On 23 May 2012, JuRI-Nepal (Justice and Rights Institute, Nepal), in collaboration with UNDP/SPCBN, convened an interaction program on “Federalism and Human Rights in New Constitution”. The interaction program was attended by 120 participants including lawyers, human rights activists, law students and members of the civil society.
Welcoming the participants, JuRI-Nepal General Secretary Advocate Madhav Kumar Basnet also highlighted the objective of the program to offer an interactive platform for multi-cultural stakeholders and seek consensus among the stakeholders on contentious constitutional issues related to Federalism and Human Rights.
In order to offer a solid basis for the discussion program, a short presentation on human rights perspective of federalism in Nepal was delivered by JuRI-Nepal Chairperson Advocate Raju Prasad Chapagai and Executive Director of NAVIN, Advocate Prasuram Upadhyay. The presentation reflected on numerous federalism related human rights issues and other key issues including the number, naming and delimitation of provinces, right to local self-governance, right to self-determination, political preferential rights, protection of minority and guarantee of independent judicial check against executive and legislative excesses at all levels from the perspective of Nepal's international human rights obligations.
The discussion was chaired by Senior Advocate Bipulendra Chakrabarty. Rohan Edrisinha, International Project Manager of UNDP/SPCBN, Prof. Krishna Khanal, Mr. Sushil Paykurel and Mr. Mukta Singh Lama were among the key speakers at the program.
Mr.Rohan Edrisinha viewed that the federalism should be utilized to strengthen the national integrity and unity..
Referring to comparative experiences, Mr. Edrisinha also emphasized the proper understanding of the difference between identity-based and identities-based federalism. He shared that there is an incredible need to understand federalism being both shared rule and self rule also by reflecting his own home country Srilanka's experience.Expressing his dissatisfaction over ongoing discourse of federalism, Prof. Khanal was of the view that ethnic federalism is different than the federalism that is based on identity as one of the grounds. He also concerned over failure of top political leaders towards synthesizing opposing aspirations of communities in relation to federalism.
Speaking at the program, Mr. Pyakurel highlighted the importance of basing the federalism on human rights standards. He viewed that the human rights principles and standered should be fully complied with while crafting the constitutional languages related to federalism related rights including preferential rights.
Referring to the paper presented at the program, Mr. Mukta Singh Lama underscored the need of strengthening equality and non-discrimination regime including through explicitly providing for right to substantive equality. He was also of the view that the constitutional recognition of customary legal system is a must subject to universal human rights. According Mr.Lama, equating the identity-based naming of the provinces and a provision of certain preferential rights for ethnic community with the ethnic federalism is wrong.
The entire panelists were on the same board that there should be adequate constitutional guarantees of the local-self governance. There were a significant number of interventions from the floor in relation to ethnic federalism, identify and application of human rights. The panelists responded the questions raised by the panelists.
Wrapping up the discussions, the Chair stressed the need of strengthening local self-governance within the federal structure. He also highlighted the reasons why federalism can be a solution to longstanding social and economic problems in Nepal.
JuRI-Nepal Secretary Bishnu Prasad Pokharel extended the vote of thanks on behalf of the organizers. Advocate Dip Magar moderated the program.