UN expert urges Nepal to act on commitments to indigenous rights

2 December 2008

An independent United Nations human rights expert wrapped up a nine-day visit to Nepal today by pressing its Government to ensure that the country’s indigenous people, who have experienced “a long history of oppression and marginalisation,” receive fair representation and resources.

“This is a critical moment to respond to the many challenges that indigenous peoples of Nepal face,” said James Anaya, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples.

“While I am encouraged by expressions of commitment by the Government of Nepal to advance the rights of indigenous peoples, much needs to be done,” he added.

The Special Rapporteur stressed that Nepal was the first Asian country to ratify a convention of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), which commits States to securing indigenous peoples’ distinct cultures and ways of life, rights over lands and natural resources, and the right to meaningfully participate in all decisions affecting them.

He noted, however, that although a number of positive measures have been planned for the economic and social benefit of indigenous communities, the Government needed to better focus its actions on securing the survival of distinct communities of indigenous peoples within a genuine multicultural political and social order.

“A long history of oppression and marginalization has excluded indigenous peoples from political representation and decision-making, full citizenship, and economic and educational opportunities; and their distinct cultures and languages have been continuously threatened,” said Mr. Anaya.

“Indigenous communities have been forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands and denied property rights, and they often lack access to justice. Indigenous women have suffered additional forms of discrimination and abuse,” he added.

Nepal endured a decade-long civil war that claimed an estimated 13,000 lives until the Government and the Maoists signed a peace deal in 2006 and conducted Constituent Assembly elections earlier this year.

In May, the nation abolished its 240-year-old monarchy and declared itself a republic and Ram Baran Yadav was subsequently elected as the country’s first President.

Although a significant number of Constituent Assembly members belong to indigenous groups, the Special Rapporteur argued for additional mechanisms in the constitution-making process that consult directly with indigenous peoples, through their own chosen representatives and in accordance with their own methods of decision-making, as required by the international standards to which Nepal has committed.

“Indigenous peoples’ legitimate demands for self-determination and autonomy need to be adequately incorporated into ongoing discussions about the federal structure that is expected to be embodied in the new constitution,” Mr. Anaya said.


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