• Indigenous peoples in Nepal

    Indigenous peoples in Nepal

    The Nepalese population is comprised by 125 caste and ethnic groups. Nepal has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. However, the constitution denies the collective rights and aspirations for identity-based federalism of indigenous peoples, and Nepal’s indigenous peoples are thus still facing a number of challenges.
  • Peoples

    36 per cent of Nepal’s total population of 26.5 million are of indigenous nationalities, according to the latest census. Indigenous peoples’ organizations claim a figure of more than 50 per cent
  • Diversity

    125 caste and ethnic groups together constitute the Nepalese population
  • Rights

    2007: Nepal adopts the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Nepal

Indigenous peoples in Nepal

 

The Nepalese population is comprised by 125 caste and ethnic groups. Nepal has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. However, the constitution denies the collective rights and aspirations for identity-based federalism of indigenous peoples, and Nepal’s indigenous peoples are thus still facing a number of challenges.


UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted


Nepal has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and ratified ILO Convention 169, an international legal instrument dealing specifically with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.

However, the Constitution of Nepal promulgated in 2015 denies the collective rights and aspirations for identity-based federalism of indigenous peoples.

It is yet to be seen how the amendments in, or rewriting of, the new constitution and drafting of new legislation will comply with the provisions of these international human rights standards.


Indigenous peoples in Nepal


According to the 2011 census, the indigenous nationalities, or Adivasi Janajati, of Nepal comprise 36 per cent of the total population of 26.5 million. However, indigenous peoples’ organizations claim a figure of more than 50 per cent.

The 2011 census listed the population as belonging to 125 caste and ethnic groups, including 63 indigenous peoples, 59 castes, including 15 Dalit castes, and three religious groups, including Muslim groups.

Even though indigenous peoples constitute a significant proportion of the population, throughout the history of Nepal indigenous peoples have been discriminated, marginalized, excluded, subjugated, dominated, and exploited in terms of land, territories, resources, language, culture, customary laws, and political and economic opportunities.


Main challenges for Nepal’s indigenous peoples


The new Constitution of Nepal, promulgated in 2015 amidst controversy and the use of state violence against indigenous peoples and the Madhesi, has by and large failed in its implementation. This is due to wrangling among the main political parties, a lack of meaningful inclusion of all groups in society in the drafting process, and continued protests by indigenous peoples and Madhesis.

The Lawyers' Association for the Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP) has identified various forms of discrimination against indigenous peoples in the constitution, and the indigenous peoples' movement are thus demanding either total amendments, from the preamble through to the annexes, or a complete rewriting of the constitution in line with the UNDRIP, ILO Convention 169 and the Outcome Document. Failure could, at worst, result in protracted ethnic and regional violence.

The Constitution has provided for the establishment of two commissions: one for indigenous peoples and the other for the Tharus.

However, it looks as if these two commissions will be powerless, with no judicial or other significant power or authority besides looking after some development work, such as income-generating activities, interactive programs, and capacity building of indigenous peoples' organizations.

There are still challenges facing Nepal’s indigenous peoples in terms of participating in programs and policy formulation processes such as the UNDRIP and the UNFCCC Paris Agreement due to a lack of awareness, access to information, advocacy, and the hegemonic mind-set of the policy makers.


Potential progress for Nepal’s indigenous peoples


During 2016, aggressive developments by the central and local governments of Nepal in collaboration with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), especially in hydropower projects, electricity transmission lines, road expansion, and hunting ground reserve areas intensified, and so did protests against them.

More than 100 indigenous and local individuals signed a memorandum on road expansion in the Kathmandu Valley calling for scrapping of the criteria drafted without consultation and consent of indigenous Newars and other locals as per their rights guaranteed in the Local Self Governance Act 1999 as well as ILO Convention 169 and UNDRIP.

The memorandum further states that any development program should be undertaken only with Free, Prior and Informed Consent of indigenous peoples in the municipality and warns of protests if the demands are not addressed.

A total of 23 committees of indigenous Newars were formed in 2016 to protest against road expansion projects being implemented by the Kathmandu Metropolitan City. The committees stated they would close down the Kathmandu Valley on 4 January in protest.


Case: Predatory restructuring of local bodies

As part of the process of implementing the new Constitution, the government has established the Local Body Restructuring Commission (LBRC).

Many indigenous peoples are worried about the suggested division of their local ancestral lands and communities into two or more village institutions known as Gaunpalika, or village councils.

The Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum, a political party of the Madhesi and Hill indigenous leaders, has had strong objections to the work of the LBRC on the grounds that local bodies should be decided by the respective provinces and not by the current central government.

During the process, no free, prior and informed consent was sought from the indigenous peoples in question, as required by the UNDRIP and the WCIP Outcome Document.

Nepal: help needed to reach remote indigenous communities affected by earthquake

The deadly 7.6 magnitude earthquake of 25 April 2015, with its epicenter in Barpak in Gorkha district, resulted in massive loss of human life and property in various parts of Nepal.

As of now the death toll is more than 8,000 with many more injured. According to government data, 134,864 houses have been completely destroyed and 92,971 have been partially destroyed. The United Nations estimates that the earthquake has affected approximately 8 million people, of whom 1.4 million have been directly affected. Moreover, there is a risk that the lack of sanitation, clean drinking water and untimely rescue operation may give rise to an epidemic.

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Nepal: Representation of indigenous peoples is almost nil

Representation of indigenous peoples in five constitutional bodies is almost nil. Until the dissolution of the first CA, regressive forces were silent. However, emboldened by the results of the second CA elections, they are now rearing their heads. They are not openly speaking against federalism, inclusion, secularism, republicanism and other progressive political agendas. Is Nepal going to lose all it gained? Given the attitude and activities of ruling political parties, it seems highly possible. In fact, they have already indicated it by ignoring marginalized and backward communities while fulfilling vacant posts of constitutional bodies.

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Nepal: Indigenous Film Festival focus on equal access to media

With this years focus Nepal International Indigenous Film Festival advocate for indigenous peoples equal share and right to participate in all forms of non-indigenous media without any discrimination. Inclusion in Mainstream Media It is necessary for indigenous peoples to be able to influence the images of indigenous peoples presented in media. Indigenous peoples should have a voice in how they are being portrait in mainstream media.

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About IWGIA

IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

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