Aug 10, 2010

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Indigenous Peoples Press For Rights

Indigenous people demanded constitutional recognition at a rally celebrating the International Day of the World's Indigenous People yesterday.


Below is an article published by The Daily Star


Indigenous people demanded constitutional recognition of the ethnics at a rally in celebration of the International Day of the World's Indigenous People at the Central Shaheed Minar in the city yesterday. 

Constitutional recognition will remove all the barriers that come in the way of ensuring the basic rights and improving the social status of Adivasis, said Sanjeev Drong, general secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous People's Forum (BIPF). 

Prof Mesbah Kamal, general secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Adhikar and Research and Development Collective, said it is necessary to appoint representatives from the Adivasi communities in the recently formed committee for constitutional amendment to speak for their benefits. 

The government must give a clear roadmap concerning fast implementation of the CHT (Chittagong Hill Tracts) Peace Accord, 1997, and settlement of land disputes between Bangalee settlers and Adivasis, said the participants at the programme organised by BIPF. 

Hinting at the land survey in CHT declared by the CHT Land Commission in September last year, they said conducting the survey before resolving the disputes over the ownership of lands goes against the spirit of 1997 peace accord and the traditional land ownership systems in the hills. 

Every year the day is observed on August 9 to protect the rights of the world's indigenous people. This year the theme of the day was “right to culture and self-identity of indigenous people”. 

Former justice Golam Rabbani inaugurated the programme. The celebration started with a vibrant cultural programme performed by Adivasi artistes from all across the country followed by discussion and a rally. 

Shantu Larma, chairman of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity, said, "It has been about 20 months since the Awami League-led government came to power but it has not fulfilled the promises made in the election manifesto." 

Expressing disapproval he said the government often violates the CHT accord instead of implementing it.

Larma, also the chairman of the CHT Regional Council, opposed the plan for land survey before resolving land disputes.

The survey was supposed to begin from October 2009, and the indigenous communities opposed the plan ever since the announcement was made.

Criticising the role of the CHT Land Commission, Larma said its responsibility is to resolve the disputes over land ownership issues, not to conduct a survey.

According to a census conducted by the government in 1991, around 1.2 million indigenous people of 27 ethnic groups live in the country.

However, non-government bodies estimated that there are 40 to 50 ethnic groups and their population stands at about 2 million.

These communities mainly live in the southeast (Chittagong Hill Tracts) region, north, north-central plains, northeast region and in the coastal belt.

Meanwhile, in a special message to Adivasis of Bangladesh, Dr Stefan Frowein, head of EU Delegation to Bangladesh, said, "I know very well that indigenous people here still face major problems, but from an international perspective the general level of respect in Bangladesh for indigenous peoples' rights can be considered one of the success stories of Bangladesh's democratic development".

Prof AAMS Arefin Siddique, DU vice-chancellor; lawmaker Hasanul Haque Inu; Khushi Kabir, chairperson of ALRD; Manzurul Ahsan Khan, president of the Communist Party of Bangladesh; Pankaj Bhattacharya, presidium member, Ganaforum; Mamunur Rashid, actor and theatre activist; HKS Arefeen, Dalem Ch Barman, among others, addressed the gathering.