Rights activists and academicians at a conference yesterday urged the government to end division among the citizens based on ethnic and religious identity, which goes against the founding principles of Bangladesh.
They said the division is intensifying gradually as the ethnic minority communities in the country have been deprived of their rights, and the state has failed to protect them.
They also demanded that the government formulate a separate law to ensure rights of the ethnic minorities, who are still lagging behind significantly.
Research and Development Collective (RDC), a non-government organisation, and the Parliamentary Caucus on Indigenous Peoples and Minorities jointly organised the conference on indigenous people’s rights at The Daily Star Centre in the capital.
Speaking at the event, Dhaka University Professor Mesbah Kamal said the indigenous people of the country have been subjected to various forms of rights violation -- including murder, rape, arson attack and land grabbing -- over the years.
“Although the government pledged to stop violence and ensure security of members of minority communities, it has failed to do so. Besides, a part of the government is involved in the rights violations,” he said.
Considering the current context, formulation of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act is very necessary, added Prof Mesbah, also chairperson of RDC.
He said that RDC with help of other NGOs and rights organisations prepared a draft of the act and submitted it to the government.
He hoped that the government would consider their expectations.
Prof Mizanur Rahman of law department at Dhaka University said many rights issues of the indigenous communities, including right to land, will be solved if the act is approved. It will also give them a permanent recognition as citizens, he added.
“I sincerely request the prime minister not to let division based on ethnicity happen anymore in the country,” said Prof Mizanur, also former chairman of National Human Rights Commission.
Echoing Mizanur, Workers Party President Rashed Khan Menon said it is high time to stand against the division, so that it cannot escalate.
“If the government wants to make the ongoing development sustainable, politics of division will have to end,” he said.
Bangladesh Adivasi Forum General Secretary Sanjeeb Drong said such division cannot be expected from a civilised country like Bangladesh.
“As the existing laws failed to protect the rights of the indigenous people, we need a separate law,” he said, urging the government to empathise with their situation.
Lawmaker Mustafa Lutfullah and Lutfun Nessa Khan, and RDC General Secretary Zannat-E-Ferdousi also spoke at the programme, among others.