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INDIGENOUS people remain among the most persecuted of all minorities, facing discrimination not only on the basis of their religion and ethnicity but also because of their indigenous identity and socio-economic status in today's world. He or she might be a Khasi in the betel leaf gardens of Sylhet, Bangladesh or a pastoralist in the Usangu plains of Tanzania, an indigenous person is always subject to fear of persecution.

Despite the adoption of UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People on 13th September 2007 after more than 20 years' of discussion in the former Commission on Human Rights and in the General Assembly, it remains to be seen how governments and international institutions would follow-up on adoption of the Declaration. There are still many challenges and barriers to include and incorporate the Declaration in respective national legislations of the states, according to the report of the Indigenous World 2008, the regular yearly book of International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGA), disbursed in the 8th Session of UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues in New York (Source: Prothom Alo, 22nd May 2009). IWGA is a Copenhagen based international human rights based organisation which supports the indigenous people across the world.

Meantime, we have been reading lots of newspaper reports on 8th Session of UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues in New York. The Daily Star report of May 24 on the session informs us about the challenges to incorporate the goals of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Development Group's guidelines on Indigenous Peoples' Issues into policies and programmes and to convince key government partners to do the same as underscored by the discussion of various UN agencies in the session. The Daily Star report also quotes speeches of representative from FAO to stress the importance of indigenous people's true participation in FAO's food security efforts or UNHCR representative's speech to use the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People as a tool to protect indigenous peoples' human rights.

IWGA, the Copenhagen based human rights organization for indigenous people, has disseminated its regular annual book of 2008 (source: Prothom Alo, 22nd May 2009). The 578-pages' book can now be reached on the internet and it provides the recent status of indigenous lives in 60 countries of 11 regions in the world. The book, in addition, contains nine pages on the condition of indigenous people in Bangladesh in its South Asia chapter.

According to the editorial of the book, in Bangladesh, there is still no constitutional recognition of the indigenous peoples living in the country and they are only referred to as “backward segments of the population.”

Indigenous people are being increasingly affected by a worldwide trend towards protecting the environment in utter violation of article 10 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states that, “no relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned.” However, relocation, resettlement and expulsion from the ancestral lands have been a very common and widespread reality for indigenous people in recent years across the world, according to the IWGA publication. The creation of national parks, conservation areas, wildlife protection and other measures can have adverse effect on indigenous peoples who would face further impoverishment, loss of culture and a decrease in their living standards in the future.

Today international and national climate change research and mitigation strategies often exclude the indigenous interests into consideration and overlook their rights to their lands. Hydro-electric developments may form part of a government's mitigation strategy whilst at the same time directing towards displacement as have been noted in Tanzania, Russia and Panama in recent years. Mono-crop plantations for bio-fuels affect the ecosystem, the water supply and the whole anatomy of the landscape on which indigenous people depend. In Indonesia, the various mitigation schemes appear to be a bigger threat to indigenous communities than climate change itself.

Unfortunately, having made considerable progress within the human rights bodies, the international arena lags behind in including indigenous voices in the discussion on climate change. This became clear during the 13th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 13) in Bali, where indigenous peoples' representatives were not allowed to present their statement at the opening ceremony. Nowadays, many indigenous people are affected by mining, hydroelectric dams, fossil fuel development, logging and agro-plantations, as well as tourism.

In Bangladesh, the majority of the country's 143.3 million people are Bengalis, and approximately 2.5 million are indigenous people. By the end of 2007, more than 20 indigenous political activists had been arrested and received prolonged sentences on allegedly false charges. In February 2007, the Joint Security Forces in Bangladesh arrested a number of key leaders and activists, many of them involved in the Parbattya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS).

In August 2007, PCJSS Secretary Satyabir Dewan and Ranglai Mro received jail terms of 17 years each although later they were released. More than 10,000 Khasis in 65 villages in Moulvibazar district of Sylhet have been facing the threat of eviction from their land by the Eco-park and social forestry project planned by the government without their consent. Again, a court in Tangail district has ordered the Officer-in-Charge of Modhupur police station to record the murder of Piren Snal, a young Garo activist against the Eco-Park project. On March 18 of 2007, another young Garo activist Cholesh Ritchil was killed by the Joint Forces during the reign of the then interim caretaker government. On 5 November 2007, more than two hundred miscreants attacked indigenous neighbourhoods in Naogaon district and injured 15 Santal villagers while burning their houses in an effort to evict them from their land.

Post-modern philosophers have categorised 'women' as fourth world and the 'indigenous people' as fifth world besides the conventional economic division of the world into first, second and third worlds. We must pledge together to protect the fifth world.

Audity Falguni is a development activist and freelance writer.

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Good article and very much informative.

: BInota Moy Dhamai

 

 

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