Land tenure security and territorial rights of indigenous peoples have been threatened by land concessions in the name of mega-development projects and conservation of natural resources, water, and forests worldwide. In Nepal, the story is spectacularly the same – gradual dispossession of indigenous peoples (IPs) from their lands facilitated primarily by the state facilitating the entrance of the non-IPs into IPs territories and introduction of various policy measures as an effort towards maintaining the uniformity in land tenure system for taxation and land administration purpose. Now the bitter reality that portraits a bleak picture about IPs is that they continue to be landless, poor, and marginalised.
With this backdrop, the Lawyers' Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP), the Land Governance Working Group (LGWG), and the International Land Coalition (ILC) Asia organised the virtual multi-stakeholder dialogue on "Indigenous Peoples' Land Tenure Security and Territorial Rights in Nepal "on 9th August 2021 to celebrate the "International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples".
This virtual dialogue was organised with the objectives to share the indigenous peoples' movement towards securing their rights to land, territories, and resources. The dialogue was also aimed at sharing the existing policy provisions and efforts of the Nepali government to address multi-dimensional land issues with a special focus on IPs land tenure rights in the national context.
The dialogue observed an incredible engagement of indigenous communities and those who have been working in the land and natural resource sector in Nepal. Dharm Raj Joshi, Facilitator of the NES Nepal moderated the entire discussion. Indigenous expert Dr. Chaitanya Subba delivered a comprehensive presentation on the history of how IPs in Nepal gradually became marginalised and a minority on their own land. While, Janak Raj Joshi, Joint Secretary of the Government of Nepal presented land-related laws and policies of the government.
Dr. Subba shed light on the nature and cause of weak land and territorial rights of IPs in Nepal and provide recommendations to the government to resolve land conflicts from the perspectives of Indigenous Peoples. According to Dr. Subba, "land ownership or tenure security is the most sensitive issue for indigenous peoples which is worsened by ruling elite prejudices, by means of inheritance of feudal culture, legal complications and corrupt administrative practices." Land injustice is still continuing because of widespread impunity of perpetrators and increasing influences of land mafias and that 'equity concerns and social differentiations' relating to indigenous lands are of paramount importance to maintain social harmony. He strongly recommends that the right-based approach should be adopted in implementing land reform and management programs, including infrastructure development projects that harm the environment.
Dr. Subba further stated the territorial rights of IPs is prior (pre-state) ownership rights that is different from statutory/legal land rights which is inherent rights, primordial, inviolable rights. He has shared the international safeguards such as ILO 169, UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992: Article 8(j), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 1992/93 that deal with the territorial rights of IPs and recommended the government of Nepal accordingly to secure the territorial rights of IPs.
Mr. Joshi meanwhile provided the details of the policy frameworks with the puzzling facts that the national land policy framework does not recognize the IPs land and their territorial rights. However, the state has signed prominent international conventions with commitments to safeguard and promote IPs land and territorial rights. In addition, the national constitution also says that all citizens are equal before the state.
Beyond these two comprehensive presentations, there was an open discussion and two closing remarks. During the open discussion, participants raised concerns about the increasing violation of indigenous community rights to extract life-saving resources from rivers and forests as well as the continuous evictions from their lands, particularly in the buffer-zone areas of the country's national parks.
In his closing remarks Jagat Basnet, Executive Director of CSRC, said that indigenous peoples have been suffering from unjust treatments from both the state and the market which
have made it difficult for them to maintain sustained control over their land and natural resources. He also added that 'land rights are not only connected to their identity but also inherently connected to their livelihood system'. At this point, it is imperative that land mapping and its records need to be conducted and created in close participation with local communities.
Dinesh Ghale, Vice-Chairperson of LAHURNIP, claimed that the land issues of indigenous peoples are heavily debated with the state. The main cause of this is the priority of the state to control lands in the name of establishing various National Parks. Indigenous peoples are mercilessly evicted from their land. The state lacks properly coordinated efforts and following the provision of the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent while implementing various development projects. Lastly, he encouraged the continuation of this type of multi-stakeholder dialogue, which will reduce the conflicting claims of land between the state and indigenous communities in Nepal.