Nepal's Indigenous peoples have suffered a litany of human rights violations over the past five decades as a result of abusive conservation policies, said Amnesty International and the Community Self-Reliance Centre in a new report published today.

The report 'Violations in the Name of Conservation', documents 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 their 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 has subsequently resulted in numerous cases of torture or other ill-treatment and unlawful killings."

National parks and other protected areas cover almost a quarter of Nepal, with the vast majority located in the ancestral homelands of indigenous peoples. Decades after their establishment, many Indigenous people who were evicted remain landless and at risk of further forced evictions from the 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. On 18 July 2020, authorities at CNP forcibly evicted 10 families from the Chepang community, who had been displaced due to floods and landslides and were living in a buffer zone - an area designated to provide local people with access to forest resources - outside the park boundary.

Amnesty International and CSRC found that the park had given the families a verbal notice only a week before the eviction, contrary to international standards and requirements under Nepal's new Housing Act. An official investigation into the incident was launched by the Ministry of Forests and Environment later that month, but despite repeated requests, Amnesty International and CSRC have not been able to obtain information about the results of the investigation.

In Bardiya National Park, some indigenous peoples have continued to pay malpot, a land revenue tax, despite not having had access to their land for decades, after floods and a change in the course of the river resulted in the land being considered part of the national park. They told Amnesty International and CSRC that they did so in the hope that they would once again be able to access their land, and because malpot receipts are required to claim compensation for crop damage.

The National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1973 remains the overarching law governing protected areas. The law restricts hunting, grazing, tree cutting, land cultivation or forest use, and bans all building in a national park or wildlife reserve, measures which have severely impacted and dramatically altered Indigenous peoples' way of life.

Apart from those living in Buffer Zones with access to Buffer Zone forests, Indigenous people who have resettled outside the Buffer Zones are barred from visiting national parks, leaving people already deprived of access to their homes, land and other forest resources to fend for themselves and pay costs they can ill afford, potentially resulting in food insecurity and health and housing concerns, said the report.

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.

A version of this article appears in the print on August 10 2021, of The Himalayan Times.