Madhesh: Disenfranchised in Nepal; UNPO Report
The UNPO has submitted a report to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for consideration of the 37th Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. The report focuses on the recent developments in Nepal with regards to civil and political rights of the Madheshi. In this context, it sheds light on the ability of the Madheshi people to participate in public affairs and the democratic process in Nepal on an equal basis with the rest of society. The report urges the government of Nepal to revise the constitution to allow for equal citizenship, guarantee true equality in representation across Nepal and to cease the suppresion of people defending their right to self-determination through nonviolent means.
The Madheshi are the inhabitants of the Terai region in the south of Nepal at the foothill of the Himalayas on the border to India. The region distinguishes itself from the rest of the country by its plain terrain with subtropical climate, in contrast to the high mountain lands inhabited by the hill people of Nepal. The region is inhabited by 50.3% of Nepal’s total population of different ethnicities, many of which share cultural, linguistic and social similarities with Northern Indians rather than with Nepalis.
Constitutional Reform: the promulgation of the new constitution in 2015 enacted sweeping reforms of the political structure of Nepal. These changes were widely opposed by many within the Madhesh community given the multiple number of unresolved issues, including issues related to the political map of Nepal and the citizenship rights of Madheshi people, as well as the implications that these issues would have on the self-determination rights of the h people, including their rights to public participation.
Political representation: one of the most important issues related to the reforms is the lack of political representation for the Madheshi. While legally accorded equal rights to public participation, various structural features of the Nepali Constitutional Order result in an effective disenfranchisement. Specifically, restrictive citizenship rights, an unfair political map, and repressive government tactics greatly limit the ability of the Madhesi people to have their voices heard in Nepal.
With regards to citizenship, the Madheshi have long been stigmatized and discriminated against in Nepal as a result of their perceived ties to India. They have born the brunt of long-standing fear by the government of Nepal of ethnic groups living in India migrating into Nepal and changing the ethnic composition of the country.
Furthermore, the political participation of the Madhesi is heavily watered down in Nepal. The 2015 Constitution created a Federal structure in Nepal. Such a structure, if reasonably and fairly applied could have served as a strong force for granting greater political participation and self-determination rights for the historically- marginalized Madheshi community. The 2015 Constitution, however, failed significantly in this regard.
Moreover, beyond the legal and constitutional limitations on the right to equal participation in the Nepal, the government of Nepal is using repressive tactics with the aim to restrictthe basis on which the members of the Madheshi community are allowed to participate in politics.
The report urges the government of Nepal to revise the constitution to allow for equal citizenship, guarantee true equality in representation across the country and cease any and all activities suppressing people for non-violently seeking self-determination.