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Pallab Chakma: human rights defender for Bangladesh’s indigenous communities

Posted: 6 August 2023

Bangladesh, Alumni, Australian Professional Opportunity, Bangladesh, Environment, Grants,

Australia Awards alumnus Pallab Chakma is a passionate indigenous rights activist from the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh. Australia has continued to support his advocacy, including by facilitating his participation in the 2023 United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) and by providing an alumni grant for his hosting of a conference for indigenous youth.

Having witnessed the marginalisation of his own Chittagong Hill Tracts indigenous community in Bangladesh while growing up, Pallab Chakma resolved to be an advocate and an agent of change for others in his position. He used education, training and networking to prepare himself and is now working to help others from indigenous communities to realise their political, socio-economic, cultural and environmental rights.

Pallab has been championing social and educational activities for indigenous communities since he was a student at Dhaka University. A turning point in his campaign came when he received an Australia Awards Scholarship to complete a Master of Mediation and Conflict Resolution at the University of South Australia in 2012.

The multiculturalism and diversity that Pallab encountered in Australia was an eye-opener. The experience allowed him to understand and appreciate these values and strongly champion them on his return to Bangladesh. His Australian degree, meanwhile, provided him with an in-depth understanding of the approaches and skills required to establish peace and human rights for the underprivileged, especially those from indigenous communities.

Pallab is now the Executive Director of Kapaeeng Foundation, one of Bangladesh’s leading organisations that works for the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples.

Pallab Chakma sits at the end of a table with colleagues sitting around him

Pallab Chakma with colleagues at the Kapaeeng Foundation

Pallab remains a tireless advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples, community development, environmental protection and climate change. As an Australia Awards alumnus, Australia has continued to support him in his efforts.

This year Pallab travelled to United Nations Headquarters to participate in the 22nd Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) on 17-28 April 2023.

Pallab Chakma speaks at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Pallab speaks at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Pallab was a panellist in one of the official side events of UNPFII and used the opportunity to highlight the challenges indigenous human rights defenders face around the world.

“It was a great opportunity to have substantive dialogue with indigenous representatives, experts, UN Special Mandate Holders, UN Agencies, Funds and Programs, forum members, and member states”, said Pallab. “I also had the opportunity to meet Australia’s inaugural Ambassador for First Nations People, Mr Justin Mohamed.”

Australia Awards alumni Pallab Chakma and Shohel Chandra Hajang stand with Mr Justin Mohamed, Australia's inaugural Ambassador for First Nations People

Pallab Chakma (right) and fellow Australia Awards alumnus Shohel Chandra Hajang (left) stand with Mr Justin Mohamed (centre), Australia’s inaugural Ambassador for First Nations People

Pallab’s visit to UNPFII was made possible through an Australian Professional Opportunity (APO) supported by the Australia Awards.

Also this year, Pallab and fellow alumnus Jui Chakma successfully applied for an grant under the Australia Awards – Bangladesh Alumni Open Grant Scheme to support their hosting of the National Indigenous Youth Conference 2023. They partnered with a number of organisations, including PASKOP, Pawanka Fund, ALRD and held the conference on 8-10 June 2023 in Sylhet.

With a theme of “Connecting Future: Indigenous Youth for Inclusive Society and Green Climate”, the conference sought to enhance understanding of human rights and indigenous rights and how they related to climate change. Conference sessions covered a large range of topics relevant to indigenous youth, with the aim of building unity and enhancing the capacity of indigenous youth to contribute to an inclusive society and climate action. A total of 45 indigenous young people representing 21 indigenous communities from different regions of Bangladesh participated at the conference.

conference participants post for a photo at the front of the room

Pallab (seated at left hand side of table) and other conference organisers and participants

Participants had the opportunity to share their cultures through traditional music and dance in their traditional attire during a cultural evening. At the end of the conference, a field visit on “Climate Change and Learning with Community” was held at Naksiapunjee of Jaflong across Piyain river where young participants had an opportunity to interact with Khasi village elders and leaders to learn about the noticeable changes in climate, local vegetable cultivation and betel leaf cultivation practices throughout generations.