Dissertation fieldwork inspires side project on human rights

Friday, December 16, 2011 - 10:32am

Shaunna Barnhart contributed a chapter on “Advancing Human Rights through Community Forestry in Nepal” to the book, Forests and People: Property, Governance, and Human Rights, published in 2011 by Earthscan.


Download a PDF of the chapter here.


Barnhart was conducting fieldwork in Jhapa, Nepal, in the fall of 2007 for her dissertation on environmental governance at the intersection of community forestry and biogas in Nepal, when she says she “began to make connections between the varied activities of the community forest user groups with whom I was working and human rights.”


Although “human rights” was outside the original scope of Barnhart’s research, it evolved as a side project.


In May 2009, she was invited to present a paper at University of California at Berkeley workshop, “Towards a Rights-Based Agenda in International Forestry?” that was being organized by the book editors, Thomas Sikor and Johannes Stahl.


Barnhart’s paper, “A Right to Resources, A Right to Dignity: Community Forestry and the Promotion of Human Rights” based on her observations during fieldwork became chapter 6. The case she outlines in this chapter is important because it demonstrates that what constitutes a human right “can be locally defined and locally implemented; it need not be a universal decree nor stem only from a centralized government system. Community-based action can effectively work towards creating more inclusive futures and a life with dignity for all,” she explains.


“The connection was so obvious to me, yet little has been written about this specifically. I decided to draw attention to successful community forestry as a platform for demanding and ensuring a broader range of human rights based on the data I had collected during fieldwork,” Barnhart says. “This is important to me because I believe that every human being has a basic right to live a full life with dignity. Ensuring human rights and a life with dignity is the responsibility of every individual; not just those who work in a centralized bureaucracy.”