Mro people’s protests and Bangladesh’s obligations | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 29, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:32 AM, November 29, 2020

Mro people’s protests and Bangladesh’s obligations

A look at int’l instruments of rights for indigenous communities

Fresh protests have erupted in Bandarban among Mro people against the initiative to build a five-star hotel and amusement park at Kaprupara, Dolapara and Shong Nam Hung of 302 Lulaing Mouza and 355 Sepru Mouza in the hilly district.

According to Mro community members, the relationship they have with the lands and territories is a defining feature and crucial element of their lives. Expressing solidarity with the protests, some sixty-two eminent citizens issued a statement.

The statement outlined how the proposed plan or initiative violates the constitutional norms on respecting and protecting cultures, the CHT Regulation 1900, Bandarban Hill District Council Act 1989 and CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act 2001.

This initiative also makes us revisit Bangladesh's position and attitude toward indigenous people.

Historically, Bangladesh has shown indifference toward undertaking international obligations for indigenous people. The present private development initiative, if implemented, would certainly be attributed to the country's omission of and attitude towards such people in general.

All around the world, some of the most pressing human rights challenges facing indigenous peoples primarily derive from pressures on their ancestral lands, territories, and resources due to development and extraction activities.

An inevitable consequence of such activities is continuation of threats to their cultures. The current protests just highlight one part of the pattern of exploitation leading to human rights abuse.

Internationally, the primary and most comprehensive instrument that concerns human rights of indigenous peoples is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on September 13, 2007.

Bangladesh was one of 11 countries which abstained from voting for or against the declaration, and since then, it has consistently maintained the position.

Article 26 (1) of the declaration acknowledges indigenous peoples' right to the lands, territories, and resources that they have traditionally owned or otherwise used, and Article 26 (2) mentions the lands, territories, and resources that they possess under indigenous customary notions of ownership. Article 26 (3), on the other hand, requires states to give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories, and resources.

The declaration, although non-binding, is a significant document entailing global consensus towards indigenous peoples' rights. It, among others, effectively details the rights of indigenous peoples, and lays down the minimum standards for their recognition, and protection of their rights.

Another major instrument not ratified by Bangladesh is the ILO Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, 1989 (No. 169). While ultimately not as comprehensive as the declaration, it covers indigenous peoples' rights to customary laws, lands, territories and resources, employment, education, and health. Moreover, it signalled, at the time of its adoption in 1989, a greater international responsiveness to indigenous peoples' demands for greater control over their way of life and institutions.

The earlier stances of Bangladesh towards these instruments have in a way posited Bangladesh as not-so-friendly towards indigenous peoples. Now, this new incident followed by the protests has brought this issue to the forefront.

The country needs to respect and act on the CHT accord and fundamental constitutional principle of protecting cultures. Besides, it is high time the country revisited its previous attitude towards international documents.

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