Nepal must ensure inclusiveness of indigenous and tribal peoples
Nepal has been a signatory to several conventions of the United Nations since it became a member in 1955. These include the International Convention on Political and Economic Rights. According to the Treaty Act of Nepal, these conventions are above the national laws of Nepal. In other words, these conventions will prevail if there is any conflict between them and the national law.
Nepal has already signed several conventions, including the UN convention on elimination of all forms of discrimination against women in 1991, international covenant on civil and political rights in 1991, UN convention on rights of child, 1990, UN convention on intangible cultural heritage in 2010 and UN convention on suppression of financing of terrorism in 2011. One of the most important conventions is that of the International Labour Organization (ILO) of the United Nations regarding Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (1989), known as ILO 169.
It is interesting to note that only 22 countries have signed this convention in more than two decades since 1991when it was first adopted. Most of the signatories (15 of the 22) are Latin American countries -Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Hondurus, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Bolivia. There are a large number of Red Indians called ‘indigenous people’ who constitute more than half of the population of Bolivia. Many of these people are marginalized and the Latin American countries with a large percentage of these people have signed this convention. There are also four European countries—Norway, Denmark, Spain and Netherlands—who have signed the convention. A small percentage of Norway’s population consists of Samis.
However, the only Asian country to have signed the convention is Nepal. None of Nepal’s neighbours like India and China have signed it. Such large countries as the United States, Canada and Russia and Britain have not signed it either. Australia, with a large aborigines and New Zealand with the Maoris have also not signed it.
Signing a convention or treaty also carries with it obligations and requires reporting to the United Nations to see if any progress was made in fulfilling these. Many countries require ratification post-signing by a competent authority which is normally the Parliament. According to ILO, this convention was ratified by Nepal’s Parliament and was submitted to ILO on September 5, 2007 by the then minister of local development Dev Gurung, who is himself a janjati (indigenous person). The speaker of Parliament then was also a janjati—Subhas Nembang of CPN (UML). Girija Prasad Koirala of the Nepali Congress was the then prime minister.
ILO INDIGENOUS AND TRIBAL CONVENTION
There are two key questions that need to be asked about ILO 169. One, were there adequate discussions about the pros and cons of signing the treaty in Parliament in September 2007? Two, when elections to the constituent assembly were to take place seven months later, what was the reason for not waiting for the new body to ratify the convention instead?
The government approved the categorization of Brahmins and Chhetris as indigenous people in May 2012, just weeks before the demise of the CA and following the nationwide strike called by them. The government agreed to call them ‘Khas Aryas’. Would ILO 169 be also made applicable to Brahmins and Chhetris (Khas Aryas) ? The government recognized them as indigenous people but not as tribals, which they themselves never claimed to be. On the other hand, the convention is about people who are indigenous and also those who are tribals.
The basic operating guidelines (BOG) prepared by international organizations, embassies, aid agencies and INGOs in Nepal including the United Nations, European Commission and Danida, Swiss Agency for Development and co-operation, among others, have recognized the importance of ILO 169.The entire business of foreign aid in Nepal seems to be influenced by this convention.
Many countries which provide aid to Nepal such as Switzerland, Canada, Germany and Finland have not been signatories of ILO 169 themselves. Is it not then surprising that they prepare a BOG based on ILO 169? Then there is also the issue of addressing the concerns of a third of population of Nepal branded as ‘others’ in the name of inclusiveness. British anthropologist Haimendorf has written that Sherpas entered Nepal from Tibet in the sixteenth century when Chhetri/Thakuri king Drabya Shah was already ruling in Gorkha. The Sherpas became ‘Indigenouspeople’ according to the classification of the Nepal government and the Brahmins and Chhetris became ‘others’.
More than half the population of the most backward areas in the country—consisting of hilly areas of mid-west and far west—are high caste Hindus (Brahmins and Chhetris) and the remaining are Dalits, according to an ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development) study. It is essential to ensure their inclusiveness and address their backwardness in the new Nepal we envision. It is ironic that all the prime ministers in the post 2006 era have been Brahmins including Girija Prasad Koirala, Prachanda, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal and Baburam Bhattarai—the same people who consented to brand the largest ethnic group in Nepal as ‘others’