Chittagong Hill Tracts: National Seminar “Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh”
On 10 December 2015, the Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum (BIPF) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) jointly organized the seminar “Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh: Human Rights and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)”, which focused on the rights of marginalized indigenous groups and reflected on ways to co-operate with the United Nations in accomplishing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The chairman of BIPF, Mr Larma, highlighted violations of indigenous peoples’ rights as they are often subject to land grabbing and eviction from their ancestral land by states and even non-state actors. The ILO country director, Srinivas B. Reddy, stressed the need for pursuing a policy of inclusion and mainstreaming of indigenous issues in the development agendas. The keynote paper produced at the seminar emphasizes how indigenous groups and their diverse cultural practices have remained unrecognized, and urges the protection and promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples and inclusive development.
Below is an article published by Kapaeeng Foundation:
On 10 December 2015, a national seminar titled “Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh: Human Rights and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)” was organized by Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum (BIPF) with the support of International Labour Organization (ILO) in Dhaka. Over one hundred participants, including ambassadors, diplomats, development activists, civil society members, journalists, indigenous and mainstream population with different working backgrounds, participated in the event.
Rashed Khan Menon, MP, minister of Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry was present as the chief guest while Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma President of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum (BIPF) and Chairman of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Regional Council presided over the seminar. H. E. Pierre Mayaudon, Ambassador and Head of Delegation, European Union; H. E. Henne Fugl Eskjaer, Ambassador, Royal Danish Embassy; Fazle Hossain Badsha, MP, Convener, Parliamentary Caucus of Indigenous Peoples; Srinivas B. Reddy, Country Director, International Labour Organization and Barrister Sara Hossain, Honorary Director, BLAST were present in the seminar as discussant. Mr. Sanjeeb Drong, General Secretary of BIPF, delivered the welcome speech and Mr. Mangal Kumar Chakma, Advisor of Kapaeeng Foundation presented the key note paper which was written jointly with Raja Devasish Roy, Chakma Chief, Advocate, Supreme Court & Member, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
BIPF chairman Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma said, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer us a unique opportunity to adopt a new partnership between the United Nations, development partnership of Bangladesh and other stakeholders, including indigenous peoples and their organizations and other representative bodies. He expressed his expectation that the government of Bangladesh would respect and fulfill the rights of indigenous peoples in spirit with different international instruments, including ILO Convention No. 107 & 169, UNDRIP and Outcome Document of WCIP. He also expected an effective interface between government’s inclusive development plans and internationally agreed development goals would allow us to ascertain that none of the marginalized people of the country, within our multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious society, is left behind in sustainable development process.
He said that indigenous peoples in Bangladesh are experiencing different discrimination the violations of the rights of indigenous peoples instead are occurring, such as, land grabbing and eviction of indigenous peoples from their ancestral land by States and Non-State actors, and lack of recognition of customary tenure systems, particularly in plain land. This impairs indigenous peoples’ rights to access and use forests, ancestral lands and natural resources. It also exposes indigenous peoples to the effects of climate change, disrupts their social unity and exacerbates their situation both in CHT and plain land. He also added, the country could not make any progress without advancement of indigenous peoples of the country. If the government establishes indigenous peoples right to land in the CHT and plain land, than other rights will be defended automatically.
Mr. Larma added a roadmap needs to be declared to fully implement the CHT accord and thus avoid future unrest. He mentioned that the PCJSS, one of the signatories of CHT Accord, already declared to launch harder non-cooperation movement from 1 January 2015 if the Accord is not implemented fully by then.
Rashed Khan Menon, MP, minister of Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry said, the CHT Accord not yet been fully implemented so the need for removing complexities to take bold steps to implement the CHT Accord signed 18 years ago. It is true that the bureaucratic government in the country and fundamental Islamism are the main hindrance to implement the CHT Accord. He also opined that creating platforms at grassroots level is imperative for the implementation of the CHT Accord.
European Union ambassador Pierre Mayaudon stressed the need for a dialogue ‘at the higher level between the government and indigenous leader’ for implementation of the CHT Accord. He also emphasized on the need for formation and activation of the land commission for plain land ethnic minorities.
H. E. Hanne Fugl Eskjaer, Ambassador, Royal Danish Embassy stressed the importance of including indigenous people in the development agenda and use of the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals to address the needs of this vulnerable group including indigenous peoples, and to make sure no one is left behind. As marked poverty reduction is one of the key area of intervention attaining the SDGs, an enhancement strategy on indigenous peoples would help to overcome the inequality and poverty, and ecological sustainable for the long run. At this stage, indigenous peoples should be inclusive for the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the SDGs, and the overall development.
Fazle Hossain Badsha, MP, Convener, Parliamentary Caucus on Indigenous Peoples urged civil societies, parliament members and the Bengali people for playing active roles in the movement of implementation of the CHT Accord. He urged the government to establish a separate land commission for plain land indigenous peoples immediately to stop the eviction of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands.
International Labour Organisation (ILO) country director Srinivas B. Reddy stressed the need for pursuing a policy of inclusion for mainstreaming indigenous community’s issues in the development agendas. ILO is working for different vulnerable groups in Bangladesh and the indigenous issue is one of the major vulnerable groups, he added.
Bangladesh Legal Aid Services Trust honorary director Sara Hossain reminded that investigation and placing charge sheet on Kalpana Chakma, a victim of forced disappearance, had remained stalled for years. She also urged government of Bangladesh to withdraw two circulations of Home Ministry issued in January 2015 on CHT and Public Works & Housing Ministry dated in August 2015 on indigenous peoples as these circulations are contradictory to the fundamental rights of the Constitution.
In his welcome speech Mr. Sanjeeb Drong, General Secretary of BIPF said SGD promise to “leave no one behind”. However, the indigenous peoples in Bangladesh so leg far behind to the mainstream Bengali communities. In this wave, government should come forward to establish a separate land commission for plain indigenous people and declare a road map to implement the CHT Accord. He also urged to indicate the development partners to keep and priority of the indigenous issues in their agenda.
In the key note paper, the keynote authors said that historically, Bangladesh is a country with diverse languages, religions and ethnicity. However, the existence of indigenous groups and their diverse cultural practices has remained unrecognized both by the State and its mainstream population, on account of ignorance, discriminatory perspectives or chauvinistic mindsets, or a combination of them. This has resulted in the exclusion of indigenous peoples from governance and development, except in a very marginal manner. Systemic poverty exacerbates inequality, especially for indigenous women, children and youth and persons with disabilities who are particularly affected by the lack of access to health services, housing, and other services.
The keynote speakers said that out of 72, only 25 sections of the CHT Accord have been implemented. However, the government claims that altogether 48 sections of the CHT Accord had been implemented. They described about the issue of the situation of alienation of lands of indigenous peoples of the country, both in the CHT and in the plains, is alarming, and continues to deteriorate. The indigenous peoples of the plain land claiming to form a separate land commission for plain indigenous peoples. However the government is not yet to take any such measures and form a Land Commission for the plains indigenous peoples.
Key note paper focused on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were adopted by the UN General Assembly on 25 September 2015, contain the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets and include six specific references to indigenous peoples. He added that Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in the areas of poverty alleviation, primary school enrolment, gender parity in primary and secondary level education, lowering the infant and under-five mortality rate and maternal mortality ratio, improving immunization coverage and reducing the incidence of communicable diseases stipulated in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However, indigenous peoples in Bangladesh are still lagging far behind in many of these key goals and targets, if not all.
Keynote authors opined that if the 7th Five Year Plan is formulated by incorporating adequate provisions that address the indigenous peoples’ contexts of both opportunity and disadvantage, several crucial human rights and developmental rights of indigenous peoples can be addressed. Speakers said that indigenous peoples in Bangladesh look forward to being a full part of the SDG journey, so that all Bangladeshis can truly transform Bangladesh and bring peace and prosperity for all. Indigenous peoples wish to ensure that they are not left behind. Therefore, the designing of culturally relevant indicators, preceded by the disaggregation of data, including in the data of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, is a vital precondition. The UN system including the country teams, along with the development partners of Bangladesh, have an important role to play in this regard.
In the keynote paper, the authors appealed to all development partners of the Government of Bangladesh for using its foreign aid for good governance, including the overall development of the citizens of Bangladesh, in a non-discriminatory manner. They stressed for taking adequate and context-specific measures to consult the indigenous peoples with regard to the adoption of the 7th Five Year Plan and to amend the Sectoral Policies of the country to include indigenous peoples’ issues; formulation of a National Action Plan for implementation of the SDGs, UNDRIP and Outcome Document of the WCIP, at country level; capacity building of Indigenous Peoples’ Organisations for protection and promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples and inclusive development; awareness building among indigenous peoples, policy makers and other stakeholders on the rights of indigenous peoples including SDGs, UNDRIP, Outcome Documents, ILO Convention No. 107, ICCPR, ICESCR, ICERD and CHT Accord of 1997; Establishment of partnerships for development on issues relating to indigenous peoples; declaration of a time-line-based Action Plan or ‘Road Map’ for proper, speedy and full implementation of the CHT Accord of 1997 by the government and recognition of indigenous peoples’ collective rights, in particular the right to land, territories and natural resources; to form a separate Land Commission to prevent land alienation and to restitute alienated lands of the indigenous peoples of the plains.
Photo courtesy of Asian Development Bank @Flickr