Tribes to raise flag in Geneva

The world will be watching from this week as the United Nations human rights body evaluates Nepal’s unelected palace government but many of this nation’s indigenous people will have one eye focused on a separate meeting. The Commission on Human Rights is expected to gauge the steps taken by the regime of King Gyanendra to improve human rights since 2005. Member nations decided to install a rights office in Kathmandu to monitor violations that increased after the monarch seized power on February 1, 2005.

The commission in Geneva will base its analysis on an extra-long report prepared by Nepal office representative Ian Martin. But missing from that assessment is consideration of rights violations against indigenous people, according to one organisation. “The government and other human rights organisations are submitting reports but they are excluding violations against indigenous people so we are raising these issues,” says Shankar Limbu, president of the Lawyers Association for the Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP). Nepal recognises 59 such “nationalities” that make up 37 per cent of the 25 million people.

“There are a large number of indigenous people being killed and abducted; some are used as human shields. None of the rights groups are raising this issue,” said Limbu in a meeting last Friday. They will send the paper to the UN’s special rapporteur for the rights of indigenous peoples, who will submit it to a special session of the six-week-long Commission that opens Monday.

The impoverished mid-western hills from where the Maoists emerged with their guns a decade ago are home to a large indigenous population, which is said to comprise a disproportionate fraction of rebel forces (6,000-7,000 full-time fighters and 20,000-25,000 militia, according to 2005 army estimates). Rebel leaders have carefully couched their discourse in the language of liberation for tribal peoples, along with freedom for women and Dalits.

For LAHURNIP, the international community is “very important.” “The government doesn’t listen to the Nepali public very much so the international voice can have an impact. That’s why we’re submitting this report,” Limbu said. Many other rights groups are expected to attend the meeting to pressure members to take stronger action against the government.

Late in 2005 the Nepal office of the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) criticised the government’s efforts to reduce poverty among indigenous people. It accused the authorities, and Nepal’s large donor community, of: “insufficient awareness of indigenous issues and their specific experience of discrimination; lack of development and under-funding of appropriate institutional structures and lack of participation and consultation of indigenous peoples in the design and implementation of poverty reduction and development initiatives”.

LAHURNIP aims to get government to ratify the ILO’s Convention 169 that calls on states to promote and protect the rights of indigenous people. While various past governments have taken steps to improve the lives of indigenous peoples, LAHURNIP argues that such provisions, like providing mother tongue education, should be entrenched in law as

rights so that they cannot be easily removed. — IPS