Hill Voice, 6 May 2022. International Desk: Indigenous leaders from Bangladesh have called upon the Government of Bangladesh to take initiatives to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) while speaking in the Asia Regional Dialogue during the 21st session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on Thursday (5 May).
Expert member of the Permanent Forum (from Nepal), Phoolman Choudhury, presided over the Asia Regional Dialogue on the Agenda Item 5(e): “Indigenous peoples and pandemic recovery” while indigenous leaders from Bangladesh, namely, Sanjeeb Drong, General Secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum; Pallab Chakma, Executive Director of Kapaeeng Foundation; Santoshita Chakma Bakul, General Secretary of CHT Returnee Jumma Refugee Welfare Association; and Binota Moy Dhamai, Expert Member of the Exeprt Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP), Augustina Chakma, representative of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), among others, spoke in the Asia dialogue. Besides, Priti Bindu Chakma of PCJSS and Chanchana Chakma also participated in the event.
Participating in the discussion, Sanjeeb Drong, General Secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum, said that the Permanent Forum and other UN Agencies need to play a crucial role to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the country level.
Secondly, the tripartite constructive dialogue between Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations, the government and the UN Agencies on emerging indigenous issues including human rights, land rights, right to forest and natural resources are important and necessary.
Thirdly, the Permanent Forum should work closely with the governments on how indigenous peoples can participate in the implementation process of SDGs. The UN theme, ‘Leave No One Behind’ should be really targeted at the development of indigenous peoples.
Finally, Sanjeeb Drong urged the Permanent Forum and other UN mechanisms to take steps to support indigenous peoples organizations for capacity building of indigenous peoples, human rights defenders, women and youth so that they can raise their voices for their rights.
Pallab Chakma in his discussion said, in the context of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997, indigenous peoples are still demanding proper implementation of the Accord. One of main issues in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is the land problem. Despite the CHT Land Commission was formed as per the CHT Accord, but the Rules of the Commission remains pending till to-date and hence not a single case of land dispute has been resolved by Land Commission. He demanded a functional Land Commission.
He further added that land grabbing of indigenous peoples by state and non-state actors are a regular scenario in Bangladesh. He opined that the government must consult with the indigenous community before undertaking any kinds of development program in the indigenous territory and should engage them in the development process.
He mentioned that there is a development program in Gaibandha district where many indigenous santal families are living and the government is planning to set up an Export Processing Zone (EPZ) on the land belonging to Santal people. He urged Bangladesh government not to implement this EPZ project in the land of Bagda-farm without Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the local indigenous Santal people. He also mentioned that the indigenous Garo, Hajong and Koch communities have been living in the forest area of Madhupur and the government is also planning to establish tourism sport in that area which will lead negative impact on livelihood of indigenous peoples.
He further said, the UNESCO has declared 2022-2032 as the international decade of the indigenous languages. Bangladesh has glorious history of establishing mother tongue rights. The 21st February is recognized as international mother language day globally. So indigenous peoples really want government to take initiative to celebrate the decade of the indigenous language in the country. In Bangladesh, the languages of the minority indigenous peoples are in endanger. The Government should take proper measures to preserve and improve these languages.
He thanked to the Government of Bangladesh for taking initiative to introduce mother tongue education in five indigenous languages. But it is still needed to bring more indigenous languages under this initiative. Moreover, the government should take measures to provide training to the teacher for proper implementation of mother tongue education.
Finally, Mr. Pallab urged the government of Bangladesh to ratify ILO Convention No. 169 and to come forward to fully implement the UNDRIP and ILO Convention No. 107 where Bangladesh itself is a signatory country.
Binota Moy Dhamai has shared some points in the Asia dialogue from his understanding as an indigenous person, not as an expert member of the EMRIP. This is as an indigenous people from Asia region, as a Jumma Tripura from the CHT of Bangladesh. He thanked to the Bangladesh government for the statement in the Permanent Forum sharing some good news about the economic development and assurance for ratification of ILO Convention No.107 on Indigenous and Tribal Populations.
It is really very important to see how to promptly develop a good relationship and partnership in implementing the CHT Accord which could help to establish peace in the region and to change the overall socio-economic development of the region.
He further added that the participation of indigenous peoples in the decision-making process is very much important for their survival and for their identity. The Jumma people want to participate in the decision-making process for their sustainable development.
Santoshita Chakma Bakul has stated that there are several issues in the CHT. These include killing, burning homes, looting, land grabbing by settlers, rape, kidnapping, and also filing false case against local indigenous people and so on. He demanded restoration of the land of the returnees Jumma refugee.
He also mentioned that the religious minorities in Bangladesh are being converted into Islam. The divide and rule policy of the government against indigenous Jumma peoples of CHT must be stopped and proper implementation of CHT Accord is needed for the sake of peace and development of indigenous peoples in CHT.