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CESR and allies assess the human rights impacts of hydropower project in Nepal

Using our Decoding Injustice research approach, a group of national and international organizations joined women from the Majhi Indigenous community to call attention to the human rights impacts of the Sunkoshi Hydropower Dam project.

In collaboration with APWLD and Nepal’s National Indigenous Women Forum (NIWF), CESR recently took part in the Women Human Rights Impact Assessment (WHRIA) pilot test workshop from May 27-30, 2024. This initiative aimed to address the severe impacts of the Sunkoshi Hydropower Dam on Indigenous Majhi women and their communities.

Using the Decoding Injustice approach and Feminist Participatory Action Research (FPAR), CESR and its partners conducted community visits, dialogues, and capacity-building sessions to gather crucial information, document stories, identify human rights violations, and map out avenues for advocacy. The WHRIA focused on assessing the human rights situation, particularly the right to participation, access to information, and self-determination, amidst the looming threats of forced displacement and loss of cultural heritage and bioiversity posed by the hydropower project.

The workshop featured participation from representatives of Indigenous communities, Prof. Attiya Waris, UN Independent Expert on Debt; Eloisa Delos Reyes, Program Officer at APWLD; and Yasso Kanti Bhattachan, Vice-chairperson of NIWF. Waris highlighted the need for innovative finance focused on environmental preservation and emphasized Nepal’s obligations to uphold Indigenous rights under international treaties.

During the activities, women from the Majhi indigenous community explained the life-changing impacts they would face if the project goes ahead. Sukumaya Majhi, a single mother who raises her son and daughter, stated: “I cannot imagine what life would be if we get displaced and I am separated from my people. I depend on the support of the community to raise my children – that’s how we are in the community. Community care, support, and security are pillars of our Majhi people”. 

“What is the point of land if there is no river?” said Mamta Mahji, a woman leader in the community.  “Our rituals and rites are intimately connected to the Sunkoshi river. It is our life, it is for the celebration of birth, marriage, and death. How can we honor our ancestors if we lose our river?”

CESR’s Executive Director, Dr. Maria Ron Balsera, stressed Nepal's duty to ensure meaningful participation of Indigenous groups in development decisions: “Like other Indigenous groups, Majhi women and girls have become involuntary shock absorbers of the convergence of crises: climate, debt, food, inequality, subsiding the state with their bodies through unpaid care work. Nepal must fulfill its human rights obligations and ensure the meaningful participation of indigenous groups affected by development and fiscal decisions. When issues of displacement arise, the right to self-determination and due process require prior informed consent, transparency, and access to information, as well as allocating adequate resources for meaningful participation in decision-making.”'

Eloisa Delos Reyes from APWLD and Yasso Kanti Bhattachan, Vice-chairperson of NIWF, also underscored the detrimental impact of the current global development model on Indigenous women and called for adherence to international human rights standards.

The insights and findings from this pilot test will be instrumental in demanding accountability and remedies for the affected Majhi communities. For more details, read the full press release below.