South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Kamran Reza Chowdhury

The government has pre-empted an attempt to initiate a legislative proposal of a parliamentary caucus through a private member’s bill styled Adivasi Rights Bill 2013 in the current session.
Workers Party chief Rashed Khan Menon is likely to place the bill in parliament for recognition of the country’s ethnic minorities as “adivasi” and protection of their rights.
However, before Menon could submit the bill to Parliament Secretariat for initiation in the house, the government has reportedly requested Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury not to allow any such legal proposal in the House.

The National Coalition for Indigenous Peoples has been providing secretarial support for the Parliamentary Caucus on Adivasi comprising 24 MPs of the ruling coalition. The caucus had 10 meetings with different stakeholders to get “adivasi” recognition to the ethnic minorities living the Chittagong Hill Tracts and other parts of the country.
The foreign ministry, which has been dealing with the issue of ethnic minorities at the UN and other forums, fears the initiation of the bill will strengthen the demand of the “tribal” people for their state recognition as adivasis.
It further says the recognition inline with the International Labour Organisation convention on indigenous people’s rights will encourage the ethnic minorities to claim rights on the resources on some specific territories.
The ministry warns that such demands may put Bangladesh’s sovereignty to question.
On July 28, Foreign Secretary Shahidul Islam chaired an inter-ministry meeting that decided to “guarantee” that such bill was not tabled in parliament and to communicate the matter to the speaker who was authorised to decide tabling of any bill in the House.
“The movers will make it [the recognition of the ethnic minorities as adivasis] a political issue if the bill is tabled as a private member’s bill,” said a foreign ministry working paper.
In parliamentary practices, all MPs, other than the ministers, are considered as private members, and they can prepare bills on any issue and place it in parliament with the speaker’s permission.
Any such bill goes to the parliamentary standing committee on private members’ bills and resolutions for scrutiny. If the committee recommends, the assembly discusses the bill to decide whether to go through it.
In parliamentary practices, the movers of such bills either withdraw their proposal or the House rejects the same by voice vote in case of the initiators’ reluctance.
The current parliament passed one such bill the leper (repeal) act moved by Awami League MP Saber Hossain Chowdhury.
Discussion on these bills in the assembly is considered as a pressure on the government.
Governments in developing countries discourage private members’ bills.
On September 18, the foreign ministry requested the members of the parliamentary standing committee on the ministry to request the speaker to block Menon’s bill, saying it was “not consistent” with the country’s constitution.
Foreign Secretary Shahidul Islam confirmed the communication.
Article 23 (a) of the constitution recognises tribal people as “small ethnic groups,” not as adivasis.
“I do not see any justification of forming the caucus on this issue as there is no adivasi in Bangladesh according to the definition of the ILO convention,” Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shafique Ahmed told the Dhaka Tribune on Sunday.
According to the ILO definition, there must be conquer or colonisation of such people for getting recognition as adivasis, he said. “Such things never happened in Bangladesh.”
Menon told the Dhaka Tribune that he did not agree with what the government was doing regarding the status of the ethnic minority groups.

Source: Dhaka Tribune – 23.09.2013 –