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Justice delayed, justice denied: A father's unfinished search for his son

The unsolved disappearance of five college students led one father to wonder, if a lawyer and human rights defender can’t get justice, who can?

Imagine if someone you loved disappeared one day and the police didn’t want to investigate. Imagine if you became a target for violence for wanting answers.

Who would you turn to for help?

In 2009 Jai Kishor Labh, a lawyer from Janakpur, Nepal, asked Peace Brigades International for protection so that he could continue searching for his eldest son, Sanjiv Kumar Karna, who had disappeared six years earlier.

Sanjiv was 24 years old on Oct. 8, 2003 when he and ten others were arrested by a group of security force personnel. Six were released, but Sanjiv and four friends —Durgesh Kumar Labh, Pramod Narayan Mandal, Shailendra Yadav, and Jitendra Jha — have not been heard from since.

Their families complained to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), initiating an investigation. Two years passed before they received any response: in 2005 the NHRC received a letter from the Nepal Army Human Rights Cell stating that the five men had been killed in a "police operation" on the very day of their arrest. But according to the commission, police have denied any involvement in the arrest of Sanjiv and his friends.

None of these claims have been verified and the young men’s whereabouts are still unknown.

Despite Jai Kishor Labh and one of the other families filing a First Information Report with the Nepal police in July 2006, which legally requires the police to investigate what has happened, no progress has yet been made.

Mr. Labh passed away of natural causes on April 18, 2010 without knowing for certain whether his son was alive or dead.

He fought for the truth right up until his death, despite his poverty, weak health and threats from authorities that something horrible would happen to both him and his family if he didn’t drop his son’s case.

“I am not worried that they will shoot me,” he told a Peace Brigades International volunteer a few weeks before he died. “I am worried that they will stage an incident with a car and crush me in the street.”

Yet he continued to pressure Nepal’s highest authorities for justice.

“I would like to call on the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and all the stakeholders that they take human rights violations seriously and make it a priority to investigate cases like my son’s disappearance and deliver justice,” he said. “Otherwise it will indicate to society that if a lawyer and human rights defender cannot get justice, then how can normal everyday people get it?”

Nepal as a country has already ratified many treaties and international conventions on human rights. The Nepal Treaty Act states that all international instruments that have been signed and ratified by Nepal should be applied to Nepalese law.

Mr. Labh believed that peace in Nepal cannot be established without justice. He told PBI: “If justice is not prevailing in Nepal, there can be no peace, and without peace, there are no human rights.”