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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Govt fails to amend UN report on indigenous people

Govt fails to amend UN report on indigenous people

David Bergman
31 July, 2011
The Bangladesh government was unsuccessful on Friday in removing two paragraphs from a report written by the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which had recommended in May that the government take far-reaching measures to ‘normalise’ the situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

However members of the UN Economic and Social Council, which has been meeting in Geneva this month, did agree as a compromise, that its own report would ‘take note’ that the Forum should  ensure that it ‘adhere[s] to its mandate’ and that its studies are conducted in a fully independent, transparent, impartial and objective manner’.

The agreed text did not specifically refer to Bangladesh’s concerns.

Abul Kalam Abdul Momen, Bangladesh’s representative at the Council’s meeting, said that he had accepted the compromise ‘for the sake of consensus’ but ‘reiterated [the country’s] reservations and serious concerns about the report of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues’.

He continued to inform the council meeting that, ‘The Forum acted outside its mandate in commissioning a study on the implementation status of the Chittagong Hill Tracts peace accord of 1997.’

He further stated that the study, ‘was conducted in a manner that raised questions of transparency, ethics, impartiality and objectivity relating to its conduct and contents’, claiming that, ‘the Special Rapporteur did not disclose [his] identity, mandate and objective while interacting with the authorities, which is a violation of established norms and practices’.

However Sanjeeb Drong, the general secretary of the Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, welcomed the decision of the Council not to amend the Forum’s report, and told New Age that the government should ‘take into account that most other countries did not support its stance’.

He also said that the government should not take the Forum’s report ‘in a negative way’ and should ‘take all necessary steps to uphold human rights in the CHT’.

The two paragraphs in the Forum’s report, which the government had wanted to be removed, had recommended that the Bangladesh government declare a timeframe for implementation of the 1997 CHT accord, undertake a ‘phased withdrawal’ of temporary army camps from the area, and form an independent commission to inquire into ‘human rights violations perpetrated against indigenous peoples including sexual violence against women and girls’.

It had also recommended that the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations prevent military personnel and units that are violating human rights in the CHT from ‘participating in international peacekeeping activities’.

The Forum had made its recommendations after receiving a study on the status of the implementation of the CHT Accord, which was written by Lars-Anders Baer, the president of the Saami Parliament in Sweden.

According to diplomatic sources, the government of Bangladesh was forced to withdraw its proposal to have the paragraphs dropped from the report as there was insufficient support from the council’s members.

One diplomat said that members of the council ‘objected to this proposal as it would have set a very negative precedent’ to amend the substance of a submitted report.

The diplomat added that Bangladesh government’s representative had realized at the last moment that it would have been ‘embarrassing’ if the proposal was put to the vote, as it would have lost.

According to the official summary of the Council’s meeting on Friday, Bangladesh’s position was supported by China, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

China’s representative said that the indigenous people’s forum in Bangladesh ‘should not expand at will the concept of indigenous people and put ethnic minorities into the same category as indigenous people’.

On Tuesday last week, foreign affairs minister Dipu Moni gave a speech to foreign diplomats in Dhaka in which she argued that the CHT’s tribal people were not indigenous 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’.

Her speech triggered off a round of diplomacy by the Bangladesh’s government to persuade members of Council that the Forum, which deals with indigenous people, has no jurisdiction to deal with Bangladesh as it had no indigenous people.
The foreign minister’s speech was described the following day as ‘incorrect and misconceived’ by Raja Devashish Roy, the chief of the Chakmas and a member of the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

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 modern interpretation of the term, as used by the United Nations and other international agencies, he said, ‘includes groups hitherto regarded as tribal’.

Courtesy: New Age

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