Human rights capacity building training
for the ethnic community
Recently, a human rights organization ODHIKAR organized
a capacity building training programmes for ethnic communities in Bangladesh.
About 30 representatives from 15 ethnic communities of the country participated
in the training with the aim to enhance the capacity of ethnic organizations
on monitoring, documentation and fact finding of human rights abuses
according to internationally accepted standards. The topics covered
in the trainings were basic concepts of human rights in its historical
perspective, human rights of ethnic communities, national and international
legal perspective of human rights, human rights movement, investigation/fact
finding, monitoring and documentation, reporting and human rights networking
The human rights situation in Bangladesh presents an
apparent paradox today. It is characterized by increasing deterioration
of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights, particularly
for ethnic minority peoples.
Bangladesh has ratified International Bill of Human
Rights and other core treaties of the United Nations. Bangladesh has
made a draft bill on setting up of a national human rights commission,
which is yet to be enacted as a law in parliament. Civil society organizations
are advocating with the government to make it more independent and free
from any government intervention. There are legislative rights-safeguards
in addition to existing strong constitutional provisions to uphold every
citizen's fundamental rights, special Schedules to protect tribal peoples
and their lands, and statutory commissions on Women, Scheduled Castes
and Scheduled Tribes.
At the same time, a wide array of legislation and constitutional
arrangements exists, investing police and armed forces of Bangladesh
with special powers to operate with virtual immunity. The blatant violation
of human rights by the police and armed forces has been reinforced further
by a weak judicial system frequently influenced by political interests.
Police excesses, torture, arbitrary execution are common features in
many parts of Bangladesh. There are occasional reports that in the Chittagong
Hill tracts region police apart, the armed forces of Bangladesh are
involved in violation of human rights with impunity as acknowledged
by various national and international human rights bodies.
In Bangladesh, ethnic communities face continuous threats
of land grabbing and against their culture and traditions. Ownership
of land is the most vital issue for these marginal groups of ethnic
minority people, who do not have much access to justice and legal recourse.
Due to lack of education, information and financial
resources, different ethnic groups face the same problems of land grabbing,
unemployment, cultural invasion and lack of access to resources and
Although 'Chakmas' in the Chittagong Hilltracts are
the most educated among all the indigenous population, there is still
a genuine sense of frustration due to loss of their ancestral lands
or community lands to the newcomers in their area. Other ethnic groups
in the Chittagong Hilltracts do not even have proper education and skills
to address their issues. Although a Land Commission has been established,
this commission is yet to start its work fully.
In the Modhupur forest of central Bangladesh, 'Garo'
people suffer seriously due to logging and a slow process of land grabbing
by the local land grabbers from the dominant Bangali community, with
the help of corrupt land registration officials.
The 'Shantals' live in the greater districts of Dinajpur,
Pangpur, Naogaon and Rajshahi of northern Bangladesh. They live side
by side with the majority Bangali community but unfortunately are deprived
from almost all kinds of resources, educations and skills.
Aggressive agricultural and forestry policies, protected
areas management, infrastructure build up, extractive industrial expansion,
neo-liberal economic policies are some of the main determinants of increasing
threats to indigenous and tribal peoples' territories, livelihoods and
food security. The privatization drive of successive governments, resulting
in the withdrawal of government responsibility in social services sector
has increased pace of resource extraction from indigenous and tribal
peoples' lands causing their further impoverishment.
Ethnically the indigenous and ethnic minority people
living in Bangladesh belong to Tibetan-Mangolaid origin. These groups
have been struggling for a long time to preserve their ethnic and cultural
originality and characteristics from the invasion of alien cultures.
In spite of a broadening spectrum of monitoring and
documentation needs and imperatives, there has not been systematic documentation
that addresses the situation of the range of rights violations. Indigenous
peoples' human rights organizations need to have systematic compilation
for effective monitoring, campaigns and advocacy. Effective monitoring
of rights violations through thorough and comprehensive documentation
would also contribute towards promoting and protecting human rights,
and strengthening networks. The grassroots organizations that deal with
these situations often lack the necessary skills and techniques and
information required for addressing the situation.
By organizing capacity building training, Odhikar has
made the ethnic groups of Bangladesh acquainted with the skills and
techniques of human rights monitoring, documentation and reporting.
This will help those groups to further advocate their concerns to national
and international community in a more systematic and organized way.