International Labour Organization (ILO) and Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples’ Forum (BIPF), with support from the Embassy of Denmark (EoD), arranged a national seminar for Development Partners and Stakeholders on “Implementation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples’ rights’” on 29 November in Dhaka.
Approximately 170 guests were present at the seminar to discuss the challenges and opportunities in relation to ensuring rights for Indigenous People and Tribal People (ITP). Country Director of ILO Bangladesh, Mr. Andre Bogui, gave his opening remarks, where he emphasized the importance of dealing with the issue in cooperation with facilitators, development partners as well as with the Government of Bangladesh. Mr. Bogui argued that there have been some positive aspects in terms of promoting the rights of ITP, as there is now a paragraph in the Sixth Five Year Plan concerning rights for ITP. However, Mr. Bogui stressed the importance of further securing rights of ITP in relation to the ILO Convention no. 107, the Indigenous and Tribal Populations Conventions (1957) has been ratified by Bangladesh, but still have not been implemented and incorporated ! in legislation.
Mr. Sanjeeb Drong, General Secretary from BIPF, stressed the need for action and classified four major demands in securing rights for ITP: formation of National Indigenous Peoples’ Commission, Enacting ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act’, Capacity building of Indigenous Human Rights Defenders and support indigenous women’s empowerment. Professor Dr. Sadeka Halim from the Information Commission pointed to the notion than when dealing with ITP it needs to be clarified that the geographic area is not only concentrated in Chittagong Hill Tracts but also concerns the many IPTs living in the plain lands. She argued that there are IPT all over Bangladesh, which makes it a national problem, when securing rights.
Danish Government supports Indigenous Peoples
Deputy Head of Mission from the Embassy of Denmark, Jan Møller Hansen, said in his speech that despite of all the challenges there are many opportunities as well.
“It is now widely recognized that the purpose of government action is to ensure equality in terms of rights and opportunities and to eliminate the socio-economic and political gap between Indigenous Peoples (IP) and other sections of the society, while recognising their special rights, needs and aspirations as peoples and citizens of the country. The Development Partners that are supporting indigenous communities and people can play a facilitating and constructive role in continuously encouraging the Government to ensure equality in terms of rights and access to basic services”, said Jan Møller Hansen, and stated that support to IP is a key priority for Denmark.
He proposed that in order to overcome the challenges of implementing and securing rights for IP would be by constituting a roadmap for the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord (CHT Peace Accord) with clear and time-bound targets.
If the road will end, where will it end?
Professor Dr. Mizanur Rahman, Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, presented issues, which need to be dealt with on the long road for securing equality. This involved an adequate definition of the term ‘Indigenous People’, a system for recognising land ownership and thorough policy work. He pointed to two major milestones to be overcome in order to securing rights for ITP. First of all, he urged for confidence and alliance building and for a closer and more effective dialogue between all stakeholders and emphasized the need for not only Indigenous Peoples’ forums but also from the general population as well. To make this happen he called on the second major issue, which concerned the lack of trust and claimed that confidence building is one of the absolute necessary measures to make this happen. To stress this view, Mizanur Rahman noted in his speech that “! in order to make progress, we need to take one step back and gain trust, so that we on the long way can make this happen”.
The chairman of Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council and President for Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples’ Forum, Mr. Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma, gave the last speech of the day, where he summarized the need for implementing the CHT Peace Accord and enhancement of national and international efforts directing to protect and preserve the entity and rights of indigenous peoples.
Among the guest speakers were also MP and Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Education and Convenor, Mr. Rashed Khan Menon, Charge d’Affaires of European Commission Delegation in Bangladesh, Mr. Milko Van Gool and the Ambassador of the Royal Norwegian Embassy, Ms. Ragne Birte Lund.
Below is provided a brief overview of the conventions referred to at the seminar.
ILO Convention No. 107
The Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention (No.107), adopted by ILO in 1957, was the first international convention dealing with the international obligations of States to the rights of ITP. The Convention covers issues as land rights, education, vocational training, social security and health, rural industries and conditions of employment. The convention was until 1989 ratified by 27 countries until a new convention, No. 169, revised the convention. From this date No. 107 could no longer be ratified, however, it is still in force in 18 countries including Bangladesh.
ILO Convention No.169
The Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No.169) was adopted by ILO in 1989, which replaced No. 107 in order to meet the development discourse in the modern world concerning ITP. While No. 107 focused on ITP as temporary populations, which should be modernised and integrated, No. 169 focus on ITP as permanent societies and aim to recognize ethnic and cultural diversity. The convention has been ratified by 20 countries, here among Denmark in 1996.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord
The CHT Peace Accord was signed by the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity in 1997. The Accord aimed at protecting and recognizing the rights of IP by returning occupied land, withdrawal of military forces in the region, securing safe repatriation of internal displaced IPs in the region, establish regional autonomy, create a regional council of the local government councils in CHT and establish a central Ministry of Tribal Affairs headed by an indigenous/tribal person. As of today, the Accord has not yet been implemented fully by the Government of Bangladesh. The accord allowed for the recognition of the rights of the peoples and tribes of the Chittagong Hill Tracts region and ended the decades-long insurgency between the Shanti Bahini and government forces.
Source: Embassy of Denmark, Dhaka, website (http://www.ambdhaka.um.dk/en/menu/TheEmbassy/News/OneStepCloserOnTheLongJourneyForSecuringRightsForIndigenousAndTribalPeopleInBangladesh.htm) – 2/12/2001