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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

JSS submits memo to Begum Sajeda for Constitutional recognition of IPs

A delegation of the PCJSS Central Convening Committee called on Begum Sajeda Chowdhury, M.P., the Deputy Leader of the House and Chairperson of Special Committee on Constitutional Amendments, today at around 11.30 A.M., at her office at the Bangladesh Parliament. The 50-miniute long meeting was held at very cordial atmosphere where her Private Secretary Mr. Mostafa Kamal was also present. The 5-member delegation was led by Mr. Rupayan Dewan, Co-Chairperson of the PCJSS who is also a member of the CHT Regional Council. Other delegation members were Mr. Tatindra Lal Chakma (Member-Secretary, Central Convening Committee), Mr. Uday Kiran Tripura (Member, Central Convening Committee), Ms. Kakoli Khisa (Member, Central Convening Committee and vice-Chairman, Mohalchari Upazila Parishad) and Mr. Angshuman Chakma, Spokesperson, Central Convening Committee).

Begum Sajeda Chowdhury, M.P. and Deputy Leader of the House (Bangladesh Parliament). She is the Chiarman of the CHT Accord Implementation and Monitoring Committee and also the Chairperson of the Constitution Amendment Special Committee of the Government of Bangladesh.

A 5-page memo on Constitutional recognition of the indigenous peoples, their rights and proposal for Constitutional amendments was submitted to Begum Sajeda Chowdhury. Mr. Rupayan Dewan highlighted the core issues of the memo when Begum Sajeda Chowdhury asked to explain those to her. He raised the necessity and rationale for the Constitutional recognition and rights of the indigenous peoples. He referred to, as example, deliberate violations of the CHT accord and concerned laws during past and, hence, said that it is not possible to ensure the survival of the indigenous peoples and prosper them with the rights recognised in the CHT accord. He also held the Ministry on the CHT Affairs responsible for violating the concerned laws and the CHT accord.

Ms. Hira Chakma, Private Assistant to Deputy Leader of the House (left), Begum Sajeda Chowdhury, M.P. (centre) and Ms. Kakoli Khisa, Member, PCJSS Central Convening Committee and Vice-Chairman, Mohalchari Upazila Parishad (right).

Acknowledging the active participation to the liberation movement by all the CHT indigenous people and their contribution she showed her positive gesture in favour of their Constitutional recognition. She also flashed back memories of her intensive relations with the CHT since 1956, citing some instances. She told the delegation that she would handover the memo submitted to her and also convey oral statement of the delegation. She also told to undertake necessary arrangement for a meeting of a delegation from our side with the Prime Minister.

Begum Sajeda Chowdhury cited her Government’s positive stand to implement the CHT accord. The delegation was asked about the subjects of the CHT accord which the Government could implement as immediate task without any hindrances, and the delegation cited: 1) not a single brick has been placed to construct the CHT Regional Council office or the complex in the last 13 years, therefore, the construction be started now; 2) to approve the Rules of the CHT Regional Council for making the council effective; 3) to fire the sitting Chairman of the CHT Land Dispute Disposal Commission with a view to making the Commission’s activities appropriate; 4) to strengthen the Hill District Councils and 5) to strengthen the Ministry on the CHT Affairs and with this in view appoint non-communal, sincere and competent officials.

Mostafa Kamal, Private Secretary to the Deputy Laeder of the House, Begum Sajeda Chowdhury.

Mr. Rupayan Dewan further told, taking the advantage of the delay of the implementation of the accord an anti-accord influential quarter within the Government is also active in different ways. If the situation continues in this way and if the accord is not implemented within the tenure of the sitting Government then the CHT situation will take multidimensional shapes.

The delegation has also met Mr. A.K. Mohammad Hossain, Secretary, Special Committee for Constitutional Amendments and gave a copy of the memo to him for making it available to all the honourable members of the committee. The delegation has also sought his support as the Secretary of the committee.

The 8 demands and 6 proposals included in the memo are given below:

1). To grant, considering the administrative history, tradition and culture of the CHT, regional autonomy having authority to enact laws on culture, social code, land, water bodies, natural resources and development in the interest of security and progress of the indigenous peoples;
2). To grant, considering the rights of the plain land indigenous peoples on their land, the status of autonomous indigenous territory having authority over culture, social code, land, water bodies, natural resources and development in the interest of their collective security and progress;
3). To give constitutional recognition to the indigenous peoples of the CHT and other indigenous areas of Bangladesh;
4). To arrange for constitutional safeguards denying amendment to any provision dealing with the rights of indigenous peoples of the CHT and other indigenous areas of Bangladesh without their consent;
5). To reserve 12 parliamentary seats for all indigenous peoples including present 3 in the CHT;
6). To include a new chapter on “The Rights of the Indigenous Peoples” in the constitution that shall include the recognition of the indigenous peoples and the purview of their rights and other concerned issues;
7). To accord constitutional recognition to the traditional land rights and customary laws of the indigenous peoples of CHT and
8). To accord constitutional recognition to the CHT Accord signed between the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and the PCJSS.

Recommendations for constitutional amendment:
A. A separate chapter on “The Rights of the Indigenous Peoples” shall be added to the constitution. This chapter shall include:
i) Recognition of the indigenous peoples: Peoples different from the Bengalese and living for a very long time in Bangladesh shall be known as indigenous peoples;
ii) Chittagong Hill Tracts Autonomous Region: Chittagong Hill Tracts, being recognized as the indigenous inhabited region considering its distinctive characteristics with regard to its special administrative history, political, economic, social and religious rights, shall be known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts Autonomous Region under a special autonomy;
iii) Power to enact laws: Nothing shall prevent the CHT Regional Council from enacting laws on culture, social code, land, water bodies, natural resources and development of the CHT and its indigenous peoples;
iv) Autonomous Indigenous Regions: Considering the special features of the indigenous peoples living in the plains, their overall vulnerable situation and historic rights over their lands, several Autonomous Indigenous Regions shall be created with respective Regional Councils and to make these councils effective nothing shall prevent the State from enacting laws on culture, social code, land, water bodies, natural resources and development of the indigenous peoples living in these regions;
v) Autonomous Indigenous Regional Council shall also administer such subjects as education, sanitation, health etc which are likely to have bearing on the lives at the grass roots level among the indigenous peoples;
vi) In order to ensure indigenous participation in the state administration nothing shall prevent the state from reserving 4 seats in the CHT and 8 seats in the autonomous regions as “Reserved Parliamentary Indigenous Seats”;
vii) The state shall not repeal or amend the constitutional status of the Autonomous CHT Region and the Autonomous Indigenous Regions without consulting the peoples of these regions. The government shall consult the Regional Councils of these regions before making any law or document resembling law and shall go for opinion polls on demand;
B. Article 3. “The state language of the Republic is Bangla”. At the end of this sentence shall be added, “However, the state shall preserve and patronize the indigenous languages”;
C. Article 9. “The state shall encourage the local government institutions composed of representatives of the areas concerned and in such institutions special representation shall be given, as far as possible, to peasants, workers and women.” At the end of this sentence shall be added, “Nothing shall prevent the state from giving special constitutional status considering the special features of the indigenous peoples and their overall vulnerable situation;
D. A new article “23 A” stating “The state shall, for their protection and development, patronize the culture, language, literature, arts, customs and usages, tradition, historical relics and archeological traditions of the indigenous peoples” shall be added.
E. To insert the expression “including the indigenous peoples” in article 29 clause (3) (a) after the expression “backward section of citizens”. After the insertion the article would read: “making special provision in favor of any backward section of citizens including the indigenous peoples for the purpose of securing their adequate representation in the service of the Republic.”
F. While restoring article 9 of the original constitution of 1972, following the historic verdict on the 5th amendment to the constitution by the Supreme Court, it is to be taken care that the concerned article is amended properly considering that Bangladesh is a land of diverse race, religion and culture other than that of Bengalese themselves and to recognize the contributions made by the indigenous peoples of the CHT and other areas of Bangladesh or to add a new article 9 (a) stating “However, side by side the national identity of the indigenous peoples molded during their participation in the anti-British struggle, democratic movement before the national liberation war, and national freedom struggle and the contributions thus made by them is also considered as a supporting force to the Bengali Nationalism.”

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