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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".

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