A three-day conference of indigenous nationalities held from 29 April in Nepal’s western city of Pokhara has concluded issuing a 12-point declaration. The declaration calls for ensuring identity-based federalism with rights to self-determination and autonomy of Nepal’s indigenous nationalities so as to incorporate basic and collective identity and existence of indigenous while restructuring the state in new constitution.
The Nepali population is composed of 125 castes and ethnic groups. Nepal has adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ratified ILO Convention 169.
However, the Constitution, enacted in 2015, denies collective rights and aspirations for federalism based on the identity of indigenous peoples, making the indigenous peoples of Nepal amount to challenges. It remains to be seen how the amendments or the new wording of the new constitution and the drafting of new legislation will comply with the provisions of these international human rights norms.
Indigenous peoples in Nepal
According to the 2011 census, the indigenous nationalities (Adivasi Janajati) of Nepal comprise 36% of the total population of 26.5 million. However, organizations of indigenous peoples claim a figure of more than 50%.
The 2011 census included the population as belonging to 125 castes and ethnic groups, including 63 indigenous peoples, 59 castes, including 15 Dalit castes, and three religious groups, including Muslim groups.
Although indigenous peoples constitute a significant proportion of the population, throughout the history of Nepal, indigenous peoples have been discriminated against, marginalized, excluded, subjugated, dominated and exploited in terms of land, territories, resources, language, culture, laws customary and political and economic opportunities.
Main challenges for the indigenous peoples of Nepal
The new Constitution of Nepal, promulgated in 2015 amidst the controversy and the use of state violence against indigenous peoples and the Madhesi, has failed in its implementation.
This is due to disputes between the main political parties, the lack of meaningful inclusion of all groups in society in the drafting process, and the continuous protests of the indigenous and madhesis peoples.
The Lawyers Association for the Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP) has identified several forms of discrimination against indigenous peoples in the constitution, and the movement of indigenous peoples requires total modifications, from the preamble to the annexes, or a complete rewriting of the constitution in line with UNDRIP, ILO Convention 169 and the Final Document.
The Constitution has stipulated the establishment of two commissions: one for indigenous peoples and another for Tharus. However, it seems that these two commissions will lack power, without authority or judicial power or other significant power in addition to dealing with some development work, such as income-generating activities, interactive programs and capacity building of indigenous peoples' organizations.
There are still challenges for the indigenous peoples of Nepal in terms of participation in programs and policymaking processes such as the UNDRIP and the Paris Agreement of the UNFCCC due to lack of awareness, access to information, defense and the hegemonic mentality of the policymakers.
Possible progress for the indigenous peoples of Nepal
More than 100 indigenous and local individuals signed a memorandum on the expansion of roads in the Kathmandu Valley asking that the criteria drafted without consultation and consent of the indigenous Newars and other locals be eliminated according to their rights guaranteed in the Local Autonomy Law of 1999 and ILO Convention 169 and UNDRIP.
The memorandum also states that any development program must be carried out only with the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples in the municipality and warns of protests if the demands are not met. UNDP Nepal, in partnership with the National Federation of Indigenous Women (NIWF), has initiated research on the economic empowerment of indigenous women in Nepal.
On May 21, the repatriation and rehabilitation of around 1,500 people from the displaced Bru population of 37,466 who had been living in six camps in Kanchanpur, Tripura, started. The Brus will be sent back to their villages in Mizoram.