Devashish slates Dipu’s views
A speech given by Bangladesh’s foreign affairs minister to diplomats on Tuesday, in which she contended that the people living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts were ‘tribal, not indigenous’, has been strongly criticized by the chief of the Chakmas who described her views as ‘incorrect and misconceived’.
New Age has learnt that the timing of Dipu Moni’s meeting with the top diplomats was linked to the government’s attempt later this week to persuade the United Nations Economic and Social Council to remove two paragraphs from a report of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
The report, published in May, called on the government to undertake a ‘phased withdrawal’ of temporary army camps from the CHT, declare a timeframe for implementation of the peace accord, and establish an independent commission to inquire into ‘human rights violations perpetrated against indigenous peoples’.
It also recommended that the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations prevent the military personnel and units, that are violating human rights in the CHT, from participating in
international peacekeeping activities.
In her speech to the foreign heads of missions, which according to diplomats was hastily arranged, Dipu Moni stated that the CHT’s tribal people were not indigenous to Bangladesh as they had not been ‘physically displaced and eventually dispossessed of their land by colonial/external settlers from a foreign nation’.
She went on to say that the ‘original inhabitants or first nationals of this soil are ethnic Bengalis by descent who constitute nearly 99 per cent of Bangladesh’s 150 million people’.
Ethnic Bengalis have been the original inhabitants of this ‘ancestral’ land for 4,000 years or more, she claimed.
‘We ethnic Bengalis are not, I repeat not, colonial settlers who came to the land of Bengal in the passage of time, neither are we foreigners or non-indigenous to our own native land, and never will be,’ she added.
The CHT’s tribal people, in contrast, she told the audience, ‘are late settlers on Bengal’s soil’.
Moni finished her speech by arguing that it would not be in the ‘the national interest of Bangladesh’ to give ‘a special and elevated identity to enfranchise’ a group of people who constitute less than 2 per cent of the total population.
However, in a detailed four-page statement Raja Devashish Roy, the chief of the Chakma people and a member of the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, strongly criticised the foreign minister’s speech.
He said that she was not correct in assuming that a people had to be displaced by colonial settlers or have had to live in one place for millennia to be considered indigenous.
‘The government is probably stuck in the early 20th century construction of the term “indigenous”, which was confined to America and Australia and New Zealand and which had involved colonial displacement,’ he said.
The modern interpretation of the term, as used by the United Nations and other international agencies, he said, ‘includes groups hitherto regarded as tribal’.
‘The misconceived, inaccurate and artificial distinction between “tribal” and “indigenous” is no longer relevant to the international human rights discourses,’ maintained the Chakma chief.
Devashish argued that the indigenous peoples of the CHT fulfil the criteria of being ‘indigenous’ by ‘being descendants of pre-colonial or pre-conquest societies’ and adhering ‘to pre-colonial or pre-conquest political, social and cultural institutions’ norms and customs’.
He also claimed that the foreign minister’s understanding of the history of the CHT was ‘substantially incorrect’.
He said that the Chakmas have lived in the area that they were now occupying from ‘at least the 1550s’ and that the ‘Bengali people are not known to have permanently resided in the region before the 19th century’.
‘Whenever [the Chakmas and other peoples] may have settled therein, these territories were not inhabited by Bengali people,’ he said.
Devashish also criticised the notion that enfranchisement of the relatively small numbers of CHT people would result in the ‘disentitlement’ of the vast majority.
‘It is inconceivable to think,’ he said, ‘that the mere recognition of the “indigenous” status of some citizens will “disentitle” or otherwise disadvantage other citizens in governance, political, economic or social spheres, especially when they constitute the overwhelming majority of the country’s population and constitute the political, social and economic elite of the country.’
The speech by the foreign minister follows the rejection by the government in May of a report on the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord, which was presented to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Referring to that report, the foreign minister said, ‘Unfortunately, once again, the ethnic Bengali nation remains a victim of global misperception about our ancient anthropological roots, our colonial history and our identity as a nation.’
The Bangladesh government hopes to be able to persuade the UN Economic and Social Council that
the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues should not have made any recommendations about
the CHT peace accord as it does not involve indigenous people.
courtesy: New Age
Following are the pictures from 2008; Dr. Dipu Moni attended a rally to celebrate UN's World indigenous day with country's indigenous leaders.
Chakma Raja Devasish Roy yesterday in a written statement refuted Foreign Minister Dipu Moni's claim that non-Bangalee hill-people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts are not "indigenous" but "ethnic minorities".
As the minister termed the hill-people as economic migrants, Raja Devasish said political, social, and economic causes of migration cannot be the basis of disentitlement to "indigenous" status.
Devasish, who is also a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, referred to the ILO Convention No 107 that Bangladesh ratified, and said to be qualified as "indigenous" a community does not have to have resided in a place for millennia.
A community need to have merely settled or lived in a place "at the time of conquest or colonisation" and need to have lived in conformity with the political, social and cultural institutions of pre-colonial times to qualify as "indigenous" -- according to the ILO Convention, he said.
While briefing diplomats on Tuesday in the auditorium of the foreign ministry, Dipu Moni said a special and elevated identity to enfranchise only 1.2 percent of the total population by disentitling the 98.8 percent cannot be in the national interest of Bangladesh.
Differing with the statement, Raja Devasish said the status of Bangalees as natives of Bangladesh is not challenged or questioned by the assertion of the "indigenous" identity of other ethnic groups.
Recognition as "indigenous" will not provide any privileged status to the non-Bangalee hill-people, he added.
He referred to the cases of Nepal, the Philippines, and Scandinavian and Latin American countries where recognitions of the "indigenous" population did not curb any rights of the non-indigenous people.
The foreign minister said in her briefing that in the constitution, through the 15th amendment, the present government categorised the non-Bangalee hill-people as "ethnic minorities" and no longer only as "tribal" people.
The Chakma raja differed and said the statement of the minister is incorrect as "there is no reference to 'ethnic minorities' in the constitution".
Raja Devasish said according to the latest amendment to the constitution, the new article 23A refers to "small nations/peoples", "small ethnic groups" and "small communities". Just because the constitution does not explicitly refer to minorities, it cannot be denied that minority groups exist; similarly it is incorrect to say that there is no "indigenous" people in Bangladesh, he added.
The indigenous people of CHT fulfils the criteria of "indigenous" by being (i) descendants of pre-colonial or pre-conquest societies; and (ii) by adhering to pre-colonial or pre-conquest political, social and cultural institutions' norms and customs, among others, the Chakma king said.
About the minister's comment about "tribal people" of CHT migrating to Bangladesh, he said may be that is equally applicable to other Bangladeshi citizens that are of Bangla-speaking or Urdu-speaking origin belonging to the Islamic faith, who migrated from present-day India or Myanmar.