From refugee to human rights activist - Binota Moy Dhamai, a Tripura from Bangladesh

Binota Moy Dhamai, former refugee, back in Bangladesh to promote the rights of indigenous Tripura peopleGENEVA, July 2007 - From his student days, Binota Moy Dhamai has been committed to the cause of indigenous peoples in Bangladesh . Originally from the Tripura tribe in the southeast of the country, he completed is masters degree in philosophy from Dhaka University and participated in nationwide forums. It is in that spirit of participation and openness to others that Binota wanted to learn more about regional and international mechanisms to protect the rights of indigenous peoples.

According to indigenous peoples organisations, Bangladesh has 45 different indigenous communities. The "Adivasi", as they call themselves, represent 0.5 per cent of the population. In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, where Binota comes from, they call themselves the "Jumma". Both names bear the same meaning: original inhabitants. His feeling of injustice, coming from such a proud tribe, is understandable.

"Indigenous peoples of Bangladesh are not recognised in the national constitution", says Binota.

When Bangladesh was part of British-ruled India , the Chittagong Hill Tracts was an autonomous region. After independence in 1971, the new Government suspended that autonomy. In 1976, a year after the first in a series of military coups, the army was deployed to the Chittagong Hill Tracts. According to Binota's organisation, the Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, 400,000 Bengali settlers were systematically transferred and resettled by the Government. A guerrilla formed in the region and sparked a violent counterinsurgency.

"From 1978 to 1992, 112,500 Jumma took shelter as refugees in India . My family was among them". In 1990, Binota went back to stay with his aunt in Bangladesh because living conditions in refugee camps were too harsh. He also wanted to continue his education. It was in school that he became curious of his older peers' involvement in human rights and joined the local students' association to get a better understanding of the rights movement.

In January 2007, a state of emergency was declared in Bangladesh ; since then, Binota's organisation estimates that around 15,000 Jumma youths from the Chittagong Hill Tracts have been in hiding in villages and in the jungle in fear. According to Binota, 231 gross human rights violations had been recorded in the Chittagong Hill Tracts from 1997 to 2005.

Since he graduated in 2003, Binota has undergone a series of training programmes that have made him realise the importance of human rights, particularly for indigenous peoples. Before he came to Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) headquarters in Geneva , Binota had a broad idea of human rights and wanted to know more about the United Nations human rights mechanisms and the international instruments for the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples.

When he goes back after completion of his training with the OHCHR Indigenous Fellowship Programme, Binota plans to transfer his knowledge to his community and continue his advocacy work.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.