ILO Country Director for Nepal, Shengjie Li, spoke to Himal Khabarpatrika's Santa Gaha Magar about ILO Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and the challenges in implementing it in Nepal.
Shengjie Li: ILO Convention 169 concerns indigenous people, and 37 per cent of Nepal's population is made up of 59 different groups of indigenous peoples. Not many countries in the world have such indigenous diversity in their population. If you look at the decade-long conflict it is clear that the social exclusion of the indigenous people contributed to the war. This is why ILO promoted the ratification of this Convention for almost a decade and Nepal ratified the Convention in 2007. It is significant that Nepal is the first country to ratify the Convention in the South Asian region, and the second country in the Asia-Pacific region. There are a lot of indigenous people in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Philippines, but those countries haven't ratified the Convention yet. We hope that Nepal can use this Convention as a dialogue tool for the peace-building process.
But how satisfied are you with its implementation?
Ratification of this Convention by Nepal is significant. However effective implementation would be even more significant. It is always the case in Nepal as well as in elsewhere in the developing world that there is a huge difference between two legal framework and practice. ILO has provided technical support in preparing a National Action Plan on the implementation of the Convention. Unfortunately, the Cabinet has not yet endorsed the National Action Plan due to the political uncertainty. But different line ministries have gone ahead with activities, so I think there has been important movement on implementation of the Convention.
What does ILO 169 actually mean in practice for a country like Nepal?
Convention 169 emphasises several fundamental rights which the indigenous peoples should have in the new constitution, for example the right to be consulted and to participate in decision making and implementation. Indigenous peoples have their own traditions, culture and language and if they are not consulted or allowed to participate, these traditions are slowly lost. We need to protect their traditional occupations as well. Normally, people who live below the poverty line are socially excluded, so the Convention is also about giving priority to economic empowerment.
Which of these fundamental rights do you think are most important for Nepal?
All of these rights are equally important for indigenous peoples. On land reform in general there has been less progress. It is not only about indigenous people, but the people of the whole country. This is one of the areas the government should take action in. The government has achieved a lot in the participation of indigenous people in politics. There have been pilot programs introduced to protect mother tongues. But in terms of economic empowerment, there is no national policy on how to generate jobs and income-generating programs for indigenous people. We have been running a few projects like the one with the Ministry of Local Development in Ramechhap, where the minimum benchmark on jobs creation was set according to the proportion of indigenous peoples in the district.
Which countries have successfully implemented Convention 169?
In terms of using the Convention as a dialogue tool to stabilise the country, Bolivia and Guatemala in Latin America are ahead. The percentage of indigenous people in Bolivia is more than half the population, and the country has actually seen economic empowerment through ensuring indigenous rights. Guatemala is another Latin American country that has moved ahead.
What are the challenges in implementing the convention in Nepal?
Generic challenges for the whole work of development aside, there are some specific challenges. We have to ensure effective participation and meaningful representation of indigenous people in the decision-making process. Although there are rules and regulations to ensure a minimum percentage of the participation of indigenous people, in reality it falls short.
The second challenge is the formal endorsement of the National Action Plan on indigenous people. If there is strong political will it can be done. Another challenge is to get the constitution out within the May deadline and ensure that the rights of indigenous people are enshrined in it. If these rights are not included in the new constitution, this may create another conflict.
Do you think the draft preamble is adequate?
What has been written in the draft on the chapter on fundamental rights falls short of what is needed, it is not as comprehensive as it should be. Even the interim constitution doesn't fully reflect the issue.
"It will be a huge calamity"