Chitwan National Park, Nepal (Image: greatadventuretreks.com)
Nepal is often praised for its excellent conversation of its land. More than 23 percent of Nepal’s total area is declared as protected area consisting of twelve national parks, one wildlife reserve, one hunting reserve and six conservation areas. As a home to uncountable different species of flora and fauna, Nepal can only be applauded for its conversation approach to keep the biodiversity alive. However, we cannot lose sight of the alarming flip side of the coin. As documented in the report ‘violations in the name of conversation’ by Amnesty International and the Community Self-Reliance Centre (CSRC), the country’s efforts to protect wildlife and the natural environment has come at a great price for upholding the rights of the country’s indigenous people. Amnesty International and the CSRC have reported that over the past five decades, the establishment of these protected reserves and national parks entail tens of thousands of indigenous peoples being forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands and therefore being deprived of their access to natural resources on which they greatly depend, such as traditional foods and and medicinal plants. With focus on the Chitwan and Bardiya National Parks the report underscores how the enforcement of these eviction policies have frequently led to cases of arbitrary arrest, torture, unlawful killing and forced evictions from informal settlements.
The establishment of these ‘protected’ reserves and parks force Nepal’s indigenous peoples to leave their land in search of other livable places with access to resources. As these areas cover almost a quarter of the country, with the vast majority located on the ancestral homelands of Nepal’s indigenous people, the peoples remain landless and risk further eviction of the informal settlement where they have been living since their first forced move. These peoples have not been offered alternative livelihoods or adequate compensation for their losses so far. Some indigenous peoples have even continued to pay malpot, a land revenue tax, despite not having had access to their lands for decades due to floods that resulted in the land being considered part of a national park, as they are hoping to eventually get their land back.
Another asset the indigenous peoples are being deprived of, is their access to food and resources. The National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act (NPWC) 1973, the overarching law governing the ‘protected’ areas that restricts hunting, grazing, tree cutting, land cultivation or forest use, has a severe impact on the indigenous peoples’ way of life. Due to the lack of alternative livelihoods, financial hardship and inability to meet household costs, these peoples are compelled to become sharecroppers, which implicates that they cultivate other people’s land in return for half of the harvest. However, this labor system is based on social rather than legal norms which leads to a reduction in the protection of Nepal’s indigenous peoples’ rights, therefore running a higher risk at serious human rights implications and exploitation.
The last risk the country’s indigenous peoples are running is the possibility of being arrested and detained for setting foot on the land where national parks have been established. The domestic legal framework lacks clear provisions defining and restricting the authority of the army officers often in charge of the protection of these parks, which leads to these officers abusing their power and using violence. As the protected areas are being militarized increasingly, this is particularly worrying.
“Despite being constitutionally-bound to uphold their rights, Nepal’s governments keeps failing to protect and empower the indigenous people. To repair the damage that has been done after almost half a century of practicing this coercive approach, the authorities must recognize Indigenous peoples’ rights to their ancestral lands and allow them to return,” said Jagat Basnet, Executive Director of CSRC.
“This must certainly be accompanied by legal amendments at guarantee the right of Indigenous peoples to participate fully in the management of conservation areas, and an inclusive and participatory process to agree appropriate compensation for the wrongs inflicted by Nepal’s authorities.”
News: ‘Nepal: Indigenous peoples the silent victims of country’s conservation ‘success story’’, Amnesty International 2021.
News: ‘Indigenous groups feel deprived of their access to land and natural resources’, The Kathmandu Post 2021.