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Call for govt to enact ‘indigenous peoples’ rights act’

Staff correspondent: A lawmaker, a rights activist and researchers from around the world at an international conference in Dhaka on Saturday stressed the need for the enactment of an ‘indigenous peoples’ rights act’ in Bangladesh to ensure the rights of the national minorities.

Hasanul Haque Inu, president of a faction of the Jatiya Samtajtantrik Dal, said that enactment of such a law was necessary to protect the rights of national minorities.

Referring to Section 23(A) of the constitution after the 15th amendment that has the word ‘tribal’ and the phrase ‘ethnic minorities,’ he called on the conference to recommend the government to amend the section a clear definition of ‘adivasi.’

Inu, who was addressing the two-day conference on land forest rights of the national minorities being held at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre organised by Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples’ Forum, also expressed his concerns about the national minorities being denied their communal and ancestral land by using national laws.

Inu, also a lawmaker of the ruling Awami League-led alliance  and chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on posts and telecommunications ministry, said that the Vested Property Act needs to be amended immediately.

It could, otherwise, be

used as an instrument to evict minorities from their land.

Economist Abul Barakat in his presentation said that 63 per cent of the ‘adivasis’ were absolute poor while 32 per cent of them were hardcore poor.

In case of the national minorities living in the plain land such as the Santals and the Oraons, poverty rate exceeded 67 per cent while the poverty rate has already exceeded 80 per cent in case of such minorities living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts such as the Chaks, the Bawms, the Lushais and the Pangkhoas.

‘This extreme poverty is wedded inextricably to the dispossession of adivasi land,’ Barakat added.

The conference also demanded full implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord 1997, a separate land commission for national minorities to resolve land disputes, amendment to the CHT Land Disputes Resolution Commission Act 2001 as it has more than 15 sections that are contradictory to the CHT accord and immediate removal of Khademul Islam Chowdhury as the chairman of the CHT Land Disputes Resolution Commission.

Gautam Kumar Chakma, a member of the CHT Regional Council, in the second session of the conference, said that Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti would officially submit an application to the authorities concerned demanding the removal

of the land commission chair Khademul.

Different socio-political organisations have for long been accusing the Land Commission chair of making unilateral decisions.

The Chakma Circle chief, Raja Devashish Roy, read out a paper titled ‘Problems and solutions of resolving the land disputes of the indigenous peoples’ in the second session  and lawyer Rizwana Hasan read out a paper titled ‘Forestry policy: the need for a paradigm shift’ in the third session.

The conference was inaugurated as part of a programme marking International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples where consultant Roger Plant, Meena Adhikari, managing director of Rupantaram Nepal, Father Daniel De of the United Nations, Professor Mesbah Kamal of Dhaka University, Arupjyoti Saikia of the Indian Institute of Technology, Buddhadeb Chaudhury of the University of Kolkata, and BIPF general secretary Sanjeeb Drong attended.

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