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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.

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