The constitutional amendment ignoring the demands of the indigenous people and the recent comments of Foreign Minister Dipu Moni about the status of those minority groups have exposed another fault line of conflict between the government and the ethnic minorities.
On 26 July 2011, Foreign Minister told diplomats and journalists in two separate briefings that the minority people living in the CHT were ‘tribal and not indigenous.’ She also said that CHT peoples were ‘asylum-seekers’ and Bangalis are the true indigenous peoples of Bangladesh.
At the state guest house Padma, she faced and countered rhetoric from a history professor who sought to define the tribal people beyond the accepted terminology, but largely impressed upon the editors to accept her plea not to call them ‘indigenous’.
”In the constitution, all minorities were recognised generically as minorities, and through the 15th amendment, the present government has categorised them as ‘ethnic minorities’ and no longer only as ‘tribal’ people,” she said.
The minister told both groups Bangladesh was concerned that the ‘tribal’ people or ethnic minorities in the CHT region were being described as ‘indigenous peoples’ of the country.
In a sharp reaction, indigenous leaders, academics, rights activists demanded withdrawal of Foreign Minister’s remarks on indigenous peoples.
Leaders and activists of minority ethnic communities from across the country, defying the pouring rain, took to the streets in the capital on Monday to press home their demand for being officially recognised as ‘indigenous peoples’, not as ‘small ethnic groups’, in the Constitution.
While observing the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, the Adivasi Forum organized a march along city streets and the Forum members chanted slogans in protest against the government’s move to describe them as ‘tribes’…. They demanded full implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tract peace accord.
Earlier on 29 July 2011 Indigenous peoples and academics and rights groups took to the streets in Dhaka denouncing the statements of the Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, about indigenous peoples and demanded the withdrawal of the ‘objectionable remarks which were discriminatory and disrespectful to indigenous peoples’
Speakers at the rally said such biased speech could only instigate the peoples of CHT to form a stern movement rather than finding a peaceful solution. The notion of microscopic population of the national minorities’ in Dipu Moni’s speech is totally ‘undemocratic’ and ‘disrespectful’.
The speakers also strongly criticised Dipu Moni’s defining of ‘indigenous peoples’ term based on dictionaries and said such flawed definition of a foreign minister, was ‘regrettable’ and ‘shameful’. They said she proved her ignorance in front of foreign diplomats around the world. They questioned Foreign Minister that if they are not indigenous then how Raja Devasish Roy became a member of United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues?
Politician Haider Akbar Khan Rono said “As a Bangladeshi working for this country, I protest on behalf of all my Adivasi sisters and brothers, other friends and colleagues, who are working for the indigenous people towards the development of our Motherland”
Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of Bangladesh Adivashi Forum claimed that Dipu Moni had expressed her solidarity regarding the ‘indigenous’ term in 2008. The AL’s election manifesto and the prime minister’s speech in 2009 also contains the term indigenous.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission, a non-government international organization has objected to Foreign Minister, Dr. Dipu Moni’s statement saying that it was a ‘misperception’ and demanded the acceptance of the ethnic groups in CHT as ‘indigenous’ Her remarks are discriminatory and disrespectful towards the ethnic groups as full citizens of Bangladesh and the CHT Commission forwarded the statement to the President of the UN economic and social council. The statement, jointly signed by Eric Avebury, Sultana Kamal and Elsa Stamatopoulou, all the three Co-chair of the CHT Commission, was issued on Friday.
The CHT Commission believes that the Foreign Minister’s comments reflect a lack of commitment on the part of the Bangladesh Government towards its national and international obligations, including those contained in the 2008 Election Manifesto of the Bangladesh Awami League, and the provisions of the ILO Convention 107 and other international human rights standards, among others.
It also reflects the government’s discomfort at the suggestion of human rights screening for the Bangladeshi components of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, many of whom are actively taking part in the Bangladesh military’s de facto operation, Operation Uttoron, in the CHT, which purports to provide a legal cover to the Bangladesh Army’s role in civilian affairs, which is in violation of the laws of Bangladesh and international human rights standards, norms and practices.
The CHT Commission hopes that the UN Economic and Social Council will adhere to its non-discriminatory approach and adopt the report of the 10th session of the Permanent Forum and all its recommendations, including those related to the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997.
CHT Regional Council chairman Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma and Chakma Raja Devasish Roy have both strongly refuted the foreign minister’s contention.