Jun 10, 2011

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Dhaka Rejects Indigenous Status For Weak “wellbeing” Guarantee

Despite endorsing the provision of increased rights and equity through the addition of Article 23 to the Bangladeshi Constitution, Shafique Ahmed, the Bangladeshi Minister of Law, continues to refuse to acknowledge the indigenous status of groups within the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Below is an article published by BD News 24:

The law minister [Shafique Ahmed] has said the government will 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," Shafique Ahmed said on Wednesday [8 June 2011].

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.

The article proposed by the special parliamentary committee on charter review says: "The state will preserve culture and tradition of the tribal and ethnic groups towards their development."

"Those marginalised communities living in Bangladesh are tribal," Shafique said at a national seminar on human rights of the indigenous people […]

According to the minister, "Indigenous are those who have been forced out by a foreign conqueror, which was what happened after Christopher Columbus had discovered America. The same did Britain and Australia. Our situation is different."

ILO Bangladesh country director Andre´ Bogui from the event urged the government to "constitutionally recognise the indigenous people and made them aware of their rights".

The indigenous people have long been demanding their recognition in the constitution to safeguard their existence.

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).

Forum general secretary Sanjeeb Drong called on the government to ensure honour and dignity of the diversified indigenous communities by signing ILO Convention 169.

Former caretaker government advisor Sultana Kamal protested the government position and asked it to clarify the terms "minorities" and "indigenous". Speaking to bdnews24.com recently, she said indigenous people are those that have their own customs, rituals and culture.

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

[…]Turning to the land rights of indigenous people, he [Shafique Ahmed] claimed: "A Land Commission had been formed to legitimise your [indigenous] rights. You can, in no way, say that you were discriminated against."

He said that no one could snatch the lands owned by those people in the CHT, "since you've been staying there for generations".

"Measures would be taken in your [indigenous] favour if the existing laws are found lacking," minister Shafique added.

A special UN Rapporteur in a recent study on the CHT issue said that the Land Commission was lagging due to a number of controversial decisions it took.

Lars-Anders Baer at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in May said that lands of a good number of refugees were yet to be returned, and internally displaced Jumma families had yet to be rehabilitated.

NHRC chairman Mizanur Rahman at the seminar warned that unless the government took measures to resolve the land disputes in the CHT, "the region will face scenarios similar to East Timor or Bosnia Herzegovina".

He also said: "We're always on the lookout for enemies in that region. And when there's no enemy we've to create them, which is weakening democracy."

He urged the government to put the indigenous people on a footing in society equal to the status of the majority population by providing them special benefits.


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