The forced eviction of Chepang indigenous peoples from their settlements in south-central Nepal by national park officials has been slammed by rights group Amnesty International.
The rights group said that authorities at Chitwan National Park set two houses ablaze and destroyed eight others with the use of elephants on July 18.
The attacks were carried out without any prior warning, Amnesty said.
The Chepang families, belonging to one of Nepal’s most marginalized Indigenous communities, lost not just their homes but also their money, identity documents and other possessions, the rights group said.
“Forcing anyone from their homes is an act of cruelty. To do so with the use of arson and charging elephants, risking lives and destroying the few possessions of an already marginalized community, is unconscionable and a human rights violation,” said Nirajan Thapaliya, director of Amnesty International Nepal.
“The Chepang community must be protected. Any further attempts to force them out of their homes must be stopped. The people who have been forcibly evicted must be given effective remedy including adequate alternative housing and compensation,” Thapaliya said. “Furthermore, the perpetrators responsible for these forced evictions should be held accountable for their actions.”
One of the victims of the attack told Amnesty International that the park authorities first began approaching their homes by grazing elephants on the land used by the Chepang community for farming, damaging their crops. They then set two of the houses on fire and unleashed elephants to charge at and destroy eight other houses.
According to information obtained by Amnesty International, the park authorities acted without even informing local government officials.
The members of the Chepang community who lost their homes are now in temporary accommodation in a school hostel nearby, and fear that other members of their community in Chitwan National Park could also suffer the same fate.
Amnesty said that this incident is the second such attack that Nepal’s indigenous peoples have faced in two months. In June, the authorities at the Bardiya National Park attempted to forcibly evict members of the landless Tharu community from their settlements there.
Indigenous Chepang communities depend on subsistence farming, without having access to their own land. Amnesty said that Nepal’s laws, which fail to meet international standards, currently only protect people living “on land that they own” and fail to ensure adequate safeguards against forced evictions of people who do not have ownership titles.