Nepal is home to 59 officially recognised groups of indigenous peoples (known as Adivasi-Janajatis), with distinct cultures, languages and belief systems. Collectively they comprise about 40 % of the population. Indigenous peoples are found across the country, in the mountains, hills and plains areas; the largest concentration being found in the east. Although indigenous peoples of Nepal range from small hunter-gather communities to those with an advanced urban culture, they are predominately concentrated in remote rural areas and mainly rely on subsistence farming for their livelihood.

Social exclusion of indigenous peoples in Nepal, along with other marginalized groups, has been recognised as a major cause of conflict and instability in the country. As a social group, indigenous peoples in Nepal are particularly vulnerable to poverty, with most experiencing political, economic, social and cultural marginalization. Many are affected by inequalities in income, education, health, jobs and political representation.

In the context of state transformation in the aftermath of over a decade of conflict in the country, the indigenous peoples movement in Nepal have been lobbying for a secular, federal state system, in which their rights to self determination, ethnic and linguistic autonomy are ensured, also through affirmative action and proportionate representation.

Convention No. 169 was ratified by Nepal in September 2007, making Nepal the second country in Asia to do so.1 This major step was the result of sustained lobbying and effort by indigenous peoples and activists in Nepal. In the process of political transformation, Convention No. 169 was widely promoted as a framework for dialogue on key issues of concern raised by the national indigenous peoples’ movement. Now that the Convention has been ratified, an enormous amount of work needs to be done to ensure its effective implementation. The potential of the Convention as a comprehensive development framework for guiding policies and programmes related to indigenous peoples is being explored, particularly in the context of consultation, participation, development, employment, occupation and ‘decent work’.

PRO 169 has been working, among other things on:

Training and capacity building of government and indigenous institutions on indigenous peoples rights;

Awareness raising among donors and UN agencies of potential of Convention 169 as a framework for development of indigenous peoples;

Mainstreaming indigenous peoples’ issues into technical cooperation projects; and

Developing a programme proposal for promoting participation and consultation of indigenous people in the constitution-making process in Nepal.

1 Fiji being the first, which ratified Convention No. 169 in 1998.