Indigenous peoples, also known as First peoples, Aboriginal peoples or Native peoples, are ethnic groups who are the original settlers of a given region, in contrast to groups that have settled, occupied or colonized the area more recently. Groups are usually described as indigenous when they maintain traditions or other aspects of an early culture that is associated with a given region. Not all indigenous peoples share this characteristic, as many have adopted substantial elements of a colonizing culture, such as dress, religion or language. Indigenous peoples may be settled in a given region (sedentary) or exhibit a nomadic lifestyle across a large territory, but they are generally historically associated with a specific territory on which they depend. Indigenous societies are found in every inhabited climate zone and continent of the world.

Since indigenous peoples are often faced with threats to their sovereignty, economic well-being and their access to the resources on which their cultures depend, political rights have been set forth in international law by international organizations such as the United Nations, the International Labour Organization and the World Bank. The United Nations has issued a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to guide member-state national policies to the collective rights of indigenous peoples, such as culture, identity, language and access to employment, health, education and natural resources. Estimates put the total population of indigenous peoples from 220 million to 350 million.

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is celebrated on 9 August each year.

Indigenous peoples often face difficulties in accessing social protection benefits, usually as a result of discrimination, economic and social disadvantages;  often as an aftereffect to historic injustices (such as colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories and resources). In many cases, there is also a causal link between exclusion from social protection and inequities between urban and rural areas (due to geographical inaccessibility), language (information may not be available in all languages) and culture (benefits and services may not be adapted to cultural sensitivities).

Protections of Indigenous People

Bangladeshi authorities did little to prevent intensifying violence and discrimination against indigenous groups residing in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. There were repeated clashes between ethnic and religious minority groups and “settlers” who belong to the majority Bengali community. These clashes were in part a result of government failure to implement its agreement with the indigenous communities to protect their rights.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly in 2007, states that indigenous peoples have the right, without discrimination, to the improvement of their economic and social conditions. These include, for instance, access to education, employment, vocational training and retraining, housing, sanitation, health and social security. States shall take effective measures and, where appropriate, special measures to ensure continuing improvement of their economic and social conditions. Particular attention shall be paid to the rights and special needs of indigenous older persons, women, youth, children and persons with disabilities (Article 21).
The ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169) contains specific provisions on social protection:

“Governments shall do everything possible to prevent any discrimination between workers belonging to the peoples concerned and other workers, in particular as regards: … (c) medical and social assistance, occupational safety and health, all social security benefits and any other occupationally related benefits, and housing” (Article 2).

In addition, the Convention specifies that
“social security schemes shall be extended progressively to cover the peoples concerned, and applied without discrimination against them” (Article 24).
The Convention also calls on governments to consult with the peoples concerned with regard to legislative or administrative measures that may directly affect them, and establishes the right of these peoples to participate in decision-making processes regarding policies and programmes that concern them.

Deaths from torture

  1. Did 47 BDR personnel die whilst in custody?
  2. Has the government ordered any investigations into these deaths? If so, perhaps the government should publish the reports.
  3. Is it credible that all the 47 people died of natural causes when the family members consistently state that prior to detention their deceased relatives were in good health?
  4. Is the brother of Mozammel Hoque (Pilkhana barracks, Dhaka) lying when the report quotes him as saying that when he received his brother’s body from Mitford hospital the soles of his feet and the palms of his hands looked wrinkled and tender, that his neck and chin were covered in mud and that he was told by the person who conducted the bathing ritual that his hands and feet looked ‘decomposed … bloodless and shattered.’
  5. Is the wife of habildar Mohiudin Ahmed (Halishahar barracks, Chittagong) providing a false statement when she says that when she recovered her husband’s dead body it was ‘terribly bruised’ and that her brothers, who looked at the body more carefully, found ‘that the back area by the hip was completely black and blue, and there were severe lacerations on the legs and his upper back.’
  6. Is the Dhaka Medical College post mortem into Ahmed’s death which reportedly states that ‘Ahmed has been beaten on the lower half of his body’ also false?


  1. Is the wife of Nurul Amin (Rangpur barracks) a liar when she talks about how her husband Nurul Amin of the 34th Rifles Battalion was tortured? ‘He was almost incoherent when he described to me what had happened to him: electric shock to his genitals and ears, nails were pulled off his toes. He is almost blind now from what happened, and I think he is brain damaged.’ Is it also untrue when she says that when she first saw him following his detention, ‘He was lying bleeding on the floor, his face so swollen that he looked disfigured. I could hardly recognise him’?
  2. If what Amin’s wife says is untrue, why did he need four people to lift him when he was produced before the magistrate? Why did the magistrates immediately order him to be sent to the Dhaka Central Jail, where he stayed for a year?
  3. Is the son of Abdul Jail Sheikh (Pilkhana barracks) lying when he says that his father told him that he was taken to the Rapid Action Battalion office in Dhaka, hung upside down from the ceiling and beaten regularly, and ‘all the nails were ripped out of his fingers and toes and he was subjected to electric shocks’?
  4. If Abdul Jail Sheikh was not tortured, how come his legs have become paralysed since his detention, and he has no control over his bladder or bowel movement?
  5. What is the government’s response to the statement of the wife of Nasiruddin Khan (Pilkhana barracks)? She says that when she saw her husband in hospital, ‘I couldn’t recognise him. His body and face were all swollen, he had an oxygen mask on, both kidneys had failed’. She also says that one of the doctors told her that the kidney problems had been caused by electric shocks, that there were signs of torture all over his body, and that he had burning sores, broken legs, arms and fingers. When she was able to speak to her husband, she says that he told her that ‘he has been hung upside down from the ceiling, beaten and subjected to electric shock’ at the RAB headquarters.
  6. If the claims by Nasiruddin Khan and his wife (above) are all lies why can he only now walk with crutches? And why do his admittance papers to the kidney hospital state that he was taken there by RAB?
  7. Is the son of Nulamin Sardar (Pilkhana barracks) a liar when he says that his father told him that electric shocks had been administered to his genitals 5 to 6 times?
  8. What about the mother of Sepoy Al Masum (Pilkhana barracks), who says that her son told her that he had been severely tortured by RAB: he was beaten on his legs and knees, hung upside down and beaten on the soles of his feet. When she visited her son again after a subsequent remand, the report quotes her as saying, ‘He couldn’t walk; his eyes were swollen shut. He is 5 foot 9 inches tall and he looked easily a foot shorter than that. He told me that they kept giving his injections and he would faint, then more injections and then beatings.’ She also says that her son showed her his thumb which had been hammered flat. Is the government claiming that these are all lies?
  9. What is the government’s response to the wife and mother of Kamrul Hasan (Pilkhana) who saw him in Dhaka Medical College Hospital? He told them that he had been tortured by RAB, described electric shocks to his genitals and head, having had his head knocked against the walls, and the soles of his feet beaten?
  10. If this is not correct, why was Hasan attached to a urine catheter, with his mother reporting seeing blood in his urine, and unable to walk?

Unfair trial

  1. How is it possible for a person to receive a fair trial on an allegation of mutiny when in the case of the 44th battalion, 675 accused are being prosecuted together in one courtroom?
  2. Can 847 people, many of whom face charges that carry the death penalty, receive a fair trial when they are all being prosecuted together?
  3. Why do so many of the accused BDR men not have lawyers? Without a lawyer, how can the accused get a fair trial?
  4. Why do so many of the accused have no knowledge about the charges against them?
  5. How can one lawyer provide proper representation to any of the detained men when he is acting for as many as 350 accused in the one case?
  6. Why is the prosecution not providing witness statements to the accused?
  7. Why were lawyers not allowed to ask questions in the BDR mutiny trials, and were only allowed to instruct the accused about the questions which they could ask?
  8. Why are the lawyers given very limited access to speak to the detained BDR men?
  9. Why are the accused not allowed privileged communications with them as allowed by the rules?

Those in the Bangladesh Rifles (since renamed Bangladesh Border Guards) responsible for the killings, violence and other crimes that took place on February 25 and 26, 2009 should obviously be held accountable; however, the process of accountability in a civilized country like Bangladesh should not include custodial killings, torture and unfair criminal trials.

One would like to believe that the government has a credible response to these questions but experience suggests that this is unlikely to be provided.

But perhaps the cruelest thing of all for those of us living in Bangladesh is that unless the government starts to acknowledge its responsibility for the human rights violations by its law enforcement agencies, nothing at all will change for the better.