South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Indigenous peoples demanded constitutional recognition as indigenous peoples, but not as small ethnic group. They also urged Special Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Amendment to hold consultation with representatives of indigenous peoples for constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples.

The demands were raised at the discussion entitled “Constitution Amendment: the Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Peoples and its Relevance” jointly organised by Kapaeeng Foundation and International Labour Organisation (ILO) at CIRDAP auditorium, Dhaka in cooperation with Royal Danish Embassy on 20 April 2011 at CIRDAP auditorium, Dhaka in cooperation with Royal Danish Embassy.

Mr. Promode Mankin MP, State Minister for Cultural Affairs of Government of Bangladesh, was present as the chief guest at the meeting while Mr. Rabindranath Soren, president of Kapaeeng Foundation presided over the programme. Barrister Raja Devasish Roy, Circle Chief of Chakma circle; Barrister Sara Hossain, advocate of Bangladesh Supreme Court and human rights activist; Mr. Syed Abul Maksud, columnist and researcher, were present as special guests. Mr. Abhilash Tripura, national coordinator of ILO, delivered the welcome speech at the programme while Mr. Shakti Pada Tripura, organizing secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples’ Forum presented the key note paper.

Mr. Promode Mankin MP, in his deliberation as chief guest, said youths are main forces for waging indigenous movements. He says, “When we worked for our rights, there were fewer educated youths than now. There was no indigenous leader when the constitution was written in 1972. The constitution was written on the basis of Bengali nationalism at that time. Although there was a defect in the constitution, but it was not so much harmful. Later they made changes the constitution to secure their position in power that had come to the power by destroying the democracy.” He said that parliamentary caucus has been formed led by parliament member Rashed Khan Menon, which is working to put the demands of indigenous peoples. Currently five parliamentary members are sitting together regarding the constitutional recognition of the indigenous peoples. Later they sat with the dutiful leaders. The const! itution amendment committee was agreeing with the demands of the memorandum, which had also been submitted to the Prime Minister. He says “Prime minister asked me, `if you are an indigenous than what are we?’ The Prime Minister was told that there is a specific working definition of UN on indigenous peoples. So, someone has been living in a country for long time, but it doesn’t mean that he is an indigenous.

Barrister Raja Devasish Roy said that the government should take decisions through discussion with the indigenous peoples. If the government doesn’t take any initiatives to sit with indigenous peoples, who live away from the parliament, then the process of the government will become questioning. If the government ensures the constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples, then the image of the government will become more impressive. Mr. Roy also said the main reason of recent conflict in CHT is that the government is still examining the CHT region through a spectacle of security. The administration should not involve itself into the matter of land grabbing. According to the CHT Accord multi-ethnic police forces should be formed and deployed to improve the law and order situation in CHT.

Barrister Sara Hosain said that the constitutional recognition of indigenous people is possible and it is realistic. However, she said that the indigenous peoples are not involved in the process of constitution amendment. But we are now living in a digital era. So, this process should also be digitalized so that every one could speak out their aspirations. The constitution is for each and every one. So, why the constitution amendment committee is not making open the information of the process for everyone, she questioned.

Mr. Abul Maksud said it will be more appropriate if the constitution amendment committee organizes consultation with indigenous peoples. It is being discussed about the rights of indigenous peoples in past 20 years from Shaheed Minar to the several places across the country. But it can not be said that, the result has been achieved a lot. The constitution amendment committee has reached at the ultimate period. But they created a debate, which was not essential, by not doing such set up. He says, “We should raise the strong demand before the amendment of the constitution. It should be careful so that indigenous custom, tradition and lifestyle will not become under clout. The mistake should not be repeated again, which was done in 1972. It should be decided through discussion with indigenous leaders, in which term the indigenous peoples will be recognized.”

Mr. Abhilash also added that according to the ILO convention 107, the strategies for indigenous peoples should be formulated in consultation with participation of them regarding education, health and land issues which will affect the indigenous peoples. ILO is bound with the promise to upgrading the social justice and internationally recognized human rights. That is why ILO wishes for the constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples.

Mr. Shaktipada Tripura, in his key note paper, placed a number of demands to the government regarding the amendment process of the constitution and the constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples. He said that Bangladesh is a country of multi-ethnicity, multi-language and multi-culture. These features should be included in the constitution including constitutional recognition of all indigenous communities. Besides, the languages, cultures, traditions and customs of indigenous peoples should be acknowledged in the constitution. He also added that collective ownership of indigenous peoples should be recognized in the constitution.

Other recommendations include reservation of seat for indigenous peoples in parliament and local government councils, specific provision for affirmative action for indigenous peoples regarding the education, employment, development and so on, special administrative arrangement for CHT region, inclusion of CHT Regional Council Act of 1998, Hill District Council Acts of 1998 and CHT Regulation of 1900 to the first schedule etc.