Nepal’s journalists still targets of political parties

Two dozen journalists in Far West Nepal were forced to flee their towns and villages last week after threats from individuals linked to the Maoist party that rules from the capital Kathmandu.

Read this summary from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

This sort of political interference in Nepal’s media has been going on for years – practised by all political parties – and, sadly, shows little signs of improving. When I lived in Kathmandu (2005-10) I participated in a few of the numerous meetings between the international community and media organizations to try and find solutions to the problem but none of them seems to have had much impact.

Nepal was ranked 118th among the world’s countries in the World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday, a drop of 12 places from 2011.

“The ability of journalists to work freely in Pakistan and Nepal continued to worsen in the absence of any government policy to protect media workers.”

– World Press Freedom Index, 2012.

Why are Nepal’s political players able to target the country’s journalists with such impunity? Is it because the tiny country is such a minor player in the world that the international community doesn’t really care? Or the inverse: that because Nepal is situated so strategically – between China and India – and is used to playing the Asian giants off of one another, that it has no fear of threats from the rest of the international community?

Whatever the cause(s), it is beyond time that Nepal’s journalists were able to practise their trade without fearing for their lives.

Nepal’s leaders continue to protect their own from human rights probes

As Human Rights Day nears (Dec 10) Amnesty International has called for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human rights in Nepal (OHCHR-Nepal) to remain in Nepal.

OHCHR-Nepal’s mandate expires on Dec. 8, 2011.

More importantly, for me, Amnesty points out “Political parties in the current government and Constituent Assembly – parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) – vowed to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and also to create a commission to investigate disappearances that occurred during the armed conflict.

“Five years later, Nepalis who lost loved ones, who suffered serious harm are still waiting for truth and justice,” it concludes.

The full press release is below:

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

PUBLIC STATEMENT

6 December 2011

AI Index ASA 31/010/2011

OHCHR’s mandate in Nepal critically important to safeguarding rights, assuring accountability for past violations

The Government of Nepal, with support from the UN’s Office of the High Commission for Human Rights, should work more diligently to promote rule of law, resist political pressures to grant amnesty to war-time violators and make good on other important human rights commitments made in Nepal’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

This includes establishing fair and effective transitional justice mechanisms that ensure accountability for violations of human rights and humanitarian law, and a new constitution that upholds the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international humanitarian and human rights instruments protecting civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights.

Article 9 of Nepal’s CPA mandates OHCHR to monitor the implementation of these rights commitments and supporting national human rights institutions until the peace process concludes.

This important work has a long way to go.

Political parties in the current government and Constituent Assembly – parties to the CPA, vowed to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and also to create a commission to investigate disappearances that occurred during the armed conflict.

Five years later, Nepalis who lost loved ones, who suffered serious harm are still waiting for truth and justice.

End/

Supreme Court orders rights education in schools to combat violence against women

Another good decision by Nepal’s court. The challenge will be implementing it.

The day begins at a school in lower Mustang district, Marty Logan photo

Himalayan News Service
11 June 2010

KATHMANDU: The Supreme Court has directed the government to include human rights education in school and college syllabi to combat discrimination and violence against women.

“Include core human rights issues in school and college syllabus and launch awareness programmes to combat violence and discrimination against women,” a division bench of justices Bala Ram KC and Bharat Raj Upreti said in a verdict today, responding to a Public Interest Litigation filed by advocate Jyoti Lamsal Poudel three years ago.

Observing that laws and policies meant to eliminate violence against women had gone unimplemented, the bench argued that stress should be on the implementation of laws and policies. It said that collective efforts are a must for the protection of women’s rights.

The bench told authorities—the Prime Minister’s Office and the Cabinet, Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, Ministry of Law and Justice and the Ministry of Home Affairs—to take initiatives for the protection of women’s rights, stressing the use of media in the crusade for the protection of their rights.

“Partnership with NGOs will go a long way in eliminating discrimination and violence against women,” the bench observed.

Expressing dissatisfaction over the weak implementation of the Convention on Elimination All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) even two decades after its ratification, the apex court issued a five-point directive meant to fight violence against women.

The apex court told the government to strictly implement the CEDAW by promulgating an Act criminalising discrimination and violence against women.

Stating that social perception treating men as superior compared to women is a major problem, the bench called on the government to address this issue systematically.

The apex court also emphasised the need to impart vocational training to women and provide them jobs for their development, adding that such measures will help eliminate violence and discrimination against women.

The bench also told authorities concerned to do their bit to make sure that women do not abort their studies.

Toilets for girls boost school attendance

Washing for lunch, Surkhet district, Marty Logan photo.

* guardian.co.uk

Like many 15-year olds girls, Sabina Roka used to get embarrassed in front of the boys in her class, though Sabina’s worries were not about spots and trainers. Sabina goes to Simle School in Nepal and until recently she had to use the boys’ toilets because there were no girls-only facilities. This was not only embarrassing – especially when she had her period – but insufficient number of toilets can result in illness, high absenteeism, drop-outs from school and even an impact on the national economy.

“Before the school had toilets we used to go into the bush and hide under the bamboo,” Sabina told WaterAid, who built the new toilets, “sometimes the boys would see us and tease us. We were embarrassed.”

For students in the UK the very idea of going to the toilet in front of their classmates – boys or girls – would be simply horrifying but it is a reality for millions of children across the world. In a survey of 60 developing countries the report, Raising Clean Hands, by a number of non-governmental organisations including Save the Children, CARE and the World Health Organisation (WHO), found that two-thirds of school children in these countries do not have access to proper sanitation facilities. In Nepal, as in many developing countries, this has been driving students, and in particular girls, out of schools.

Hitting puberty is complicated enough at the best of times and yet when you don’t have private female toilets, things get even trickier. Sabina explains how during menstruation “we didn’t have anywhere to go and change our pads. After each lesson there is a bell and then we have to go to the next class. If you aren’t there in time you miss the class and so when we had our period we often had to attend one class and then miss the next.’ Many girls find it easier to stay at home when they are menstruating. This results in 10-20% absenteeism each academic year by girls.

It is not just embarrassment keeping bright female students like Sabina out of the classroom but illness too. UNICEF estimates that in schools in developing countries one toilet can be shared by more than 50 students and that can lead to a spread of diseases such as diarrhoea. The World Health Organisation estimates that 40% of cases of diarrhoea are picked up at school, and globally the disease is responsible for the deaths of 4000 children each day. The disease also leads to a loss of 272 million school days each year.

Things have gotten better at Simle School. WaterAid has built gender-sensitive toilets for boys and girls and provided training in proper hygiene for students and staff. This has led to a marked improvement in attendance and health. The report Raising Clean Hands shows that providing toilets for girls can result in increasing the attendance of female students by up to 11%.

“We really struggled before and it’s hard to compare then and now as there is so much improvement,” Sabrina said, standing in front of the new school toilets, “we feel very happy that we don’t need to miss classes anymore and that we can carry on with our studies .”

Another consequence of facilitating girls’ education is the impact on the economy. Research shows that girls like Sabina who are educated are better protected from exploitation and AIDS, less likely to die during childbirth and more likely to raise a healthy baby. The Raising Clean Hands report states that for every 10% increase in female literacy a country’s economy grows by 0.3%. Indeed the economic benefits of investment in sanitation have also been proven by reports from UN-Water which show gains of $3 to $34 per every $1 invested, leading to a gross domestic product increase of 2-7 per cent.

Taken all together, it would seem reasonable that there should be an investment in adequate sanitation systems for girls in schools. However, in Nepal, a country where 55% of the people live below the poverty line there is little money to build toilets.

The government of Nepal has recognised that proper sanitation is important to its country. The National Urban Water Supply and Sanitation Policy (2008) describe the need for sanitation as being necessary “not solely for reasons of moral obligation, but because it is in the best public interest to do so.”

It has also proclaimed its commitment to the Millennium Development Target (MDT) by setting an objective to ensure that in the next five years half the number of people who currently do not have access to toilets will get proper sanitation facilities.

The organisation Nepal Water for Health estimates that to achieve this goal they will need to build 14,000 toilets a month. The government needs international aid to achieve this but the amount of aid for sanitation projects has been falling. A recent report by the UN- Water Global Annual Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking water shows aid commitments for water and sanitation fell from 8% of total development aid to 5% between 1997 and 2008, a neglect the WHO calls “a strike against progress” .

At Simle school female students are enjoying a basic “luxury”: having the sanitation facilities to stay healthy and to remain in school. Not all female students in Nepal are so lucky. Toilets are one of the least glamorous of topics and are commonly ignored by school administrations, governments and now the developmental aid sector.

For students like Sabina, an investment in toilets can pay dividends, not only at a personal level but also to the wider economy, benefiting an entire generation. Now it falls to donors, international aid agencies and the Nepalese government to ensure sufficient investment in toilets, so that many more girls like Sabina can realise their potential with dignity.

This feature was written between 6 March and 30 April 2010 as part of the Guardian International Development Journalism Competition

Community Forests – a world first

15-20 percent of Nepal’s forests (roughly one million hectares) are managed by community forest users’ groups (known here as CFUGs). Now, a consortium of 21 CFUGs from Dolakha district east of the capital Kathmandu, and Bajhang district in Nepal’s Far-West, have become the first ‘group’ in the world to be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Members of a Community Forest Users' Group in Sindhupalchowk District, Marty Logan photo

Certification signifies that the groups have developed a management plan and adhere to guidelines concerning, among other issues, conservation, workers’ rights and the rights of Indigenous People. Certification also translates into increased international demand for the non-timber forest products (NTFPs – tree bark, medicinal plants/herbs, etc ) harvested in the forests. To profit locally from that demand, Dolakha’s CFUGs joined hands with established businesses, local individuals, and others to purchase three processing factories in the district. Two of the factories make handmade Nepali paper from the bark of the lokha tree, while the other processes wintergreen leaves to make essential oil.

Some of the former owners were also brought in as partners, and poor members of the community who harvest the NTFPs were given a percentage of the ownership, according to The Federation of Community Forest Users –Nepal (FECOFUN). FECOFUN supported the efforts of the CFUGs by, for example, preparing and providing guidelines on the protection and management of endangered plants, animals and their forest habitat. For purposes of certification, FECOFUN became the ‘resource manager’.

About 5,000 households, including some of the poorest families in the district, situated in the hills and mountains of Dolakha and Bajhang manage the 14,000 hectares of forests. Twenty of these households were made part owners of one of the factories in Dolakha – Bhimeswore NTFPs Production and Processing Pvt. Ltd. Its owners predict an annual return on investment of 14% to 50%. However, one challenge they face is a shortage of certified raw materials: to date they are only receiving 50% of their processing capacity. FECOFUN says steps are being taken to certify another 100 CFUGs which could then fill the demand.

***

There are mixed views on the impact of Nepal’s community forests. More information is easily available via a web search. Some examples follow:

Forestry Nepal
Poverty Alleviation or Aggravation?: The Impacts of Community Forestry Policies in Nepal
IPS article, July 2006

UPDATE – Bamboo schools

An article in today’s Republica newspaper reports that one of the newest bamboo schools, in Pokhara, is very popular with parents. They are taking their children out of more expensive private schools to enroll them in bamboo schools, which charge 100 rupees (just over $1) a month.

In February, Inter Press Service reported that a wealthy Nepali living outside the country donated 24 million rupees for the building of six schools in Nepal’s Terai (plains).

Bamboo schools

Uttam Sanjel and students at the first Bamboo School in Kathmandu, AFP photo

Here’s a link to one of many articles about a fast-growing project to build cheap schools offering quality education across Nepal. My wife Niku and I visited the founder, Uttam Sanjel, at his first school in Kathmandu recently. (He’s now supervising the building of the 9th school in Pokhara). I was impressed by his determination to remain outside the grasp of the big political parties, all of which want to claim him as their own. He thinks that now he’s attained a certain size – helped in part by donations from outside of Nepal – it’s getting easier to elude their grasp. I was curious to know how he plans to manage the growing number of schools, and students (26,000 currently). He seemed unconcerned about that.

We wish him continued luck.

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