When the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon arrived in Dhaka on an official visit, his second to Bangladesh, he must have missed Bangladesh Tourism Board’s gallant advertisement “Smiling Indigenous Women of Bangladesh” in its shiny bright billboard at the international airport’s general lobby. The news stories on his arrival Sunday evening obviously did not highlight that he was hurried through the VIP section of the airport, thereby missing the sight.
Ban, a staunch supporter of indigenous peoples’ rights across the world, said at the 10th session of the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII): “Indigenous peoples have been living in a “green economy” for centuries. When economists today look for new ways to achieve sustainable development, they should look at old practices in indigenous communities. Ancient indigenous traditions can help overcome modern problems…” On Monday, he attended the Climate Vulnerable Forum in Dhaka. The media did not televise how many indigenous (IP) leaders were invited to attend this Forum, nor did it mention that the government’s policies on climate change needs to be revised to substantially include IP’s issues and concerns.
At the UNPFII, Lars-Anders Baer, a special Rapporteur and former member of the Permanent Forum, had presented the (in)famous ‘Study on the status of implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997’, which clearly identifies the difficulties experienced in the progress in the implementation of the major provisions of the Accord, and sets out some recommendations for our government to speedily implement the Accord and most importantly, to address dangerously escalating human rights violations in the area.
Our honourable government’s reaction to that intensive 19-page study was: “There are no indigenous people in Bangladesh!”
Welcome shindigs and fanfare
The media also did not report whether a multicultural welcome was given to Ban at the airport, and whether indigenous leaders were part of the reception line-up. Someone said a moonlight cruise on the Buriganga was planned: so it’s too dark to see the pollution of the river and the lands reclaimed by developers (reversing prospective Climate Change-induced land loss by sea level rise!!). Ban – a rice eater – could have been given indigenous Jum Rice to get the real ‘maachey-bhaatey Bangali’ feeling instead of Biriyani at the state banquets. After all, we are Bengalis and Adibashis, not Mughals.
Agenda and visit sites
Ban’s jam-packed agenda does not include a visit to CHT either, so he will be missing out on the cultural diversity of our land. And also a real chance to see firsthand how much of the CHT Accord has actually been implemented. Had he been taken to Gazipur, near Kurmitola airport, he could have seen how the indigenous Barmans have been ousted from their lands and their forests raped. But we have to remember that our foreign ministry is obsessed with numbers, and perhaps determined to keep the mere 1.5 per cent of our citizens as invisible as possible!
Instead, Ban was swept across to visit the world’s No. 1 peacekeepers’ hub: the Bangladesh Institute of Peace Support Operation Training (BIPSOT) at Rajendrapur Cantonment of Gazipur. BIPSOT should be a matter of pride for any Bangladeshi; a prestigious institute of Bangladesh dedicated to training our future peacekeepers for employment in all types of UN Peace Support Operations and thereby fulfilling the requirement of UNDPKO as per the General Assembly resolution, which outlines ‘the necessity and responsibility of every nation to train their armed forces before any deployment.’
There, whether he highlighted the following resolutions taken at the PFII is still not known:
a) That the Department of Peacekeeping Operations develop a mechanism to strictly monitor and screen the human rights records of national army personnel prior to allowing them to participate in peacekeeping operations, and
b) That the Department of Peacekeeping Operations prevent human rights violators and alleged human rights violators within the security forces of Bangladesh from participating in international peacekeeping activities under the auspices of the United Nations.
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The key purpose of the UN Chief’s Bangladesh tour is to showcase the progress and leadership of some countries in advancing women’s and children’s health in the context of the “Every Woman Every Child” effort that he initiated in 2010. He did mention at the PFII: “Indigenous women, who are the custodians of so much rich heritage, often suffer the most. Indigenous peoples do not live as long as others. They suffer higher rates of diseases like diabetes and tuberculosis. Their children are less likely to survive past the age of five. Their communities are less likely to thrive.” So we wonder, why Ban’s agenda covering women’s and children’s health did not also include the high mortality rate of mothers and infant children of the IP communities across Bangladesh, and their lack of access to healthcare, drinking water, sanitation and food security.
The indigenous ambassador in New York
All jokes aside, the UN leader is known to have raised the issue of recognition of indigenous peoples in Bangladesh with our PM at a meeting on September 23 at the UN headquarters in New York. In reply, PM Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister Dipu Moni are reported to have said: “We [Bengalis] are the biggest indigenous peoples of the country. Other people, who have been living as tribes in the country, came to Bangladesh far later after our forefathers had arrived. Thus, we are the real indigenous peoples of Bangladesh.”
Then how can there be no IPs in the country, as proclaimed by our honourable government official in May this same year in the same location? The Secretary-General reportedly replied back in humour, “Then your permanent representative, Dr. Momen is an indigenous person. There is an indigenous person in the UN, it’s not an easy feat!” and broke into laughter. (1)
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December 2nd marks the 14th anniversary of signing of the CHT Peace Accord between the Awami League (AL)-led government and the PCJSS. Even after nearly three years into the signatory party AL’s ruling, we are yet to see a ‘roadmap’ of the CHT Peace Accord implementation process.
At the Permanent Forum, Ban had proclaimed: “We must end the oppression, and we must ensure that indigenous peoples are always heard. Raise your voices here at this Forum and beyond. I will urge the world to listen to your voices.” (2)
Yes Ban Ki-moon, we had raised our voices loud and clear. Perhaps, at the next PFII’s opening rituals, we should also pray so our governments would open their hearts and listen.
Wasfia Nazreen is a development practitioner, a multi-disciplinary researcher and was a delegate of Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) at the 10th session of United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII).
Devasish Roy Wangza is the Chakma Raja and Chakma Circle Chief of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, an advocate at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh and a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII).
(1) Translated from: http://www.amadershomoy1.com/content/2011/09/25/news0708.htm
(2) UN SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS AT OPENING OF SESSION: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2011/sgsm13575.doc.htm