Human Right to Food in Nepal: Report of an International Fact-Finding Mission
Rights & Democracy
States parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international cooperation based on free consent.
(ICESCR, Art. 11.1 on the right to an adequate standard of living, including food)
The CESCR’s General Comment 2 on international technical assistance recommends that development agencies recognize the “intimate relationship… between development activities and efforts to promote respect for human rights.”65 The FAO Voluntary Guidelines, referring to Article 56 of the UN Charter, urge the international community to take action in support of national efforts to implement the human right to food. Unfortunately, however, development strategies promoted by the donor community in Nepal appear to focus on commercialization, not on human rights.
Donor Community Fails to Integrate a Human Rights Approach to Development
Interviews with donor country representatives reveal that a human rights framework for development assistance is not applied even though the UNDAF requires it. Foreign governments active in Nepal are focused heavily on the transition to democracy, institutional development, and the promotion of market liberalization. There appears to be insufﬁcient attention paid to the causes of the conﬂict itself—social exclusion and poverty—and little if any attention to implementation of economic, social or cultural rights as an effective remedy for sustainable solutions to the conﬂict. As one foreign government representative admitted, “Rights-based approaches imply long term reforms and attention to equitable access. Lack of equity is what led to the political conﬂict in the ﬁrst place, but it is not being addressed by donor countries.”
Some donor country representatives interviewed during the FFM alluded to pressure from the ADB to refrain from human rights approaches such as targeting. This claim was reﬂected during a discussion with an ADB representative in Kathmandu. He agreed that subsidizing agricultural inputs, for example, might be a positive approach for promoting food security, but objected to targeting those subsidies to the poorest or most food-insecure because it would be market distorting.
Without sufﬁcient donor recognition of the state’s human rights obligations and as foreign donors and international NGOs assume greater responsibility for delivery of emergency assistance, the capacity of the state to assume its human rights responsibilities is diminished. For example, the WFP operates a series of food-for-work programs in the far-west, mid-west and high mountain regions of Nepal and distributes emergency food aid to drought-affected people in mid- and far-western Nepal as well as in the eastern Terai.66 Despite the importance of emergency assistance in times of crisis, the FFM heard a number of complaints about the malfunctioning of WFP food-for-work programs and several donor agencies interviewed in Kathmandu expressed the opinion that WFP programs create dependency and destroy local markets. The focus on service delivery, they argue, has displaced the government’s role and contributed to the current weakness of the state in implementing its human rights obligations.
Lack of coordination of objectives, policies and programs between donors emerged as a crosscutting problem. Concerns were expressed about the number of development and poverty alleviation plans that exist on paper, with inadequate coordination or implementation mechanisms. Development assistance policy is coordinated through the Nepal Development Forum, whose members include donor countries, international ﬁnancial institutions and UN agencies. Meetings are held every two years; the most recent was held in the UK in 2007.
The OHCHR in Kathmandu has recently organized a ﬁeld mission to recommend how to integrate human rights into Nepal’s national poverty reduction strategies. In April 2007, the OHCHR hosted unofﬁcial visits by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Special Rapporteur on Racism, and two members of the CESCR. The visits addressed access to justice for violations of economic, social and cultural rights, access to land and productive resources, and self-determination. Their conclusions may inform the forthcoming UNDAF.
Flood Victims due to Laxmanpur Dam, India
In 1998, the Laxmanpur Dam was built close to the Nepal border in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The dam results in regular ﬂoods on the Nepali side of the border. Reportedly, the Laxmanpur Dam was constructed without the agreement of Nepal, and therefore violates international agreements between India and Nepal.
The FFM was informed that 36,000 people in Banke were affected in last year’s ﬂood. In Holiya VDC, the community leader said that 6-7,000 households were affected and 75% of crops were lost. The government’s only disaster plan was to tell communities to sit on their roofs or plant a large pole to climb. Every year, the local DDC and CDO appeal to the Government Disaster Committee as well as to local NGOs. Local people have established their own disaster cooperatives to save for times of ﬂood. In some cases, people were saved by helicopter in an emergency operation, but they were dropped on higher land where there was no food or shelter, so they could not stay there long. The community was very critical of helicopter costs, which they thought would be better spent on aid and long-term solutions.
Some people are now demanding compensation from the Government of India. They believe that India should negotiate a permanent solution allowing natural water ﬂow. The MoWR informed the FFM that an agreement had been reached with India in August 2006 to open the river to its natural ﬂow, but although the issue is solved on paper, nobody knows when or if the work will begin. Furthermore, the community alleged that the village had once been surrounded by the Indian military and they felt threatened if they complained.
Neighbouring States Fail to Respect Extra-Territorial Human Rights Obligations
International cooperation demands that states give adequate attention to the potential human rights impact of their domestic policies and activities in other countries. This is particularly true in the example of dams constructed in India close to the Nepal border. Without cooperation from the Government of India, it is unlikely that the Government of Nepal could effectively negotiate in the interests of protecting its people from the negative impacts of such projects.
In Chitwan, communities reported that Indian dams alternately ﬂooded land and blocked water ﬂow resulting in the inability of ﬁsh to migrate to spawning areas. This had a negative impact on both food security and livelihoods for Nepali ﬁshers. In Banke, it was reported that a series of Indian dams are having a signiﬁcant impact on livelihoods and access to food and water for cross-border communities in Nepal. Even as Nepal appears powerless to do anything about Indian policies, India exercises considerable control over what Nepal can do with its water resources. India has reportedly objected to Nepal’s plans to build dams and irrigation projects on its side of the border near Banke.
65 – See www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/treaty/comments.htm
66 – The WFP reports its current number of beneﬁciaries to be 400,000.