We expect that the report will be a lobby instrument for IWGIA’s indigenous partners in their advocacy work for implementation of the Cittagong Hill Tracts Accord. Already the report has been presented to the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and various UN agencies during the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues held in May 2012.
Bangladesh is home to more than 54 indigenous peoples who speak at least 35 languages, along with the majority of the Bengali population. Bangladesh has not adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the economic and political rights of the country's indigenous peoples continue to be ignored.
The government of Bangladesh does not recognize indigenous peoples as indigenous. However, since the amendment of the 2011 Constitution, peoples with different ethnic identities than the Bengali population are mentioned. However, only cultural aspects are mentioned, while issues related to the economic and political rights of indigenous peoples, in particular their rights to land, continue to be ignored.
Indigenous peoples in Bangladesh
According to the 2011 census conducted by the Government of Bangladesh, the country's indigenous population comprises approximately 1,586,141, 1.8% of the country's total population. However, indigenous peoples in Bangladesh claim that their population is approximately 5 million.
Approximately 80% of the indigenous population lives in the flatland districts of the north and southeast of the country, while the rest reside in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. In Chittagong Hill Tracts, indigenous peoples are commonly known as Jummas for their crop rotation agriculture, known locally as Jum.
Along with the official language of Bengali, the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh speak at least 35 languages. Measures have been taken to include teachers from indigenous groups and texts in indigenous languages at the pre-primary school, and the government has distributed books for the nursery school in five indigenous languages, namely Chakma, Garo, Kokborok, Marma and Sadri.
However, the government has not yet taken any action to train an adequate number of qualified teachers with the necessary linguistic skills in these languages and has not yet presented a plan for native education in the later stages for the pre-primary level, nor for other indigenous languages.
Main challenges for the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh
The land rights of indigenous peoples in Bangladesh continue to be one of the alarming issues and a key factor in serious human rights violations in the country. Indigenous peoples' organizations have protested against the growing number of human rights violations and demand protection, promotion and respect for their human rights.
Although the 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts Agreement was a constructive agreement between the indigenous peoples and the Government of Bangladesh, after 19 years, the main problems of the Agreement remain unresolved. Indigenous peoples still face challenges in areas such as the return of power and functions to the Chittagong Hill Tracts institutions, the preservation of the characteristics of the tribal area of the Chittagong Hill Tracts region, the demilitarization and rehabilitation of the internally displaced.
The situation of indigenous women continues to be alarming. Sexual and physical attacks have become a common means of being used against indigenous women and girls, while none of the alleged perpetrators have been brought to justice. In 2016, Bangladesh was revised by the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The concluding observations highlight that the government should: "effectively investigate all reports of gender-based violence against indigenous women related to land grabbing and take steps to bring those responsible to justice." In 2017, at least 56 indigenous women and girls were sexually assaulted
Advances in land disputes and education for indigenous groups in Bangladesh
The Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act of 2001 was amended in August 2016. The amendment is expected to pave the way for the proper resolution of land disputes and the return of dispossessed lands belonging to native populance.
The Government of Bangladesh undertook initiatives to fulfill its responsibility to ensure primary education for indigenous children, including a measure in 2017 to nationalize 210 primary schools in Chittagong Hill Tracts. The Ministry of Primary and Mass Education produced pre-school textbooks in 5 indigenous languages and distributed around 25,000 books.
On the other hand, indigenous activists identified the lack of adequate, competent and qualified teachers in indigenous languages. In addition, children belonging to many remote indigenous communities still can not realize their right to education due to the lack of educational institutions in those areas.
Bangladesh: Indigenous women form a network aiming at realising their rights through united movement
In the first ever National Indigenous Women Conference held in Dhaka, indigenous women leaders and representatives of indigenous women’s organisations formed a network naming Bangladesh Indigenous Women Network (BIWN) aiming at realising their rights through social, economic, political and cultural movements.
On 8 November 2010, indigenous Jumma peoples in Ruma upazila under Bandarban Hill District organised demonstration and held meeting at Ruma Upazilla HQ protesting against acquisition of lands of the Jumma people recorded in their names as well as occupied by them so far for expansion of Ruma Cantonment of the Bangladesh Army and establishment of new wing headquarter of BDR (Bangladesh Rifles) in Ruma.
An 11-year old indigenous Jumma girl was allegedly raped, and then murdered, by a non-indigenous Bengali settler, Ibrahim in Longudu sub-district of the Chittagong Hill Tracts region on 9 May who has apparently been arrested following widespread protests against the incident.
Approximately 170 guests were present at the seminar to discuss the challenges and opportunities in relation to ensuring rights for Indigenous People and Tribal People (ITP). Country Director of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Bangladesh, Mr. Andre Bogui, gave his opening remarks, where he emphasized the importance of dealing with the issue in cooperation with facilitators, development partners as well as with the Government of Bangladesh. Mr. Bogui argued that there have been some positive aspects in terms of promoting the rights of ITP, as there is now a paragraph in the Sixth Five Year Plan concerning rights for ITP.
On February 19, Bengali settlers launched major communal attacks against indigenous peoples in 14 indigenous villages in Baghaihat area of Sajek Union under Rangamati district in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh. In these allegedly pre-planned attacks settlers backed by the Bangladesh army six indigenous persons were killed and over 200 houses of the indigenous villagers were burned down. The violence later spread to various places in Khagrachori district.