Aug 01, 2011

Chittagong Hill Tracts: ECOSOC Rebukes Bangladesh Gov Attempt to Redefine the Word “Indigenous”

ECOSOC rejects government accounts that Adivasi of CHT are not Indigenous

Below is an article published in CHT News Update:

The General Segment of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), whose session started on 22nd July, ended yesterday (29th) in Geneva, Switzerland. ECOSOC is the parent body of several subsidiary bodies, including the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), and reports to the UN general Assembly. 

After intense negotiations over the past three days and even up to the last minute of the agenda, the ECOSOC rejected the GoB’s requests and adopted the UNPFII report. Bangladesh had expressed its concerns over the PFII going beyond its mandate in dealing with the issue of the implementation of the CHT Accord of 1997, on the ground that there were no indigenous peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). Statements in explanation of its position were made by the GOB, as by others among the fifty-four members of ECOSOC. However, the GoB lacking solidarity from other ECOSOC member-states, accepted to ‘compromise.’

A few of the many concerns raised by the GoB are to be included as ‘noted’; in the nature of a ‘footnote.’ However, ECOSOC, will not delete any paragraphs of the 10th session report, as was pleaded by the GoB. ECOSOC will not distinguish between indigenous and tribal groups, as highlighted by the GoB, or take into account the GoB’s challenge of the jurisdiction of the PFII to deal with the CHT Accord of 1977 on the basis that the ethnic groups of the CHT were not indigenous, and hence outside the purview of the mandate of the PFII.

The UNPFII, in June, had called on the GoB, to undertake a ‘phased withdrawal’ of temporary army camps from the CHT, declare a timeframe for implementation of the peace accord, and establish an independent commission to inquire into ‘human rights violations perpetrated against indigenous peoples’ as per the 1997 CHT Accord. UNPFII further recommended that the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO) review the military personnel and units, who are being sent on UN missions to make sure no personnel or units are taken from any, that are accused by indigenous Jumma people of violating human rights in the CHT.

Other country responses:

The USA seemed determined to protect the integrity of the UNPFII and this reflected a major shift in its international engagements with regard to indigenous issues under President Obama.

Mexico was the lead facilitator and played a very constructive role in the consensual decision. Bolivia highlighted PFII as the only space for dialogue on IP issues in the UN; France (EU) reaffirmed independent nature of PFII and reiterated that the report be adopted by consensus, albeit with a note, refers to a specific situation and does not set a precedent for ECOSOC to deal with reports of a subsidiary body; Australia supported the role of the PFII as a constructive forum for dialogue; in such complex situations as in the CHT, it stands ready to assist GOB/ and people of the CHT in dialogue; and Morocco welcomed adoption by consensus.

Reportedly, only China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, all three countries with the worst human-rights records in Asia, provided some support to the concerns raised by Bangladesh; Even though Russia showed some leaning towards GoB’s stance, they reiterated the importance of the role of indigenous peoples on the international human rights agenda.