on October 7 last year.

Switzerland is one of thirteen states that have joined a Global Alliance for the Missing and – much to their alarm – the problem is on the rise. Florence Anselmo, who directs the Central Tracing Agency (CTA) at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told the June 12 Council meeting that her unit recorded more than 40,000 new names of missing persons in 2023 and is tracking over 212,000 cases. More than 23,000 are from Ukraine.

While there are obvious differences between being detained by an enemy force on the battlefield and disappeared by one’s own government, Nepal shows that the impact on their families is equally devastating.


The ICRC estimates that around 1,400 Nepalis disappeared during the Maoist rebellion that wracked Nepal between 1996 and 2006. The government has offered compensation to 1,512 families. The UN group has transmitted 694 cases to the government.

While these numbers are far below the levels recorded in other countries, the debate over transitional justice in Nepal has been long and heated. It is currently deadlocked over a draft law which – in the view of international human rights advocates – will offer an amnesty for many offenders.

This dispute is a reminder of the tension between truth and justice that has long overshadowed the transition from war to peace. It is accepted wisdom that societies emerging from conflict will not enjoy peace until they resolve past abuses, but there is wide disagreement over how this can be achieved. Some favor truth commissions, while others demand prosecutions. Many war-torn societies have struggled to find the right balance.

Instead of locking horns over truth versus justice, Dr Bhandari urged the Security Council to listen to families: “Imagine surviving the horrors of a war, only for your father, mother, siblings or children to go missing. How do the people left behind cope with that tragedy and move on?”

Dr Bhandari also called on governments to offer practical support to families, many of whom live in rural areas and come from marginalized minorities like the Tharu people in Nepal:

“Families have economic, social, administrative, land and property rights, psychosocial and mental health needs that are real. What happens when the main breadwinner is gone? What happens when you cannot register your child in school because you need the signatures of both parents, and one is missing without any such legal status?”

Dr Bhandari’s third recommendation was to follow the example of Colombia and involve families in any peace process. Dr. Luz Martínez, Director of the Unit for the Search for Persons Deemed as Missing in Colombia, told the Council that her office has 111,640 cases on file. She also noted that families were brought into the 2016 Peace Process at the outset. Impressed, the government of Nepal has sent two delegations to Colombia to study the model.

“Resolving missing cases is central to peace-building,” agreed Dr Bhandari. “It is important that the missing be on everyone’s agenda as soon as conflict breaks out – the focus should be on preventing people going missing as much as possible.”


All five permanent members of the Security Council – China, Russia, the US, France and the UK – were present at the June 12 meeting to hear Dr Bhandari and the three other key speakers.

While some may find the setting incongruous, given that President Putin of Russia has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for kidnapping Ukrainian children, no one doubts that the meeting will have an impact in Nepal.

Dr Bhandari’s statement was widely covered by the Nepal media and closely watched by the government, which is seeking a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Mohna Ansari, a former member of Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission, told The Kathmandu Post that Mr Bhandari’s appearance could lead to greater scrutiny of Nepal’s record within the UN.

Ms Ansari also predicted that the Council discussion will breathe new life into the stalled debate in Nepal.

“Bhandari’s address will definitely build pressure to move the transitional justice process forward,” she said. “His statement has been officially recorded.”



Ram Bhandari’s full statement to the UN Security Council (June 12, 2024)

Families of the Disappeared Challenge Human Rights Watch in Nepal (June 12, 2023)

Daughters of the Disappeared Find their Voice through Embroidery in Nepal (August 30, 2022)

COVID-19 Devastates the Tharu People in Nepal (June 25,2021)

Remote Advocacy Produces a Local Breakthrough for Conflict Survivors in Nepal (July 13, 2020)

Families of the Disappeared Take their Case to the UN (September 23, 2019)

A Quilter’s Journey – The Bardiya Memorial Quilt Project (Video August 9, 2019)

Travesty of Justice in Nepal (December 19, 2016).