Daily Star Home  

<%-- Page Title--%> Law event <%-- End Page Title--%>

  <%-- Page Title--%> Issue No 151 <%-- End Page Title--%>  

August 1, 2004 

  <%-- Page Title--%> <%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- Navigation Bar--%>


Human rights capacity building training for the ethnic community

Law Desk

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 and solidarity.

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 to justice.

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.


      (C) Copyright The Daily Star. The Daily Star Internet Edition, is published by The Daily Star