Statement of Indigenous Participants at the Consultation on the World Bank's Draft Policy on Indigenous Peoples (OP/BP 4.10) - Dhaka, Bangladesh

Statement of Indigenous Participants at the Consultation on the World Bank's Draft Policy on Indigenous Peoples (OP/BP 4.10) - Dhaka, Bangladesh

This statement was jointly issued by representatives of the National Adivasi Coordination Committee, Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, Hill Tracts NGO Forum, Committee for the Protection of Forest and Land Rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Hill Women's Federation, Rakhain Development Foundation, Mro Social Council, Tripura Kalyan Foundation, Khashia Students’ Association, Bawm Social Council, Trinamul Unnayan Sangstha, Zabarang Kalyan Samiti, Abima Garo Youth Association (AGYA), Society for Environment & Human Development (SEHD) and Taungya, and included representatives of the Bawm, Chakma, Garo, Khasi, Marma, Mro, Rakhain, Santal, Tanchangya and Tripura peoples from different parts of Bangladesh. The list of signatories is annexed hereto.

A.      General Comments on the World Bank's Policy on Indigenous Peoples and the Participation of Indigenous Peoples

Having regard to the fact that the existing World Bank policy on indigenous peoples (OD 4.20) was formulated without the participation of indigenous peoples, we appreciate the World Bank's efforts to involve us in the current process of consultations leading to the revision of the existing policy. Processes such as these need to be continued, bearing in mind that indigenous peoples need to be represented from the lowest to the highest levels through their political and social institutions, including their organisations. However, it is important that we learn from the mistakes of the past. There are numerous instances when indigenous peoples have been displaced, marginalised and otherwise adversely affected by World Bank-supported projects. These mistakes need to be acknowledged and those affected deserve to be compensated in an appropriate manner.  

One way to learn from past experiences is to evaluate the positive and negative impacts of the current policy on indigenous peoples (OD 4.20). This will also throw light on the plurality and heterogenity of situations amongst indigenous societies. We are therefore encouraged that the Bank's Operations Evaluation Department (OED) is currently undertaking the task of evaluation, which we understand is scheduled to be finalised by December 2002. This will be crucial in bringing forth a realistic assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the existing policy and its implementation, especially if the involvement of indigenous peoples in the process is substantive. We are constrained to note, however, that the current process of consultations on the review of the existing policy has been commenced prior to the conclusion of the aforesaid evaluation.

We expect the World Bank as the leading development-related financial institution of the world to act in conformity with indigenous peoples' safeguards under existing and emerging international legal instruments and development processes - which recognise, inter alia, our right to self-determination, our rights to our lands, resources and knowledge systems, and our right to prior informed consent. [1] Anything short of that will fail to adequately protect the rights and needs of indigenous peoples. This has been consistently emphasised by indigenous peoples in formal and informal dialogues with the World Bank, including the consultations with indigenous peoples that were held in South and Southeast Asia in 1998. Constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples has also been a consistent demand of the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh. We are also strongly of the opinion that gender equity needs to be incorporated more substantially into the policy as a major crosscutting issue.

We welcome this opportunity to convey our views on the current process of consultations in the hope that our suggestions will contribute towards the strengthening of the rights and needs of indigenous peoples in a better and more forward-looking policy that is in conformity with the aforesaid safeguards and is implemented in the right spirit. 

B.     Specific Comments on the Draft Policy

The Objective of the Policy: A Narrowed-Down Vision

1.         We could not help to note that the emphasis of the draft policy seems to be reactive and mitigation-oriented - to mitigate the impact of adverse effects and "do no harm" - rather than to have a proactive stand to do "benefit" to indigenous peoples. The current policy unequivocally states that it aims to "ensure that indigenous peoples benefit from development projects" (para 3). The draft policy, on the other hand, merely aims to "[foster] respect for the dignity, human rights and cultures of indigenous peoples" (OP. 4.10, para 1). This suggests that adverse impacts on indigenous peoples are anticipated more strongly than benefits.

2.         The broad objective of the draft policy (OP/BP 4.10), in comparison to the current policy (OD 4.20), suggests a narrower vision of the Bank with regard to the rights and needs of indigenous peoples and how they may benefit from the development process. The current policy does not qualify how indigenous peoples are to benefit from development projects. The draft policy reduces the meaning of benefit by relating it to "the Bank's mission of poverty reduction and sustainable development" (OP 4.10, para 1). The concepts of poverty reduction and sustainable development as understood by the Bank are not above controversy. [2] Poverty within indigenous societies and other societies cannot be equated through objective standards based on externally-oriented indicators. What is of benefit to indigenous peoples can only be determined by the indigenous peoples themselves, based on our right to self-determination as recognised under various international human rights instruments of the United Nations. A concept of benefit that is unacceptable to indigenous people cannot be imposed upon us without our prior informed consent.  

Identification of Indigenous Peoples: An Exclusive rather than an Inclusive Approach

3.         The identification of indigenous peoples in the draft policy is problematic.

3.1.          The most fundamental criterion for identifying indigenous peoples is our cultural identities. Social and economic indicators should only be used as secondary measures of identification. Our current situation of being socially and economically disadvantaged is a result of external and internal colonisation and the denial of our right to self- determination. This needs to be reflected in the policy.

3.2.          The draft policy allows borrower country governments ample scope to exclude the application of this policy to indigenous peoples it does not wish to recognise (and this is common) (OP 4.10, para 8). This is contrary to the self-identification rights of indigenous peoples.

3.3.          The draft policy is to apply only to indigenous peoples in "particular geographic areas" (OP 4.10, para 5). Indigenous peoples do not necessarily live in "particular geographic areas" since many of them live dispersed within the general (non-indigenous) population, both because of outmigration of indigenous peoples and in-migration of non-indigenous peoples. [3]

3.4.          The draft policy excludes the application of the policy to those "who have left their communities of origin and moved to urban areas and/or migrated to obtain wage labour" (OP 4.10, para 6). This effectively results in penalising indigenous peoples who have been forced out of their ancestral domains due to various reasons, including appropriation of their lands for forestry, dams, militarisation, population transfer (transmigration) and unrest. Where it concerns involuntarily displaced (indigenous) people affected by development projects or population transfer programmes, it tantamounts to encouraging governments to continue with such discriminatory policies and programmes, which are contrary to basic human rights as recognised under international law. In many cases, these displaced people are more in need of attention than those that have been able to remain in their ancestral domains. [4]

3.5.          The suggestion that the Indigenous Peoples Plan (IPP) should "attempt to avoid creating unnecessary distinctions or inequities between indigenous peoples and other poor and marginal groups in the same area" (OP 4.10, footnote 6) is misconceived. Since it is the governments of borrower countries that will have the primary responsibility for formulating the IPPs, the apprehension of these governments' discrimination against the non-indigenous population is unfounded. On the contrary, this provision may actually encourage governments to further ignore the special circumstances of indigenous peoples, which call for special measures.

Land & Resource Rights

4.         The safeguards on indigenous peoples' land and resource rights are weaker in the draft policy in comparison to the current policy.

4.1.          The current policy mentions indigenous peoples' "rights to natural and economic resources" (OD 4.20, para 8), their "entitlement to natural resources" (OD 4.20, para 15) and assistance by the Bank to the borrower as part of the mandatory development plan to obtain "legal recognition of the customary or traditional land tenure systems of indigenous peoples" (OD 4.20, para 15c). The draft policy mentions them only as non-mandatory provisions which are conditional upon (i) the request of the borrower; (ii) its consistency with the Bank's Country Assistance Strategy and (iii) the Bank's wish to so oblige ("may provide..") (OP 4.10, para 20). This is of special concern to indigenous peoples because most governments of developing countries do not formally recognise their indigenous peoples and their laws and institutions. Most of these governments also do not have any, or any detailed, policies with regard to indigenous peoples.

4.2.          The draft policy ignores the customary tenurial (including ownership) rights of indigenous peoples to land and other resources and reduces them to mere usufructs or user rights where it refers to their rights to "use and develop the lands that they occupy" (OP 4.10, para 12). [5] This suggests (i) a denial of the indigenous peoples' ownership rights over lands and other resources based upon their customary laws; and (ii) the non-recognition of our rights over lands that are owned and/or used by us in conformity with our customary laws but are not technically occupied by us. [6]

Indigenous Peoples' Defence of Rights through Legal System

5.         The current policy provides that the mandatory development plan to be formulated by the borrower should include special project components for the "proper protection of the rights of indigenous people" (OD 4.20, para 15) through such measures as assessments of " the ability of [indigenous peoples] to obtain access to and effectively use the legal system to defend their rights" (OD 4.20, para 15a). The draft policy contains no such safeguards.

Participation, Accountability, Transparency & Access to Information

6.         The draft policy (indirectly) recognises the indigenous peoples' right to prior informed consent (PIC) only in the case of commercial use of lands and resources, and not in other cases where the development process affects indigenous peoples. [7] Moreover, the nature and level of participation, as mentioned, are also not otherwise adequate to safeguard the rights and needs of indigenous peoples.

7.         Adequate and substantive participation is dependent upon the transparency and accountability of decision-making processes and the inflow and outflow of adequate information. The socially and economically disadvantaged situation of indigenous peoples makes it difficult for them to access relevant information. Conversely, this also means that information about indigenous societies do not reach decision-makers adequately, including the Bank and its borrowers. These difficulties have not been adequately addressed in the draft policy.

Restricted & Conditional Use of Social Assessments

8.         Under the current policy, an Indigenous Peoples Development Plan (IPDP) is required for projects affecting indigenous peoples (OD 4.20, para 13). The draft policy makes such plans - renamed as Indigenous Peoples Plans (IPPs) - contingent upon situations where social assessments (by the borrower) anticipate adverse impacts (BP 4.10, paras, 6,7). Given the denial of indigenous peoples' rights by many governments, this is of serious concern to indigenous peoples.

C.     Recommendations

In the light of the above observations, we feel that the draft policy actually weakens rather than strengthens measures for the protection of the rights and needs of indigenous peoples. We also feel that the draft policy suggests that the Bank has moved away from its intentions to proactively benefit indigenous peoples to a more negative policy that merely seeks to prevent or mitigate adverse impacts. We therefore strongly urge upon the World Bank to:

Indigenous Participation in Policy Formulation Process

1.           Enable indigenous peoples to give our revised inputs on the current draft policy after we get an opportunity to analyse the findings of the ongoing evaluation of the current policy being undertaken by the Operations Evaluation Department (OED) of the Bank.

2.         Provide adequate opportunities to indigenous peoples to give our inputs to the evaluation of the OD 4.20 by the Bank's Operations Evaluation Department (OED).

3.         Involve indigenous peoples through their representative institutions and organisations from all relevant levels in negotiations between the Bank and borrower country governments.

Policy Suggestions

4.         Retain the proactive and forward looking vision of benefiting indigenous peoples through the development process, rather than to have a reactive policy of merely preventing and or mitigating adverse impacts.

5.         Retain the broad meaning of the Bank's objectives as contained in the current policy. The bank's unilateral understanding of benefits within the narrow scope of the Bank's "mission" of poverty reduction and sustainable development, as mentioned in the draft policy, should not be imposed upon indigenous peoples. Indicators on poverty and the concept of sustainable development as they relate to indigenous peoples need to be socially and culturally appropriate.

6.         Broaden the scope of the policy to include all sections of the populations of indigenous peoples, including those that reside in urban and rural areas within and outside of their ancestral domains. The fundamental criterion should be self-identification.

7.         Assess and incorporate gender specific dimensions prior to the implementation of any programmes. Indigenous women, and where appropriate, non-indigenous women, need to be involved in all important decision-making stages, from planning to management and implementation of programmes. Gender monitoring should assess the extent to which women and men participants are reached by the different types of programmes.

8.         Incorporate mandatory provisions to recognise and strengthen the customary land and resource rights of indigenous peoples, including our rights to lands and resources owned, used or occupied by us, and to enable us to defend our rights by directly supporting legal and institutional reforms and other necessary measures to protect such rights.

9.         Recognise our right to prior informed consent (PIC) for development projects, structural adjustments and related interventions that affect us and the lands and resources owned, occupied or used by us in conformity with our customary laws.

10.          Prohibit involuntary resettlement of indigenous peoples.

11.          Incorporate Best Practices as part of the policy with the prior informed consent of indigenous peoples.

12.          Involve indigenous peoples' institutions and organizations through their representative institutions from all relevant levels at all important stages, including problem and needs identification and analysis, project formulation, design, implementation, appraisal, evaluation and monitoring in a substantive manner. Participation should be based upon an equal partnership and involve a continuous process of dialogue. Indigenous peoples' views should be proactively sought and respected. This implies negotiation rather than the dominance of a set project agenda. Indigenous peoples should be “actors” instead of being simply “beneficiaries” to make participation and benefits sustainable.

13.          Provide adequate opportunities to indigenous peoples to provide their views on the Country Assessment Strategies.

14.          Make Social Assessments mandatory, irrespective of whether adverse impacts are anticipated or not by the Bank or by the borrower governments. Such assessments are important even where the projects are not anticipated to have adverse impacts, as the nature of the benefit that is to be derived by indigenous peoples requires thorough assessment. These assessments should also adequately account for economic, environmental and other related aspects of the concerned peoples and the process should involve indigenous peoples in a substantive manner.

15.          Promote measures to bring forth more transparency and accountability in the decision-making processes of the Bank as far as they relate to projects that are likely to have an impact on the rights and welfare of indigenous peoples.

16.          Undertake measures to provide inflow of all relevant information to indigenous peoples in appropriate language and form and to also undertake similar measures for the outflow of information about indigenous societies to relevant decision-making institutions, including the Bank and governments of borrower countries and the process should involve indigenous peoples' institutions and organisations in a substantive manner.

17.          Undertake periodical reviews of the Indigenous Peoples Policy and related policies with the informed and substantive participation of indigenous peoples through their representative institutions and organisations.


List of Signatories to Statement of Indigenous Participants at the Consultation on the World Bank’s Draft Policy on Indigenous Peoples (OP/BP 4.10) Dhaka, Bangladesh, 14 November, 2001

1.         Mr. Babul D. Nokrek—Abima Garo Youth Association (AGYA), Jalchatra, Madhupur, Tangail

2.         Mr. Mike M. Mro—Caritas, Bangladesh

3.         Mr. Arijen Khangla—Khashia Students’ Association

4.         Mr. Jyotish Rangsa—Khashia Headman, Sylhet

5.         Mr. Shisir Moral—SEHD

6.         Mr. Kirti Nishan Chakma—Save the Children-UK, Dhaka, Bangladesh

7.         Mr. Zuam Lian Amlai—Bawm Social Council, Bandarban

8.         Mr. Dhiman Khisa—Taungya, Rangamati

9.         Ms. Susmita Chakma—Advocate, Rangamati

10.          Mr. Ashoke Kumar Tripura—Tripura Kalyan Foundation, Rangamati

11.          Ms. Chaitali Tripura—Hill Women’s Federation, CHT

12.          Mr. Jahinul Khashia-- Khasi Headman.

13.          Ms. Krishna Moni Tripura—Tripura Kalyan Foundation, Rangamati

14.          Mr. Jiten Chakma—Bangladesh Adivasi Forum

15.          Mr. Shakti Pada Tripura—President, Zabarang Kalyan Samiti, Khagrachari

16.          Mr. Sanjeeb Drong—Bangladesh Adivasi Forum

17.          Mr. Ushit Mong—Rakhain Development Foundation

18.          Hla Thowai Hri Marma—Committee for the Protection of Forest and Land Rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

19.          Mr. Gautam Dewan—Committee for the Protection of Forest and Land Rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

20.          Dr. Pradanendu Bikash Chakma—Professor, Dhaka University

21.          Mr. Mrinal Kanti Tripura—Coordinator, Hill Tracts NGO Forum and General Secretary, Trinamul Unnaya Sangstha

22.          Mr. Mangal Kumar Chakma—Trinamul Unayan Sangstha, Khagrachari

23.          Mr. Sudatta Bikash Tanchangya—Committee for the Protection of Forest and Land Rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

24.          Dr. Sadeka Halim—Associate Professor, Sociology Department, Dhaka University

25.          Mr. Ranglai Mro—President, Mro Social Council, Bangladesh

26.          Mr. Swapan Kumar Santal—Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, Habiganj (Tea Estate)

27.          Mr. Manik Kumar Bhar—Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, Habiganj (Tea Estate)

28.          Raja Devasish Roy—Chakma Chief, Chairperson, National Adivasi Coordination Committee, Hill Tracts NGO Forum and Taungya.

29.          Mr. Mong Thowai Ching—Excecutive diractor, green Hill. Rangamati Hill Tracts

30.          Mr. Benedict Mangsang—Chairperson Madhupur Jungle & Land Rights Conservation Committee

31.          Ajit Ruga—Pirgacha, Jalchatra Madhupur Tangail

32.          Michael Soren—Advocate, Rajshahi

33.          Surendranath Sarder—ADRC

34.          Pabitra Manda

35.          Sudendu Bikash Chakma—Excecutive Director PAJURICO Collage Para Khagrachari

36.          Diptimoy Khisha—V.C., Pahari Andha Kalyan Samhati, Rangamati Hill Tracts

37.          Hari Mahan Chakma—President Pahari Andha Kalyan Samiti Rangamati, CHT

38.          Kyaw Thew Aung—Chairman , Society for Peace & Development, Cox’s Bazar

39.          Mohammad Rafi—Senior Research Sociologist, Research and Evaluation, BRAC

40.          Yohihiko Murata—Japan CHT Committee

41.          Pamela Sharman—Rakhing Development Foundation


[1] These include the ILO Conventions 107 (ratified by Bangladesh) and 169, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ratified by Bangladesh), the Convention on Biological Diversity (ratified by Bangladesh), the Convention on the Elimination Racial Discrimination (CERD) (ratified by Bangladesh), the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (ratified by Bangladesh), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (ratified by Bangladesh) and the Draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

[2] A number of World Bank aided projects in Bangladesh on micro credit (poverty reduction) and "forestry" (poverty reduction and sustainable development) has actually harmed rather than benefited indigenous peoples.

[3] This is especially the case for indigenous peoples who live within the Rajshahi, Sylhet, Khulna and Barisal divisions of Bangladesh.

[4] The southeastern Chittagong Hill Tracts region is a clear example of forced relocation and displacement by a hydro-electric dam (1960s), forestry (1860s until today), militarisation (1970s-1990s) and population transfer or transmigration (1970s-80s).

[5] This is contrary to the ILO Convention 107 and 169. Convention 107 was ratified by Bangladesh in 1972.

[6] Forest, swidden and grazing lands, and water bodies in the Chittagong Hill Tracts are prime examples of such lands.

[7] This principle has been accepted by the World Commission on Dams.