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Friday, June 10, 2011

Tribal people not indigenous Says Law Minister Shafique

Tribal people not indigenous

Says Law Minister Shafique

Indigenous people of the country will be recognised in the constitution as tribal people but not indigenous, Law Minister barrister Shafique Ahmed said yesterday.

“Under the fundamental principle of state policy in the constitution, these people will be recognised as ethnic minority or ethnic community or tribal people,” the minister said at a seminar last morning.

Meanwhile, representatives of indigenous people and rights activists expressed their surprise over the law minister's comment. They said the state has no right to impose any identity to anyone.

The minister made the comment in the seminar titled “National seminar on ILO convention 169 and human rights of indigenous peoples in Bangladesh,” jointly organised by Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum (BIPF), International Labour Organization (ILO), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in association with embassy of Denmark at LGED building.

Quoting 1 (b) of article 1 of ILO Convention No 169, the minister in his speech as chief guest suggested there are no indigenous people in the country.

1 (b) of the article cites, “peoples in independent countries who are regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country, or a geographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest or colonisation or the establishment of present state boundaries and who, irrespective of their legal status, retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions.”

The minister said that these people have never been displaced or subjected to any colonial invasion; rather, they have been living happily with Bangalee people. “So, they are not indigenous people as mentioned in the ILO convention,” he added.

He said these people rather match with part 1 (a) of the article 1 of the convention, which reads, “tribal peoples in independent countries whose social, cultural and economic conditions distinguish them from other sections of the national community, and whose status is regulated wholly or partially by their own customs or traditions or by special laws or regulations;”

Rights activist Sultana differed with the minister's comments. Contacted over the telephone she said, “According to the convention descendants of the people who used to call them indigenous before colonial invasion are also indigenous people. It does not necessarily lead to any conclusion that there are no indigenous people in the country.”

She also mentioned that the minister's comment also runs against the one of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who recently said that there are no indigenous people in the country but only Santals.

Earlier on May 26 first secretary of the Bangladesh Mission in New York Iqbal Ahmed at a United Nations special session also said that Bangladesh does not have any indigenous population.

Meanwhile, the indigenous community is hurt and disappointed with the minister's comment, said Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of BIPF, told The Daily Star.

“No state can impose any identity on any people or community. This is a violation of human rights,” he said, adding, the convention itself says “Self-identification is considered as a fundamental criterion for the identification of indigenous and tribal peoples.”

“We don't understand why government and the state machinery all of a sudden have started making these kinds of comments, when Awami League itself used the word 'indigenous' in their election pledge,” he grudged.

NHRC Chairman Prof Mizanur Rahman said, “True democracy demands self identity and equal rights ensured to everyone. This is inclusive democracy. No matter where they come from, their habits or how they are dressed-up.”

Deputy Head of mission of Embassy of Denmark Jan Moller Hansen and ILO Country Director Andre Bogui attended the seminar among others.


courtesy: The Daily Star

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