Behind AL’s flip flop on the Adibashis
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 All laws and other arrangements discriminatory to minorities, indigenous people and ethnic groups will be repealed.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.