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  • Writer's pictureManushya Foundation

NEPAL - “Development should ensure rights of all citizens” - Newa youths

KATHMANDU, Nepal – Rich in cultures and traditions, indigenous Newa communities of Kathmandu valley and surrounding areas have been facing multitude of human rights challenges due to Nepalese government's irresponsible approach to development. Faced with forced evictions and loss of properties, lands and resources, among other problems due to haphazard road widening, construction of expressway and other infrastructure projects and unplanned urban expansion, the Newa communities have been struggling to defend their rights for years now.

Save Nepa Valley movement - a youth-led affiliation of activists has played an important role in those struggles of Newa communities from raising awareness through social media, public actions and other campaigns as well as in mobilizing the concerned communities for their rights, including for lobbying with various mechanisms. The movement advocates for alternative and comprehensive development that respects human rights of all citizens and includes preservation of heritage, stakeholdership of indigenous groups, local community building and protection of the environment instead of exclusive infrastructure building and urbanization that only serves the interests of a select few in power.

On 3 November and 17 to 19 November 2018, the Save Nepa Valley movement mobilized Newa youths from across Kathmandu valley for two trainings on “Human Rights and Rights of Indigenous Peoples” and “Human Rights Documentation and Advocacy”. Manushya Foundation supported the trainings organized in collaboration with Lawyers’ Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP) and Community Empowerment and Social Justice Foundation (CEMSOJ). Around 70 youth activists attended the trainings aimed at enhancing knowledge of Newa youth activists on the rights of indigenous peoples and issues thereof for Newa people in Nepal, building technical capacities of Newa youth leaders on human rights documentation and advocacy and strengthening the organizational structure and outreach of the Save Nepa Valley Movement. The trainings greatly benefitted from the invaluable participation of the Newa youth activists, who shared their local experiences and challenges, and contribution of indigenous rights advocates from the movement and supporting organizations.

Understanding of “Development” from one of the participant of the three-day training:

“Development implies quality of life for society whereby quality of life means conservation/protection of culture, tradition, religion, heritage and language as well as freedoms and rights of every individual prevails and society means both the diverse as well as native communities”

The three-day training began with the participants sharing their perspectives on “development” - how it should or should not be. Suraj Maharjan of the Save Nepa Valley movement then shed light on the challenges due to the ongoing construction projects in the lands of Newa people undertaken without consideration to their basic human and indigenous rights with major focus on four projects - illegitimate road expansion across Kathmandu valley, Kathmandu Nijgadh Fast Track highway, Outer Ring Road and planned satellite cities (new towns). Ashoj Maharjan of Nepal Sanskritik Punarjagaran Abhiyan (translated as Nepal Cultural Revitalization Campaign) presented further detailed account of concerns regarding the Fast Track highway and other infrastructure projects in Khokana town located south of Kathmandu. The concerns range from dispossession of agricultural lands to destruction of historical sites.

Prabindra Shakya, Senior Advisor of Manushya Foundation shared technical knowledge on the international instruments on human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Rights. He also discussed the importance of and methods for credible documentation and advocacy at all levels for asserting human rights when violations occur.

Indigenous rights lawyer with LAHURNIP, Bhim Rai acquainted the Newa youth activists about Nepal’s laws and policies related to human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples, including analyses of how indigenous rights are violated across the country often based on the laws of the country. Indigenous rights expert, Shankar Limbu then described further about various national and international mechanisms for human rights advocacy, including courts, National Human Rights Commission, UN Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures, with practical experiences of LAHURNIP’s engagement with those mechanisms. Laxmi Rai, an advocate with Indigenous Women Legal Awareness Group (INWOLAG) also shared about multiple forms of discrimination that indigenous women face and how indigenous women in Nepal have been advocating for their rights against those challenges, including with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Further, the youth activists tried hand-on exercise to fill complaints for submission to Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission for human rights violations in their communities or that they know of as well as to undertake initial documentation of those violations for further advocacy. They also discussed and proposed their very own solutions to challenges faced by their communities in the form of further plan of actions after the trainings.

Besides, more than just the knowledge in the trainings, the youth activists got an opportunity to connect with their energetic peers, discuss among each other about their challenges and solutions as well as learn about support organizations to assist them in asserting and defending the rights of their communities. After the trainings, the Save Nepa Valley movement plans to continue forming groups of indigenous youth human rights defenders at various Newa settlements across the valley and building connections among them to collectively challenge violations of Newar rights in the name of development projects of Nepal’s government.

For Manushya Foundation, supporting the trainings for Newa youth activists, who are the future leaders of their communities and have often been at the forefront of responding to human rights challenges of development projects, is crucial for the recognition and advancement of indigenous rights in Nepal. It also constitutes an important milestone as its first engagement in Nepal in its mission to empower communities for advancing social justice across Asia.

Understanding of “Development” from one of the participant of the three-day training:

“Development in my view is not only tall buildings and wide roads but development can be achieved only when rights of all citizens are ensured and development activities don’t harm them.”

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