From Victims to Advocates

IMG_2177

Ruby Shreesta and Devi Sunawar both lost family during the war. Today, doth Devi and Ruby advocate for justice, not only for their own families, but for the 1,500 families impacted by enforced disappearance.

Ruby’s brother was involved in Maoist party activity during the insurgency. In 2001, her brother was disappeared by the army/police (in the interview, Ruby made no distinction). Two years later, her husband was also taken at gunpoint into the army barrack. Ruby did everything to try to find her missing husband and brother, but she got no answers from the army or police. After her husband went missing, Ruby found that she was no longer welcome at her husband’s family’s home. They blamed her for their missing son. She left with her young daughter to the Maoist cantonments, where she often struggled to find food and water for herself and her daughter.

When she left the cantonments, she had to educate both herself and her daughter. She learned to read, and her daughter is now preparing for college. She speaks out on behalf of the missing, frequently giving interviews to talk about the continuing impact of enforced disappearances. But she is frustrated with the slow pace that the government is taking toward justice.

“The government keeps saying ‘not today, tomorrow,'” she said, “but it’s hard to live today. They say tomorrow we can do these things, but they are not taking care of victims today.”

Devi Sunawar also speaks out frequently against the impunity of perpetrators of disappearances. Unlike many families of the missing, she knows exactly what happened to her daughter Maina, who was taken from their home by army/police when she was fourteen years old. After a UN inquiry, Devi found out that her daughter was murdered after hours of brutal torture, including sexual assault, as police interrogated her for information on militants she knew nothing about. Even with UN support, Devi was unable to get anyone in the government to admit culpability for the death of her daughter, nor would they tell her where her body was buried.

Devi’s activism brought international attention to the case of her daughter, but like Ruby, she is angry that the government continues to ignore her and the other victims. She founded an organization to help girls and women who have experienced sexual violence. She wants to fight the stigma that victims face, and fight the current law in Nepal that excludes victims of sexual violence from war-related reparations.