Recognising Indigenous People, The Bangladeshi Way: The United Nations Declaration, Transnational Activism And The Constitutional Amendment Affair Of 2011


  • Eva Gerharz Faculty of Social Science Ruhr-Universität Bochum


The UN Decades on the Rights of Indigenous People have led to increased support for and sympathy with indigenous people all over the world. Networks and groups have been formed and transnational connections created, with the aim of generating possible solutions to the problems of indigenous people in countries where marginalization reaches a long way back. Many activists welcomed the UN Declaration as a document of high moral value legitimizing them to exert pressure on the state in order to recognize indigenous people’s rights.

Indigenous activists in Bangladesh and their allies anticipated the Declaration’s global appreciation as a window of opportunity when the government initiated the amendment of the constitution in 2010. Backed by their transnational connections and partners inside and outside Bangladesh, the demands were geared towards the recognition of the notion of indigenous people in the constitution. It was hoped that the principles of the declaration would be endorsed in the constitution and lead to greater equality through affirmative action. Initial positive responses by the government however were revoked later on: The representatives argued that the concept of indigenous people as formulated in the declaration referred to “first nations” only, whereas in Bangladesh the majority are regarded as more indigenous to the land than the so-called ethnic minorities.

Despite the deep disappointment resulting from the disparaging position of the government, the declaration has had positive effects on the position of indigenous people in public discourse. Moreover, cross-ethnic alliances have been strengthened which enable indigenous activists to access more powerful segments of society and polity. Lastly, the international donor community has become more sensitive towards the plight of indigenous people, which has had an impact on cooperation with the government and civil society.


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