Will Nepal’s election to United Nations body benefit global human rights?

MartyBlogNepalHRC_211017

A cartoon from issue 702 of Nepali Times (11-17 April 2014). It depicts former Prime Minister Girija P Koirala (left) and former Maoist leader Pushpa K Dahal.

Nepal has successfully won a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, the senior-most human rights body among the world’s governments.

The Himalayan nation was elected for a two-year term during the recent UN General Assembly, despite a rocky human rights record at home. This includes setting up commissions to probe alleged human rights abuses during the 1996-2006 Maoist uprising that fail to meet global standards, and ignoring orders from Nepal’s Supreme Court to fix them.

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Menstruating girls forced to skip school in Nepal, and Canada

I am astounded. One of the first items I posted on this blog, in 2010, was about girls’ toilets in schools in Nepal and other ‘developing’ countries. It described how the lack of designated toilets for girls in many schools meant that once they reached the age of menstruation, girls would stay home when they had their periods.

Today I read that in Canada’s province of Saskatchewan, girls in some northern communities are staying home from school because they can’t afford sanitary pads or medicine when they are menstruating. The CBC article lacks details, but I’m assuming that some, or all, of those communities are “reserves” where many of Canada’s Indigenous People live. (The article does mention “First Nations” communities).  Continue reading

Frustration and despair in Nepal

During my recent trip to Nepal I couldn’t resist the invitation to write an article for my former employer, Nepali Times, about my impressions on returning to the country after nearly 5 years.

As yet another deadline (Jan. 22) approaches to write a new constitution, my feelings weren’t positive.

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.

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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.

Human rights and impunity in Nepal

A group of interesting articles in today’s Republica newspaper. (Myrepublica is the online site).

The first is an interview with the head of the UN human rights office in Nepal (my former boss – I worked at OHCHR-Nepal from 2007 to June, 2009).

In the interview Richard Bennett reiterates that the government and Maoists are doing nothing in response to multiple allegations of human rights abuses during and after the conflict (1996-2006), in essence strengthening the climate of impunity in Nepal.

The second article is a report that one of the accused in one of Nepal’s best-known cases of human rights abuse during the conflict – the case of Maina Sunuwar – is working in a UN peacekeeping mission.

The third, and headline article in the paper quotes the US Embassy in Kathmandu saying that the US will withdraw financial support to Nepal if the proposed Chief of Army staff is appointed without having undergone a thorough, independent review of allegations that he was responsible for human rights violations during the conflict.

I have said for some time now that it won’t be moral suasion that forces Nepal’s government to respond to such allegations and that hitting their bottom line would be more effective.