RIVERS in Nepal – Lieselotte Viaene Lecture at Midwest University

Midwest University, Birendranagar, Sukhet, Karnali (Nepal) – 4 December 2022

The field visit to Nepal brought Lieselotte Viaene and our Nepalese colleague Ram Tiwari, an expert on transitional justice, to the Karnali River region of western Nepal. The Karnali River is known as one of the longest rivers in Nepal (507 km). It rises in the North Himalayan Ranges (Tibet), crosses the western part of Nepal and continues its passage through India, where it is one of the large tributaries of the Ganges River.

Professors from Midwest University in the city of Birendranagar, Surkhet district in the Karnali region, invited Lieselotte to give a lecture. Entitled «Rivers, Indigenous Peoples And Non-Human Rights: A South-South Dialogue» Lieselotte presented the work and progress of the RIVERS project. At the end, she opened the discussion asking: What does Karnali mean to you? What does rivers mean to you?

Some of the reflections and feelings of the attendees are collected below:

“Our lives depend a lot on rivers, if the river isn’t pure, it will even end our lives. To make it pure, we have work hard. The river water is used in agriculture, to build houses, for irrigation.”  Swastika Acharya

“I also grew along the river. We depend on river for agriculture, to construct house, to clean, to give water to domestic animals, We can’t live without water. Rivers also affect our rituals, personal hygiene; affect everything.” Aastha Singh             

One of the attendees showed great interest about the role of indigenous rights organizations.

“What are the organizations or agencies and international instruments on indigenous rights? What are such organizations in the national and international levels, and what are their powers, functions and duties?” Tirtha         

Other attendees from the University stressed the importance of the lecture which bring them an unknown concept “the rights of nature”.

“Nepal is an underdeveloped country already and Karnali is one of the remote and underdeveloped regions in Nepal. We are in a capital Surkhet of this province. If we look at Karnali, it is not just water, Karnali is also very rich in medicinal herbs. We have heard that if this region is promoted it will benefit us all but we haven’t actually done that in practice.

We had heard about human rights a lot but today it was new to learn that nature also has rights. However in Karnali where we women have so much difficulties to seek our rights, it is impossible to seek rights of the natural resources.

From you who are doing research, what we learnt is that the nature has rights. If we discuss more about this subject and raise awareness, it can help in the protection of the rights of the nature…

… Another thing, like you were saying about people living by the rivers. Who are the people living by the rivers actually? There are people who live by the rivers and we are ourselves violating the rights of the rivers. The rivers have their own areas. But if we go there to settle down, we are actually violating the rights of the rivers. Likewise for forests; if we don’t destroy them, we protect their existence and rights. In our Karnali province, you have introduced a new topic. I myself am human rights worker and I could hear about nature’s rights today. So I’m curious how much this is relevant and how this can be promoted further. The subject is new to be.” Samjhana



Text edition: Ana Paula García Nieto –RIVERS project manager (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid)

Notes and pictures: Ramkanta Tiwari – Expert in transitional justice

Ana Garcia