By A Staff Reporter Kathmandu, Aug. 10: Nepal’s Indigenous peoples have suffered a litany of human rights violations over the past five decades as a result of unfair conservation policies, a report said. A report titled ‘Violations in the name of conservation’ jointly published by Amnesty International and the Community Self-Reliance Centre (CSRC) on Monday highlighted how the establishment of national parks and other “protected areas” has resulted in tens of thousands of indigenous peoples being forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands and denied access to areas they depend on for subsistence. Focusing on the examples of Chitwan and Bardiya national parks, the report highlights how the enforcement of these policies has frequently led to cases of arbitrary arrest, torture, unlawful killing and forced evictions from informal settlements.
“Nepal is often held up as an exemplary conservation success story. Unfortunately, that success has come at a high price for the country’s indigenous peoples, who had lived in and depended on these protected areas for generations,” said Dinushika Dissanayake, Deputy South Asia Director at Amnesty International. “From the 1970s onwards, Nepal’s governments have adopted an approach to conservation that has forced indigenous peoples off their ancestral lands and severely limited their ability to access traditional foods, medicinal plants and other resources.”
Heavy-handed enforcement of these policies had subsequently resulted in numerous cases of torture or other ill-treatment and unlawful killings, added Dissanayake. National parks and other “protected areas” cover almost a quarter of Nepal, with the vast majority located in the ancestral homelands of Nepal’s indigenous peoples, the report stated. Decades after their establishment, many indigenous peoples who were evicted remain landless and at risk of further forced evictions from the informal settlements where they now live. They have not been provided access to alternative livelihoods or compensation for their losses.
Amnesty International and CSRC have documented several recent incidents of forced evictions and attempted forced evictions by national park authorities, including in Chitwan and Bardiya. In Bardiya National Park, some indigenous peoples have continued to pay a land revenue tax, despite not having had access to their land for decades, after floods and a change in the river course resulted in the land being considered as part of the national park.
The indigenous people have shared that they will once again be unable to access their land because land revenue tax receipts are required to claim compensation for crop damage, the report added. National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act (NPWC) 1973 remains the overarching law governing protected areas, which have severely impacted and dramatically altered indigenous peoples’ way of life. Due to lack of alternative livelihoods, financial hardship and inability to meet household costs, many indigenous peoples evicted from their land have been compelled to become sharecroppers (bataiya), cultivating other people’s land in return for 50 percent of the harvest, the report shows.
Locals interviewed in Banke and Bardiya districts reported that they frequently experienced exploitation by landlords, including having to do household work or collect fodder and fuel wood without payment. The report further added that arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other ill-treatment, and excessive use of force against the indigenous peoples for entering national parks and reserves had made the matter worse. Many of them have faced ill-treatment, and sometimes torture, at the hands of army personnel deployed in the parks. Some have died as a result.
“Nepal’s authorities must recognise Indigenous peoples’ rights to their ancestral lands and allow them to return,” said Jagat Basnet, Executive Director of CSRC. This must be accompanied by legal amendments that guarantee the right of indigenous peoples to participate fully in the management of conservation areas, added Basnet.