In two separate incidents this month, Nepalese park rangers and soldiers guarding the Chitwan National Park have been accused of killing a man, setting fire to houses, and using their trained elephants to destroy homes.
The incidents are only the latest in a long history of alleged persecution of local and indigenous communities by park guards.
Raj Kumar Chepang, 24, a member of the Chepang indigenous community, died on July 22, 6 days after he and a group of friends were detained and allegedly tortured by soldiers after entering Chitwan Park, reportedly to collect snails.
On July 18, a group of park rangers allegedly set fire to 2 houses and destroyed 8 others using elephants. The houses belonged to landless members of the Chepang community, whom authorities have accused of encroaching on park property.
The army and national park deny the allegations.
Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission is investigating both incidents, and the army has announced an investigation into the death of Raj Kumar.
The army’s promise to cooperate with civilian authorities is welcome, but can’t be relied on, given its consistent record protecting alleged perpetrators and blocking judicial processes.
A group of lawyers have gone to Nepal’s Supreme Court seeking to prevent the eviction of landless families, unless the government ensures their constitutional right to housing by providing an adequate alternative location.
The petition also calls for accountability for officials found guilty of abuses.
Abusive treatment of local people by Nepali park authorities, including soldiers, is nothing new.
In June, park authorities at Bardia National Park attempted to forcibly evict members of the Tharu indigenous community.
Nepal’s national parks make money from conservation and tourism, but there are many allegations of indigenous and local people living near national parks being treated with cruelty and disdain.
The park authorities, and international organizations which support them, need to recognize that human rights must be respected and promoted. Any abusive treatment of people in the parks would be a stain on Nepal’s conservation record. (Source: HRW)