Study Tour in Scandinavia

How do you develop effective mechanisms of consultation and dialogue between governments and indigenous and tribal peoples and which role can ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No.169) play in this regard? That is one of the questions that a delegation with government and indigenous and tribal peoples’ representatives from Bangladesh tried to explore during a trip to the three Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

The Scandinavian countries have extensive experience with the implementation of ILO Convention 169 and institutionalization of dialogue and consultations between government and the indigenous peoples of the region. The consultation and participation of indigenous and tribal peoples is the corner stone of the convention.

Norway was the first country to ratify Convention 169 in 1990 and Denmark is, in cooperation with Greenland, a keen supporter of indigenous peoples’ rights on a global level. During the visit the delegation learnt about the Inuits of Greenland and the Samis of Norway and Sweden.

Greenland, that used to be a Danish colony, is now partly governed by the Greenlandic people themselves through a Self Government arrangement. Some areas like foreign policy are still administered by Denmark but are in the process of being transferred to Greenland. Norway and Sweden have Sami Parliaments that were created to give a common voice to the Samis on issues that directly affect them. An example of a consultation procedure is in Norway between the Sami Parliament and the Norwegian government. The procedures are a way of practically implementing Convention 169 and covers issues such as access to health services, social welfare and the right to use the Sami language as well as land rights and natural resource management.

The delegation from Bangladesh was headed by the Secretary from the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs and consisted of two officials from his ministry as well as two representatives from indigenous and tribal peoples’ organization in Bangladesh. They returned to Bangladesh with the impression that past injustices of forced assimilation against the Sami people and the Inuits of Greenland had been rectified by reforms that created a path for self-government and autonomy for the people of Greenland and a degree of self-government for the Sami’s in Norway and Sweden. They also had the impression that the consultation process between the state and indigenous authorities – and in particular the Sami Parliaments – played an important part in the development of mutual trust.

The study tour has brought forward new ideas on how to strengthen and formalize the dialogue between government and indigenous and tribal peoples in Bangladesh through, a.o. the development of strong representative institutions.

ILO in Bangladesh facilitated the tour as a part of the PRO169 project in the country. Since 2009 the project has been working to build the capacity of key partners on indigenous and tribal peoples’ issues. It is funded by the Government of Denmark.

Bangladesh has a population of more than 2 million indigenous and tribal peoples divided into 45 different indigenous communities. They live in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and in the Plains – many along the border to India. A conflict has ravaged the Chittagong Hill Tracts for more than 20 years before a Peace Accord was signed in 1997. The Peace Accord is still to be fully implemented.

The Government of Bangladesh has ratified ILO Convention 107 and is still to ratify Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.