Human rights situation of indigenous people worsens in Corona: Speakers at Virtual Discussion

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Hill Voice, 12 August 2020, Dhaka: On the occasion 9 August 2020, International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum (BIPF) organised an online discussion meeting on COVID-19 and Indigenous Peoples of Bangladesh.

Mr. Kristin T. Wæringsaa, Chargé d’affaires, Royal Norwegian Embassy in Dhaka Mr. Hans LAMBRECHT, PhD, First Secretary & Chargé d’ Affaires, Delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh, Ms. Heike Alefsen, Senior Human Rights Adviser, Office of UNRC in Bangladesh, Professor Mizanur Rahman, Phd, Former Chair of the National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh, Raja Devasish Roy, Chief of Chakma Circle, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Professor Tony Blei, Phd, Tromso University, Norway, Mr. Gam A. Shimrey, Secretary General, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), Mr. Binota Moy Dhamai, Member, UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP), Mr. Thomas Baumgartner, Head of Political, Economic and Cultural Affairs, Embassy of the Switzerland, Ms. Ruzan Sarwar, Senior Policy Advisor, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Mr. Tuomo Poutiainen, Country Director, ILO, Winnie Estrup Petersen, Ambassador, Royal Danish Embassy, Ms. Chanchana Chakma Indigenous women leader and Ms. Chandra Tripura Youth leader and among others were present. Sanjeeb Drong, General Secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum (BIPF) moderated and chaired this meeting.

Pallab Chakma, in his opening remarks, said that the whole world is going through a critical time in this pandemic. Now indigenous peoples of Bangladesh leading miserable life in the ongoing situation. Food shortages, unemployment, inadequate medical access has become a part of their life.  Indigenous peoples have largely controlled the effects of Covid 19 in their territory because of their adherence to the lockdown in the traditional way. Moreover, indigenous youths in Chittagong hill tracts helped the community to build quarantine houses for home returnee migrant workers.

Raja Devasish Roy, Chief of Chakma Circle said that Indigenous peoples who already face food insecurity, as a result of the loss of their traditional lands and territories, confront even graver challenges in access to food. With the loss of their traditional livelihoods, which are often land-based, many Indigenous peoples who work in traditional occupations and subsistence economies or in the informal sector will be adversely affected by the pandemic.  The situation of indigenous women, who are often the main providers of food and nutrition to their families, is even graver.

ILO representative- Iindigenous peoples experience a high degree of socio-economic marginalization and are at disproportionate risk in public health emergencies, becoming even more vulnerable during this global pandemic, owing to factors such as their lack of access to effective monitoring and early-warning systems, and adequate health and social services.

Mr. Gam A. Shimrey, Secretary General, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) said that even in the amidst of COVID-19 pandemic, the rise in extreme right-wing populism and authoritarianism in the Asia region has severely curbed the civic space. As a result, the ability of CSOs to use political institutions to resolve conflicts and to access justice have become ineffective. Therefore, deepening of democracy that accounts for Indigenous Peoples’ conception of self-government has become more urgent than before.

Ms. Chandra Tripura, a representative from youth & woman said that the COVID-19 pandemic have seriously effected on indigenous peoples’ wellbeing, livelihood and health in Bangladesh. The condition of the indigenous peoples of the country including youth and women of the country deplorable due to the COVID-19 pandemic and even in the crisis, there has been an increase in communal attack on indigenous peoples, land grabbing and eviction, rape, murder and abduction of indigenous women.

Mr. Thomas Baumgartner, Head of Political, Economic and Cultural Affairs, Embassy of the Switzerland said

Professor Tony Blei, Phd, Tromso University, Norway said that due to the COVID-19, Indigenous peoples who already face food insecurity, as a result of the loss of their traditional lands and territories,  confront even graver challenges in access to food. With the loss of their traditional livelihoods, which are often land-based, many Indigenous peoples who work in traditional occupations and subsistence economies or in the  informal sector will be adversely affected by the pandemic.

Mr. Binota Moy Dhamai, Member, UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) said that even in the amidst of COVID-19 pandemic, the customary land right of the indigenous people is frequently violated. In the name of conservation of forest, the right of the indigenous peoples to extract resources from forest, in accordance with customary law, is restricted and limited. Indigenous Jumma peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are being restricted to continue Jum cultivation. Due to the non -implementation of that CHT Accord, dispute over land in the CHT is still unresolved and the Bengali settlements remain continued over the indigenous peoples’ land.

Mr. Hans LAMBRECHT, PhD, First Secretary & Chargé d’ Affaires, Delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh said that realizing the rights of indigenous peoples means ensuring their inclusion and participation in COVID-19 response and recovery strategies.  Indigenous peoples must be consulted in all efforts to build back stronger and recover better.

 Professor Mizanur Rahman, Phd, Former Chair of the National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh said that the government of Bangladesh recognised only 27 indigenous communities, whereas according to the research showed that there are more than 50 indigenous communities in Bangladesh. The way of the defence against the COVID-19 crisis is much more effective and the mainstream community can also replicate their ideas to fight against COVID-19 in Bangladesh. In addition, in some places the situation of indigenous peoples is becoming worse day by day. Indigenous peoples in Bangladesh has been unpeopling from the country by ignoring their identities and access to justice. State should suppose to taking care of human rights violation of the country. But states fail to protect human rights of indigenous peoples in the country.

Mr. Kristin T. Wæringsaa, Chargé d’affaires, Royal Norwegian Embassy in Dhaka said that we have to look for a sustainable solution to fight against COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms. Ruzan Sarwar, Senior Policy Advisor, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands said that we have been working to uphold indigenous peoples’ rights in Bangladesh.

Joan Carling, indigenous human rights defender from Philippines, who are responsible for the health, nutrition and care of their families and communities, are bearing a huge toll in this pandemic. COVID-19 is by far not the only threat to the health and survival of indigenous peoples, who face numerous challenges, including poor access to sanitation, lack of clean water, inadequate medical services, widespread stigma and discrimination in healthcare settings, and land grabbing and encroachment on their lands. The spirit of partnership around the world can help the indigenous to fight against all of these events.

In concluding remarks, Sanjeeb Drong said that the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day supposed to be celebrated with full of joy which is painful and anguishing today due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Indigenous peoples work primarily in traditional occupations and subsistence economies or in the informal sector.  These have all been adversely affected by the pandemic.

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