Behind AL’s flip flop on the Adibashis

Posted in politics, Rights by mehomaan on August 2, 2011


On 26 July, 2011 Foreign Minister Dipu Moni met separately with journalists and diplomats to persuade the UN Economic and Social Council not to adopt the recommendations placed by the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII).

Earlier during the 10th session of the Permanent Forum in May 2011 Mr Iqbal Ahmed, the First Secretary of the Bangladesh mission to the UN, on behalf of the Bangladesh Government claimed that there were no Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh and then made objections to two paragraphs in the report prepared by Special Rapporteur Lars Anders Baer, both on the conduct of the Peacekeeping Forces.


This constitutes a major flip flop for the Awami League, which made the following commitment in its 2008 election manifesto:

Terrorism, discriminatory treatment and human rights violations against religious and ethnic minorities and indigenous people must come to an end permanently. Security of their life, wealth and honor will be guaranteed. Their entitlement to equal opportunity in all spheres of state and social life will be ensured. Special measures will be taken to secure their original ownership on land, water bodies, and their age-old rights on forest areas. In addition, a land commission will be formed. All laws and other arrangements discriminatory to minorities, indigenous people and ethnic groups will be repealed. Special privileges will be made available in educational institutions for religious minorities and indigenous people. Such special privileges will also apply for their employment…  (Clause 18 of AL’s manifesto).

So, why this turnaround?

The real reason


The big game is the UN Peacekeeping Operations (PKO). During the UNPFII session in May, a resolution was passed that if Bangladeshi soldiers are shown to violate human rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, they can’t be sent to UN PKO.

This made the government panic as PKO is huge revenue source and going to be more in future.  The government’s response was to say that ‘UNPFII is for indigenous peoples issues, and since CHT people are not indigenous, we reject UNPFII’s authority to talk about CHT’.

It’s actually a very smart strategy, borrowed from the China playbook. If you deny the existence of the indigenous peoples at government level, then you can legally undercut UNPFII resolution and you can gum up the works on procedural matters long enough to run out the clock until it becomes too late — let’s say PKO takes another 10,000 Deshi soldiers somewhere in the meantime, it will be very hard and embarrassing for UN to recall them.

So the next step after UNPFII is that the resolution has gone to its parent body ECOSOC in Geneva.  The government has been furiously lobbying ECOSOC to strike out the resolutions about CHT and PKO from all resolutions.

The Foreign Minister’s meetings are part of that campaign.



People always under-estimate Bangladesh government. When they want something they are willing to fight hard and play dirty. The Yunus saga shows that. Look at all the international forces that were arrayed for him.  The government still won.

And as Bangladesh gets closer and closer to human rights-indifferent business partners like China, this trend will deepen.

3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. উদয়ন said, on August 2, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    1. Do you think China has any strategic interest in the CHT issue? Could they be proactively advising govt?

    2. Since it seems AL is now closer to BNP on CHT issue, will CHT be an election issue (handing over an integral part of the country to outsiders etc) any more? Does this neutralize this sensitivity for AL?

    • naeem said, on August 5, 2011 at 8:47 am

      Actually AL is still very far apart from BNP on this issue. We may express our deep disappointment as people who voted for AL primarily due to their CHT election pledge, but with BNP there would be no pledge at all.

      AL’s primary flaws have been to be unable to overcome the systematic, institutional structures that prevent any implementation of the Accord (in essence the vested Bengali interests that now own massive tracts or small parcels of land, and profit at macro (logging company) and micro (ricksha puller association) from a continued deadlock for indigenous rights. However, with BNP, there would actually be no question of even trying to do any implementation. BNP does not even accept the Accord.

  2. jrahman said, on August 4, 2011 at 11:45 am

    Udayan, just in case you hadn’t noticed, the post is not by me but a ‘guest writer’.

    If the questions were directed at me, I have no particular knowledge about the first one. Regarding how this issue would play politically, I don’t think BNP’s posturing was about votes as such. Rather, 10-12 y years ago BNP was signalling to the army that ‘look, AL will stop the cushy arrangement you’ve got going, but we’re here to look after you’. Given how the army has behaved in recent years, it’s not at all clear that BNP — or at least the Zia family — has any special relationship with the army any more. CHT issue is just a side note in that context.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: