Statement delivered by UNDP Country Director, Ms. Anne-Isabelle during the National Conference:Ensuring the rights of Dalits in the new constitution

12 Dec 2007

Statement delivered by UNDP Country Director Anne-Isabelle on the occasion of the national conference: Ensuring the rights of Dalits in the new constitution
Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Right Honourable Prime Minister, Mr Girija Prasad Koirala,
Distinguished Guests at the dias,
Ladies and Gentlemen

I am honoured to have the opportunity to address this inaugural ceremony of the National Conference on ‘Ensuring the rights of Dalits in the new constitution’. Some months ago, a consortium of Dalit NGOs approached the UNDP Constitution Advisory Support Unit for assistance to ensure that the voices of the Dalits are heard and reflected in the new constitution of Nepal. So far, the Dalit community had remained largely invisible in the constitution making discourse. We thus welcomed this opportunity to work also with members of the dalit community.

Today's national conference is the culmination of a series of five dalit regional conferences that took place between May and October this year, and were organised by Dalit organisations themselves in cooperation with the UNDP Constitution Advisory Support Unit (CASU).

CASU led by Prof. Yash Pal Ghai, started its operations in late August last year and is mandated to offer technical assistance to the various stakeholders involved in the constitution making process. It organizes both regional and national level conferences on various thematic topics and organizes high level consultative seminars and meetings regarding constitution making. The past four regional level conferences have covered the following topics: 1.Constitution Making Process in Nepal; 2. Restructuring of State and Federalism; 3. Human Rights, Diversity and Social Justice and 4. Justice Sysftem and the Constitution. The final one or the National Conference on Systems of Government is scheduled for 18 and 19 December 2007.

As you will hear from the members of the Dalit core team, the purpose of the earlier Dalit regional conferences was as much as possible, to reach dalits at the grass roots level, to bring them together to discuss, and share ideas into a view to forge a common front and agenda and to increase their capacity in advocating and claiming their rights. During those conferences, issues relating to the preparation of a new constitution were discussed with special emphasis on the concerns of Dalits. Each conference prepared a Declaration setting out the concerns of Dalits generally and those of the Dalit community in that particular region.

The major output of this last conference is a ‘Dalit charter’ which will bring together all the declarations and will be used as a lobbying tool at the Constituent Assembly whenever it convenes. It is important to note that this charter is not just meant for the Constituent Assembly, but will form a basis for a broader advocacy for Dalit people's rights in Nepal.

UNDP will continue to support creative ideas from the Dalit community, and we hope that the short term activities that we have jointly implemented will form the basis for a future partnership as well.

Lastly, I would like to thank the Dalit core team and CASU for organizing thisconference and the various donors including Danida/HUGOU, DFID’s Enabling State Programme, Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) and Save the Children US for providing financial support.

I wish you success for the two days’ conference which will be another milestone to ensure the rights of Dalits.

Thank you.