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Monday, June 27, 2011

No indigenous people in Bangladesh!

Published On: 2011-05-28

Govt official tells UN
Staff Correspondent

Government representatives at a United Nations special session have denied existence of indigenous people in Bangladesh.

[[Iqbal Ahmed, first secretary of the Bangladesh Mission in New York]]
They also protested a UN study report that says the government has not done enough to implement the Chittagong Hill Tracts peace accord.

Iqbal Ahmed, first secretary of the Bangladesh Mission in New York, on Thursday made the comment during the session on the 1997 CHT peace deal signed during the then Awami League government to restore calm in the hills.

Lars Anders Baer, special rapporteur of UN, presented the study report titled “Status of implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997.”

"Bangladesh does not have any indigenous population,” said Iqbal Ahmed following the presentation, according to a press release of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS).

“The accord has nothing to do with indigenous issues and therefore, the government of Bangladesh reiterates its position that the forum, which is mandated to deal with indigenous issues, need not discuss issues related to the CHT peace accord."

The UN report recommended, among others, developing “a mechanism to strictly monitor and screen the human rights records of [Bangladesh] army personnel prior to allowing them to participate in peacekeeping operations under the auspices of the United Nations."

While working on the report, Lars Anders met with the CHT civil administration and cabinet members including the foreign minister and CHT affairs minister, law minister and land minister.

He also submitted the report to the government but did not get any response, the press release added.

"We urge upon the UN forum to dedicate its valuable time to discuss issues related to millions of indigenous people all over the world and not waste time on issues politically concocted by some enthusiastic quarters with questionable motives," said Iqbal.

After his comment, government delegations from Denmark and Guatemala, representatives of international indigenous population and international human rights groups emphasised that Bangladesh has not done enough to implement the peace deal.

"Failure to implement the peace accord could cause renewed instability in the region. Denmark would like to encourage the government of Bangladesh to set up a roadmap with a timeframe to implement the remaining parts of the accord,” said Steen Hansen, representative of Danish government.

A high-level delegation led by state minister for CHT affairs Dipankar Talukdar cancelled the trip to New York at the last minute.


INDIGENOUS PEOPLE: Chakma Raja decries non-recognition

Sat, May 28th, 2011 8:39 pm BdST

New York, May 28 ( — The Chakma Raja has condemned Bangladesh's denying recognition to indigenous people.

"The Bangladesh government is one of the few in the world which officially denies the existence of indigenous people within its borders," said Raja Devasish Roy, who led a 12-strong team of indigenous people to the 10th session of the UN Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues in New York.

At a press briefing after the end of 12-day summit on Friday, he also said using the term "tribal people" or "others" was insulting and inaccurate for the indigenous people as well as many delegates of the session, according to the official UN website.

Raja Devasish, however, presented examples of international laws — Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and related International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions — which made references to indigenous peoples "by any name".

He said. "Governments may use different terminology, but this does not change international law."

Iqbal Ahmed, first secretary of the Bangladesh Mission in the United Nations at the session, said Bangladesh had no indigenous population and claimed that "forum did not have any locus standi in discussing issues related to the accord".

Stressing that Bangladesh did not, in fact, have an indigenous population, he suggested that forum members tended to consider the words "indigenous" and "tribal" or "ethnic minorities" as synonymous, which was not the case.

He said, "For the first time, the government is actively considering to recognise the distinctive identity of ethnic minorities in the country's constitution."

On Apr 27, prime minster Sheikh Hasina at a press conference said the same thing: "No indigenous,but the Santals. The rights of undeveloped and tribal people are there in the constitution."

Iqbal, however, did not even name the community living sprinkled in different parts of the country.

But the word "indigenous" or "Adivasi" was used by the prime minister and her government top brass on several occasions.

Iqbal's comments, apparently his government's position, came under strong criticism when rights activist and former caretaker government advisor Sultana Kamal asked the government to clarify who are indigenous and who are not.

According to Sultana, executive director of Ain O Salish Kendra, an NGO that provides legal support, indigenous people are those that have their own customs, rituals and culture.

She asked, "Should we now ask if we came before them [indigenous people] or not? Why did she (the prime minister) only recognise the Santals? What about the others?"

When Bangladesh is going to see the 15th amendment to its constitution, Raja wants it revised also for recognising indigenous people crucial.

"Since such recognition has not been seen until the last decade or so, discussion of constitutional amendments and revisions was crucial," he told reporters.

Another UNFPII member Megan Davis at the press conference noted that Bangaldesh, Kenya, New Zealand, Guyana and Australia were among those countries who were not revisiting their constitutions in order to better accommodate "indigenous peoples".

Raja Devasish agreed with Davis, who also said that many countries were working to bring changes in their constitutions, and said that the lagging countries could follow the successful states as models for their governments.

"These examples are achievable and pragmatic," he said, according to the website.

Different indigenous organisations also met co-chairman of the constitution review committee Suranjit Sengupta on several occasions to drive home their point on constitutional recognition.


Bangladesh says has no ‘indeginous population’

Muktasree Chakma Sathi
Bangladesh said that there was no ‘indigenous population’ in the country and raised objection to the study of the UN Permanent Forum on Indeginous Issues on the status of the implementation of the CHT Accord of 1997 claiming that the accord had nothing to do with ‘indigenous issues.’

The country clarified its stand over indeginous isses in the ongoing 10th session of the UN forum at the UN headquarters in New York on May 25, said the International Jumma Organisation.

Iqbal Ahmed, the first secretary of the Bangladesh mission to the United Nations, represented the country in the a session especially marked for discussions on the report prepared by UN special rapporteur Lars Anders Baer as no official delegation from the country attended.

A high-level delegation from Bangladesh, led by the state minister for CHT affairs, Dipankar Talukdar, cancelled their trip to New York at the last minute.

‘Bangladesh does not have any “indigenous’ population”.… The Accord has nothing to do with “indigenous issues” and therefore, the government of Bangladesh reiterates its position that the forum, which is mandated to deal with “indigenous issues”, does not have any locus standi in discussing the issues related to the CHT Peace Accord,’ Iqbal told the session.

‘We urge the (UN) forum to dedicate its valuable time to discuss issues related to millions of indigenous people all over the world and not waste time on issues politically concocted by some enthusiastic quarters with questionable motives.’ he added.

Iqbal termed ‘out of context’ Paragraph 56 and 58(a) of the Baer report. Paragraph 56 suggests the development of a mechanism to strictly monitor and screen human rights records of the military personnel before allowing them to participate in peacekeeping operations.

Paragraph 58(a) recommends that the department of peacekeeping operations should prevent human rights violators and alleged human rights violators within the security forces of Bangladesh from participating in international peacekeeping activities under the United Nations.

During his fact-finding mission, Baer met civil administration of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and members of the cabinet, including the ministers for foreign affairs, CHT affairs, law, and land, as well as the permanent representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations. He also presented the draft report to the Bangladesh government but did not receive any response.

The government delegations from Denmark and Guatemala, international Indigenous People’s representatives, and international human rights groups, however, differed on Iqbal’s view and said that Bangladesh had not done enough to implement the accord.

They also questioned the government’s sincerity about the implementation of the accord, delay in accord implementation and continuation of militarisation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. They demanded immediate withdrawal of all temporary army camps from the hill tracts and rehabilitation of the inhabitants.

UNPFII member Raja Devasish Roy, who is also the traditional chief of the Chakma community in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, said, ‘The permanent forum is mandated to deal with issues of indigenous peoples, irrespective of what term the governments use to refer to their indigenous peoples: “tribes” or “ethnic minorities” or otherwise.’

Referring to the parties to the accord, Devashish said that the state reneges on its promises and the non-state party has no other option but to approach the United Nations.

Mangal Kumar Chakma of the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti, which signed the 1997 accord on behalf of the hill people, said, ‘Lack of sincere political commitment and hostile bureaucracy, both civil and military, are the main elements hindering the implementation of the CHT accord.’

Steen Hansen of the Danish delegation said that Denmark would like to encourage Bangladesh to set up a roadmap with a timeframe to implement the accord.

Andrew Erueti of the Amnesty International and the IWGIA termed the progress of the accord ‘painfully slow.’

UNPFII members Daley Sambo and Saul Vicente, Tarcila Rivera of the Global Women’s Caucus, U Kyaw Zan of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Citizen’s Committee, Wasfia Nazreen of Ain o Salish Kendra, Lina Lushai of the Kapaeeng Foundation and Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, Andrea Carmen of International Indian Treaty Council and Niko Walkeapaa of Saami Council also made responses to the statement of Bangladesh.


No indigenous people in country, reiterates Shafique

VOL 18 NO -222 REGD NO DA 1589 | Dhaka, Sunday June 19 2011

Law Minister Shafique Ahmed has said that the government is considering to amend the existing law regarding land on riverbank in a bid to stop grabbing the valuable assets.

"The grabbers will have to pay the cost of demolition, along with fines that may include jail terms once the law is amended," the minister said Saturday.

[[ Law Minister Shafique Ahmed awarding a crest and fellowship to a life member of Bangladesh Geography Association in the 53rd annual general meeting of the association at Senate Building of Dhaka University in the city Saturday. Pro-VC of the university Prof Harun-ur-Rashid was also present. ]]

The Law Minister was speaking at an annual meeting of Bangladesh Bhugol Parishad (BBP) at Dhaka University senate building as the chief guest.

Pointing out that human and industrial wastes were passing into river waters through several points in the city, Mr Ahmed said, "Mobile courts will be sent twice or thrice in a month in these areas. They will fine those responsible for barring the natural flow of water."

Pro Vice Chancellor Prof Harun-ur-Rashid, Prof Shahidul Islam, Department of Geography, Prof Nazneen Afroz Haque of the same department, among others addressed the assembly while BBP president Prof AQ Mabub presided over the function.

Another report adds: Law Minister Shafique Ahmed has reiterated that there are no 'indigenous people' in the country.

Shafique's remarks follow his earlier claim made on June 8 that those marginalised communities living in Bangladesh 'are tribal'.

"Those living in a particular area before a country's independence can be called indigenous," the minister said Saturday quoting the UN International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention.

"American Red Indians and Australian Aborigines could be called indigenous," he told a seminar organised by Bangladesh Geography Society (BGS) at Dhaka University.

"Indigenous people are those who have been forced out by a foreign conqueror and that happened after Christopher Columbus had discovered America. The same did Britain and Australia. Our situation is different," he said on June 8.

Bangladesh signed the ILO Convention 107 (Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention, 1957), but did not ink its amended version, ILO Convention 169 (Indigenous and Tribal people's Convention, 1989).

There are some 11 indigenous communities living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and several others in different parts of the country.

The government, though has long been using the term 'indigenous' on various occasions and even in some laws, denies recognising the indigenous people.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Apr 27 at a press conference said the same thing, "no indigenous", but the Santals.

The Awami League's election manifesto states: "Terrorism, discriminatory treatment and human rights violations against religious and ethnic minorities and indigenous people must come to an end permanently."

The law minister earlier said the government would insert an article in the constitution for the wellbeing of indigenous people. "Article 23 (Ka) will be added to the constitution during the current constitution amendment process."

He, however, did not term those people, living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and other parts of the country, 'indigenous', echoing the prime minister and Bangladesh's first secretary in the United Nations, who claimed there was no indigenous population in the country.

Chakma Raja Devasish Roy, who served two ministries during the previous caretaker government, also lamented the government position.

"The Bangladesh government is one of the few in the world which officially denies the existence of indigenous people within its borders," Raja Devasish told a press conference in New York after attending the 10th session of UN Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues.

Devasish, an expert member of the forum, led a 12-strong team of indigenous people to the meet.

After the UN meeting, former caretaker government advisor Sultana Kamal protested the government position and asked it to clarify the terms 'minorities' and 'indigenous'.

She said, "Indigenous people are those who have their own customs, rituals and cultures."

She pointed out that the word 'indigenous' or 'Adivasi' was used by the prime minister and her government top brass as well on several occasions. "But now it (the government) is refusing to recognise them".

ILO Bangladesh country director Andre´ Bogui on June 8 urged the government to "constitutionally recognise the indigenous people and make them aware of their rights".


Adivasis or indigenous peoples in Bangladesh

January 26, 2011 11:59 am
WE ARE all indigenous or natives to somewhere, but we are not all indigenous peoples. To be an indigenous people depends, first of all, on the group’s marginal position in relation to the state, to the state authorities and institutions. States which were created as a result of decolonisation—among them East Pakistan and later Bangladesh—were established with borders that roughly followed colonial borders. And these were originally defined from the colonial and military logic and not from the needs or wishes of the local populations. In most colonial territories, and again Bangladesh included, the new and independent states had to accept these borders and then to defend them. There was very little choice and the political set-up, the constitutions, etc reflected the wishes of the majority of the people or at least those in power. In Bangladesh, the constitution of 1972 reflected in the first instance, and as a natural thing, the wishes of the large Bengali majority of the population. As a kind of colonial heritage, this process, nevertheless, left groups of people marginalised in the geographical margins of the new state. Small ethnic groups who made up the majority populations within their traditional lands and territories were nevertheless discriminated against because they had religions, languages, histories, traditions and cultures, which were different from the large majority of the population. The Chakma, the Tripura, the Mru, etc in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the Khasi, the Garo from the north, etc are examples. These people had no influence on the first constitution and it did not reflect their wishes, and the result was a mono-cultural constitution in which there was no room for the distinctive identities of the Garo, the Santal, the Chakma, etc. These people mentioned are indigenous within Bangladesh but they are also indigenous peoples to their traditional lands and territories. On paper they may have the same individual rights as all other inhabitants of Bangladesh but in practice they are being discriminated against.

In the aftermath of World War II and the decolonisation process, all states—in North America, Asia and Africa—established development activities in the frontier regions with few benefits to the people concerned. In the Canadian Quebec province, a hydroelectric project inundated the lands of the Cree and the Inuit and, similarly, thousands of people were evicted from their lands when the Kaptai Dam was constructed in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The people who had lived in these places were neither consulted nor were their interests considered. The states were concerned with satisfying the interests of the great majority of the population and on defending the national unity and did completely overlook that there were people who were completely marginalised and most often not even considered in the constitutions.

When decolonisation had come to an end, the United Nations realised that there were peoples in countries all over the world whose rights were not respected because they were not minorities in the sense of the United Nations’ system, and they were also not part of the majority population of their countries. The United Nations called these peoples ‘indigenous peoples.’ The marginalisation and discrimination of these, often tiny, minorities compared to the total population is fairly simple to observe because the languages of these groups are not being taught in school; lands are being taken away from them without compensation: organised re-settlement of mainstream people on the indigenous land aimed at reducing them to minorities, major development projects are established without consulting them and without any or few benefits to the people concerned, etc. In the US, in Canada and in Bangladesh the states wanted to assimilate all populations within their borders, but some people were nevertheless treated differently. It is interesting to observe that these people started to organise themselves at roughly the same time in the US, in Latin America, in Canada and in Asia in protest against what they saw as violations of their rights. They could not appeal to the courts or to the constitution because they were not considered there; there was, and is, a general trend in the ruling circle, as in the case of Bangladesh, to build a monolithic state erasing its existing pluralist character; the political parties were mostly uninterested because there were no votes in supporting them; and often the press did either not care or they were under censorships. Such situations invariably lead to conflicts and in the Chittagong Hill Tracts it lead to a more than 20-year long armed conflict. As a last remedy, the indigenous peoples of the CHT and later other indigenous peoples from Bangladesh turned to the United Nations and met with people from other parts of the world, who had become victims of similar processes.

In the United Nations indigenous peoples have used many efforts to learn from each other, to exchange experiences. After three decades of considerations, governments and indigenous peoples have come to a common understanding of some key points, which finally led to the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, which now seems to be recognised as an international instrument by basically all governments in the world. The key issue is the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples, which to most indigenous peoples means constitutional recognition. Constitutions are, however, difficult to change, and it is therefore of key importance that they reflect the realities. Colonialism is now far behind us and the scenario is completely different than it was forty or fifty years ago. When Norway changed its constitution in 1989 they finally included the Saami indigenous peoples. My own country, Denmark, has not changed constitution since 1953 but a constitutional process has been ongoing for quite some years. When it comes, it will no doubt include changes for the indigenous Inuit who lives in Greenland, and as a preliminary step the Danish government has now recognised the Greenland Inuit as a people according to international law. Countries so different as New Zealand, Norway and Burundi have parliamentary seats reserved for indigenous peoples and in still other countries like the Philippines and Nepal are indigenous peoples in different ways recognised in the constitutions. In June 2008, the parliament of Japan passed a resolution formally recognising the Ainus on the Hokkaido Island as indigenous people with distinct language, religion and culture. Malaysia maintains in its constitution special rights for the indigenous communities and the application of special provisions are important in a country with a diversity of races and religions.

Constitutional recognition can be seen as a kind of reconciliation and as an alternative to claim for independence or cessation, which has only been claimed in countries with large groups of indigenous peoples. East Timor is probably the only case known in this respect and is not relevant for countries with several indigenous peoples living in different geographical regions. Constitutional recognition opens for a new dialogue between the state and the indigenous peoples, based on mutual recognition. Constitutional recognitions will signal a new road for the indigenous peoples whose lands and territories were included in the new states of first Pakistan and then Bangladesh without any consultation or acceptance. It also opens a new road for dealing with peoples who de facto have been treated differently by the state authorities. And finally, it gives protection for indigenous peoples’ cultures, languages, lands and livelihoods which otherwise are unprotected.

In many countries where there are groups who claim to be indigenous there is a discussion on who these people are and how they are identified? First of all we should notice that they identify themselves as indigenous, in Bangladesh as adivasis. There is no definition on indigenous peoples and it is futile to find a definition on who has the right to claim rights as an indigenous people, and the United Nations has never seriously considered it as an option. We only have to remind ourselves that few countries in Africa and Asia would be independent today if the global society should agree on a definition on which people had the right to become independent. Any definition is made by those who have the power and can only be used to halt a process. So this is no way out.

But we can find a number of indicators that set some peoples apart and of which some are applicable in specific cases and specific societies. First of all, there are peoples who are being set aside by the states and the majority population because they have a different culture, religion, language, etc. In Bangladesh most of those calling themselves indigenous are non-Muslims (Buddhist, Christians, etc), speak languages different from Bangla, and have traditions which in the historic sense point to people today living in Burma and north-eastern India. And, as part of this, some of these people have their own political or quasi-political institutions that exist parallel with the national institutions. The indigenous peoples may also have a different adaptation to the land, such as shifting-cultivation. Indigenous peoples have common histories, share many emotional and cultural connotations, and have been united by shared conflicts with the state. Secondly, those calling themselves indigenous have linkages to territories of their own, with ties that point back to pre-colonial and pre-independent times. The ethnic identity of indigenous peoples is linked to these ancestral lands. The continuity with the past does not imply authenticity in the sense of unchanged originality but that indigenous peoples live in conformity with their own institutions as these have been formed and developed in contact with those of the colonisers or the states. Thirdly, the indigenous peoples want, as groups, to keep their own traditions and their own linkages to their ancestral territories and to keep their ethnic identity as the basis for existence as a people as conditions for mutual co-existence with the other peoples of the state. This is in contrast to minorities who are not associated with a specific territory and who aim at being integrated in the state but keeping their individual minority rights; indigenous rights are collective rights in contrast to minority rights, which are individual rights. Fourthly, to be indigenous in Bangladesh today refers to descent from people living in specific geographical regions at the time of the establishment of the present state boundaries. Fifthly, those calling themselves indigenous are those who came to the area claimed as their lands and territories before some of those other people living in the area today. This is not the same as saying that ‘we were here first’, which is difficult in most countries not the least in Asia, because should we go 50, 100 or 1,000 back in history? We only have to remind ourselves of the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians to recognise aboriginality as an impossible criterion. Some indigenous peoples have been forced from their lands but this should not rip them of all their rights, however. Others have, as individuals, moved to Dhaka and other urban places outside their homeland but it does not imply that they lose all their rights as being a member of an indigenous peoples. In the colonial days people were recruited in one country to work on plantations or in the mines in other countries and some of these settled in the new place to become cultural or religious minorities. Such peoples are protected as belonging to a minority and have rights as such, but they are not indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples who migrate to urban or metropolitan areas often lose their indigenous language, are employed in urban professions and adopt traditions associated with living in urban areas. They no longer live on their ancestral lands but the ancestral lands remain for them an anchor-point and give them a distinct identity — symbolically, practically or culturally.

There are also indicators, which has to do with state policies towards indigenous peoples. Let alone that exactly these people are called by specific names such as ‘adivasi’ in Bangladesh and ‘scheduled tribes’ in India and as such they have in practice been treated as different from the rest of the population. Throughout the colonial and post-colonial history there have been acts and provisions in which the colonial and Bangladeshi governments have used and recognised the special rights of those people called adivasi. Or the government has kept them separate from the rest of the population (the CHT is a semi-closed area, controlled by the army) and established special procedures for the territory of indigenous peoples, such as appointing a special minister for Chittagong Hill Tracts, established a regional council, or in some ways annulled the normal democratic processes in the area, such as postponing elections for the district councils.

For the Chittagong Hill Tracts, inclusion in the constitution can finally be seen as a logical result of the peace accord of 1997 and should give new impetus to the implementation of the accord. For adivasi in the whole country constitutional recognition will recognise a distinctiveness of indigenous peoples, which in many respects are already there.

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