Nepal: New report on protecting minority rights in federal systems
Nepal is a country of minorities: 100 caste and ethnic groups, eight religious groups and more than 92 linguistic groups.
Four caste/ethnic groups are the most advantaged and dominant in Nepal and rest of the caste and ethnic groups can be divided into the most disadvantaged and disadvantaged groups. Dalits have been exploited for centuries and have suffered from the worst forms of discrimination. Madheshis are excluded from all government sectors and have been treated as "outsiders" and "second class" citizens in their own country. Women, who number more than half of the population, have always been discriminated against and exploited in this patriarchal society.
The "one nation, one language" policy of the state has led to the extinction of some of the languages in Nepal. Non-Hindus have seldom faced religious tension; however, the Hindunization of the country has prevented equal status for non-Hindus in Nepal. Indigenous nationalities' rights are sacrificed for the aspirations of ruling elites and indigenous people are forced to live in severe marginalization.
The current proposals made by the State Restructuring and State Power Distribution Committee under the Constituent Assembly do have encouraging provisions for indigenous nationalities (IN), and some minority groups will have special, equal and other rights. In Nepal, federalism is promoted as a way to bring an end to discrimination and marginalization. However, there is a widespread fear among large numbers of non-sizable minority groups that the proposed design of federalism and its provisions could add another layer of marginalization and exclusion.
In March 2012, SUPPORT Nepal organized a Constitutional Roundtable on the Minority Rights Protection in Federal System in Kathmandu. Supported by Minority Rights Group International (MRG), the European Commission and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), the overall objective of the roundtable was for policy makers, leaders, researchers and practitioners to share experiences and successful approaches of minority rights protection in federalism.
The roundtable focused on three major elements: constitutional provisions for protecting minority groups; secondary legislation, laws and policies of protecting minority groups; appropriate approaches to 'benefitting all' in federal systems with a focus on dispersed and smaller groups. This report is a compilation of papers presented at the Roundtable.