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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Bangladesh Govt initiatives of the CHT accord implementation

Report on




(As of 23 August 2009)

Submitted by PCJSS

Since assuming power by the Awami League-led present Grand Alliance Government of Bangladesh (GoB) on 06 January 2009, the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, several Member of Parliament (MPs) of ruling Grand Alliance, Ministers including State Minister for CHT Affairs, in line with the election commitment, time and again reiterated the stand of the GoB about fullest implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord of 1997.

On 30 April 2009 Prime Minister of GoB Sheikh Hasina reiterated that her government would implement the CHT Accord in letter and spirit while she met the vice admiral of Naval Forces of France and Commander of the Joint Forces in the Indian Ocean Mr. Gerad Volin in April 2009 and the Vatican City Ambassador Mr. Marino Joseph in Dhaka on 05 May 2009. She also passed her message on 31 March 2009 through Mr. Pramode Mankin, Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of the CHT Affairs (MoCHTA) about relocation of the settlers from CHT to outside, which the National Committee on CHT Affairs, the negotiating Committee during the dialogue and herself committed to the PCJSS Delegation (on day of the signing of the Accord on 2 December 2009).

However, it is yet to be known whether the GoB would sincerely and boldly implement the Accord or continue its previous policy of making CHT into a Muslim populated region through the process of assimilation of the indigenous Jumma peoples through change of demographic figure of population and forcible land grabbing along with cultural, social and religious aggression under patronization of the military and civil administration.

The Grand Alliance GoB, in the meantime, took few preparatory steps to have initiative about implementation of the CHT Accord, which are as follows:

1. Appointment of State Minister for MoCHTA

On 6 January 2009 during the formation of the cabinet, Grand Alliance Government appointed Mr. Dipankar Talukdar as State Minister for the Ministry of CHT Affairs (MoCHTA) and he was bestowed with full responsibilities of the ministry.

However, the CHT Affairs Ministry has been unable to work properly according to its mandate and power and function as almost all the officers in the Ministry are non-indigenous persons (Bengalis). Most of them are either unaware of or insensitive with the CHT and her original inhabitants or racially prejudiced and biased for Bengali settlers in CHT.

2. Appointment of the Chairman the Task Force

On 23 March 2009 the GoB appointed Mr. Jatindra Lal Tripura, MP from Khagrachari, as Chairman of the Task Force on Rehabilitation of Jumma Refugee Returnees and the Internally Displaced Persons. However, this Task Force is yet to be active. No meeting has been held so far.

It is noted that CHT Accord stipulates for rehabilitation of only internally tribal displaced families. However, violating this provision, Special Affairs Division under Prime Minister’s office sent an order on 19-07-1998 to Task Force asking to rehabilitate the Bengali settlers in CHT identifying them as IDPs.

In the Fourth meeting on 20 July 1998 the representatives of PCJSS and Jumma Refugees Welfare Association demanded pen off the point on rehabilitation of the Non-Tribal Families in CHT and the Task Force agreed to it and decided to put the matter of the letter to the PM for her kind withdrawal.

The Task Force did not comply with the decision. Rather the officials of the Task Force managed to collect lists of the Non-tribal families as well for their rehabilitation in CHT. PCJSS and the Refugees Association in protest of it boycotted the Task Force. Under the said circumstances, the process of rehabilitation of the Internally Displaced Persons got postponed.

That is why, unless this office order of the Special Affairs Division is withdrawn the officials of the GoB must pursue to have rehabilitation of the Non-Tribal settler families in CHT, which would make the Task Force inactive once again.

Therefore, this office order should be withdrawn for the sake of smooth rehabilitation of Jumma IDPs. But the GoB has taken no initiative so far to withdraw this contradictory office order.

3. CHT Accord Implementation Monitoring Committee

On 25 May 2009 the GoB appointed Sayeda Sajeda Chowdhury, Deputy Leader of the Parliament as the Convenor of the CHT Accord Implementation Monitoring Committee.

On 19 August 2009 the first meeting of the committee was held in Rangamati. Other two members of the committee, namely, President of PCJSS Mr. Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma alias Santu Larma and Chairman of Task Force Mr. Jatindra Lal Tripura, MP from Khagrachari also attended the meeting. State Minister for CHT Affairs Dipankar Talukder and CHT Development Board Bir Bahadur, MP from Bandarban were present at the meeting on special invitation. Besides, government officials including Secretary of the Ministry of CHT Affairs (MoCHTA) attended the meeting. It is reported that without consistent of the rules, Chairmen of three Hill District Councils, Deputy Commissioners of three hill districts and Chairman of Chittagong Development Authority were also invited in this meeting.

It is reported that it was basically inaugural meeting of the committee. This meeting did not discuss details on the provisions of the CHT Accord. That is why no decision has been brought out from this meeting. However, Convenor of the committee Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury reiterated that the CHT Accord would be fully implemented immediately. Finally it is decided that the next meeting would be held after the Ramadan.

It is noted that it is yet to be known how affectively the Convenor would play her roles for the implementation of the Accord. Previous experiences show that this Committee was fully dependent on the MoCHTA, which hardly played any positive role for execution of any decision of it. That is why it is necessary to consider whether this Committee should have any separate independence office for its proper functioning.

4. Appointment of Chairman of CHT Development Board

On 31 March 2009 the present Grand Alliance GoB replaced the General Officer of Commanding (GoC) of 24 Infantry Division of Bangladesh Army from Chairmanship of the CHT Development Board with Mr. Bir Bahadur U Shwe Ching, MP from Bandarban of Bangladesh Awami League.

However, such appointment of a Jumma person to the said post is consistent with the provision of the CHT Accord. But, the CHT Development Board is yet far from cooperating the CHT Regional Council for the supervision and coordination over it as per the CHT Regional Council Act, 1998.

As per the Clause 2 of Part A of the CHT Accord, the Ordinance of the Board is yet to be amended to adjust the subsequent legislation of the Accord.

5. Appointment of Chairman of CHT Land Dispute Commission

On 19 July 2009 the GoB once again filled up the post of the Chairman of the Land Commission with Mr. Khademul Islam Chowdhury, Retired Justice of High Court Division of Bangladesh Supreme Court.

He visited Khagrachari, Rangamati and Bandarban respectively on 3, 4 & 5 August 2009. The Deputy Commissioner wrote letters to CHT Regional Council and Rangamati Hill District Council to send representative and the Chakma Circle Chief Barrister Raja Devashis Roy to meet the Commission Chairman at the Circuit House in Rangamati. Executive Officer of CHTRC Mr. Krishna Chandra Chakma, Chakma Circle Chief and representative of Rangamati Hill District Council called on him there. He is yet to convene a formal meeting of the Commission in the next.

However, the news media publicised that the Chairman held a meeting of the Land Commission on the day and he made announcement that Cadastral Survey would be completed within October 2009.

The Clause 2 of Part D narrates that after rehabilitation of the tribal refugees and internal tribal evacuees the government shall start survey of land in CHT as soon as possible and after proper inquires ownership of land shall be recorded and ensured.”

In violation of this provision, the officials of the GoB have been all the time interested to have Cadastral Survey of Lands in CHT with a view to providing land titles mainly to the Bengali settlers on the lands they forcibly occupied or illegally allotted by the GoB.

It is important to note here that the Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs also announced the same in his speech in the discussion meeting organised on the occasion of International Day for World’s Indigenous Peoples in Dhaka on 9 August 2009. So it is a question whether the GoB is to take up the survey of land in CHT at the moment, which would make the land disputes more critical.

Since 2008, the post of Secretary of the Commission fell vacant. Other staffs are also yet to be recruited. The Commission has no office of its own at all.

Furthermore it is noteworthy that the CHT Land Dispute Settlement Commission Act 2001 is yet to be amended as per recommendations of the CHTRC in accordance of the CHT Accord. There are 19 provisions in the Act contradictory to the CHT Accord. The Commission would not be able to function unless this Act is amended. So, amendment of it is very important as well as urgent.

In addition to the amendment of the Act, there is the necessity of making the Rules of Business of the Land Commission for proper functioning of the Commission and its Secretary and other officials. Until the date no steps have been taken by the GoB about the rules of the Business of the Commission.

6. Meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on MoCHTA

Since the formation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on MoCHTA, four consecutive meetings were held in Dhaka and three hill districts of CHT.

During the 3rd meeting of the Committee held on 20 July 2009 in Khagrachari, the Committee took decision with recommendation to cancel all leases given to non-tribal (Bengali) non-residents.

CHT Accord provides “Out of the lands allotted to non-tribal and non-local persons for rubber and other plantations, the lease (allocation) in respect of the lands of those who did not undertake any project during the last ten years or did not properly utilize the lands shall be cancelled.” This provision has not been implemented till today. In total 1,605 plots covering 40,077 acres of land have been given lease to non-tribal and non-local persons for rubber and horticulture purposes during 80s and 90s. But no one plot has been cancelled so far. Rather, allotments of land under this category continue unabated by the authorities.

On 18 August 2009 the 4th meeting the Committee was held at Peda Ting Ting resort in Rangamati presided over by the committee member ABM Fazle Karim Chowdhury, as its chairman Promod Mankin relinquished from the chairmanship for his induction in the cabinet as a state minister. Chairman of the CHT Regional Council Mr. Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma alias Santu Larma also attended the meeting on special invitation.

During the meeting, the committee recommended cancellation of the 260 plots, leased out to influential people, for violating the terms and condition of the allotment. It is also reported that the committee also recommended reorganising of the Task Force on Rehabilitation of Returnee Jumma Refugees and IDPs with requisite number of manpower to make it more active.

It is mentionable that the Parliamentary Standing Committee does not have executive power, rather makes only recommendation to the Ministry for implementation.

7. Withdrawal of 35 temporary camps

As per the Accord, all temporary camps of Army, Ansar and Armed police Battalion except 6 permanent installations were to be closed down and the time-limit shall be fixed for its purpose. Previously some camps, after the Accord, were withdrawn and of course, some new camps have been set up at various strategic places.

On 29 July 2009 GoB made announcement about withdrawal of 35 camps from different places of Khagrachari and Rangmati districts. News media reported that by 20 August 2009 the GoB closed down 12 camps from Khagrachari and Rangamati districts. It is of course, a positive move for implementation of the Accord. However, GoB is yet to fix full time-limit for closing down all temporary camps. In addition, GoB is also yet to withdraw de facto military rule ‘Operation Uttoron’ from CHT by which military forces have been interfering upon the civil administration and conducting military operation throughout the CHT.

8. Vested interest groups try to make situation turmoil

Since the announcement of withdrawal of the 35 camps, vested interest groups including Sama Odhikar Andolan (Equal Rights Movement), an extreme communal and fanatic organisation of Bengali settlers, have been protesting against the withdrawal of the camps. These vested groups alleged that the government decided to pull out troops from CHT bowing down without considering the security of Bengali settlers there.

It is also alleged that Bengali settlers also tried to make communal tension as well as communal attack on Jumma localities through fabricating various stories in order to foil the withdrawal of military camps. It is reported that on 14 August 2009 a group of Bengali settlers tried to attack Jumma villages at Bagachadar union under Longadu upazila (sub-district) in Rangamati district. At least four Jumma villagers were allegedly beaten and looted by Bengali settlers in this assault.

It is learnt that as per recent government declaration of withdrawal of 35 temporary camps, Kathaltali camp was declared to withdraw and accordingly, out of 30 personnel of the camp, 15 were closed to Longadu zone on 13 August 2009 and rest of forces were supposed to withdraw on 14 August 2009. But early in the morning on 14 August Bengali settlers from Thega Para under Bagachadar union very closed to Kathaltali camp gathered and blockaded the camp to prevent withdrawal of the forces. At a stage around 11.30 am, a group of Bengali settlers from Thega Para equipped with lather sharp weapons and sticks tried to attack on indigenous Jumma villages namely Ranjit Para and Bagachadar village. However, Jumma villagers opposed the Bengali settlers’ attack.

It is also reported that soon after the starting of withdrawal of 35 camps, mockery was staged by recovering two dead bodies of Bengali settlers from the Jumma localities in Khagrachari district. Jumma villagers claimed that the recovery of dead bodies at Jumma localities was a pre-planned act of Bengali settlers in order to justify insecurity of Bengali settlers and to create ground for communal tension to attack on Jumma localities.

One dead body of Bengali settler was recovered at the jum field near the Sorbeswar Para of Matiranga upazila under Khagrachari district on 16 August 2009. The dead body was identified as Md. Sohag (17) s/o Md. Hossain under Matiranga upazila. Bengali settlers, at first, spread propaganda that the deceased was killed by Jumma villagers. But later the shoes of deceased were recovered from the house of one Khalil Mian who was absconding since 16 August. Police of Matiranga police station also arrested Abu Taher who was suspected to involve with this killing.

Second dead body of settler woman (25 yrs) was recovered from the Jumma-inhabited Modon Karbari Para under Panchari upazila on 18 August 2009. Bengali settlers spread that deceased woman was missing on 17 August 2009 while she went to collect vegetables from the jungle and she was allegedly killed by Jumma villagers. But Jumma villagers claimed that dead body of the woman was kept at the stream near Modon Karbari Para in order to create communal tension to make situation turmoil. On 18 August 2009 the Bengali Settlers also brought out a procession in Panchari protesting killing of the woman in Panchari. Fearing Bengali settlers’ attack, most of women and children of of Modon Karbari Para and adjacent villages were shifted to safe areas.

On 20 August 2009 Parbatya Bangalee Chhattra Parishad (PBCP) observed dawn-to-dusk roads and waterways blockade programme in the three hill districts of CHT in order to oppose the withdrawal of the military camps.

Experts are of opinion that withdrawal of temporary camps by government by beating drum is politically motivated. It helped instigate the vested interest groups including opposition parties and Bengali settlers to oppose the withdrawal of temporary camps. It is also noted that Bengali settlers being completely dependent on the free ration of the GoB they can do nothing unless they get permission from the army authorities. Under above circumstances, it is yet to be observed whether the GoB would implement this provision at all.

9. Writ Petition against withdrawal of camps and CHT Accord

On 16 August 2009 Advocate Md. Tajul Islam, a leader of Jamat-E–Islami, on behalf of Badiuzzaman (a settler leader at Kowkhali Upazilla and member of the JEI), submitted a writ petition against the step of the GoB about withdrawal of some camps. Petitioner alleged that the government decided to pull out troops from CHT bowing down without considering the security of Bangalee settlers there and this would make the border with India unsafe and facilitate entry of foreign terrorist and smuggler groups.

On 16 August 2009 the Hight Court directed the government to suspend the ongoing withdrawal of troops from the CHT until 19 August scheduled for next hearing.

On 19-20 August 2009 the High Court vacated its earlier order directing the government to suspend withdrawal of troops from CHT. The final hearing of Writ Petition no. 2669 of 2000 (Mohammad Badiuzzaman v Bangladesh & Others) and Writ Petition no. 6451 of 2007 (Advocate Md. Tajul Islam v Bangladesh & Others) would be held in October 2009.

9. Overall Situation in CHT

There has been hardly any positive development on the overall situation in CHT. A few instances are provided below:

(i) Expansion of Settlement of the settlers and Forcible Land grabbing

Expansion of settlements and forcible land grabbing continue unabated in all the three districts including on the roadsides in particular. It is observed even on the Rangamati-Chittagong roadsides at Rangamti and Manikchari areas in Rangamti sadar upazila and Ghagra areas in Kaukhali upazila in Rangamati district.

Since the arson attack upon 7 Jumma villages by Bengali settlers with the support of Baghaichari army zone on 20 April 2008, most of the indigenous Jumma families could not return to their homes and villages until now. On the contrary, the Bengali settler families continue shifting there and occupying lands and gardens etc.

Same as above forcible land grabbing and expansion of settlement of Bengali settlers commenced in 2007 at the place between the Dwitila Army camp and the Four Mile Army camp at Hazachara Mouza under Dighinala Upazilla of Khagrachari district. Expansion of settlement continues there till the date.

In May and June 1009, the Bengali settlers forcibly occupied lands of the Jumma people in Jaliya Para areas in May-June 2009. In the beginning the Jumma people resisted them but they failed owing to active support to the settlers by the local army authorities.

Forcible land grabbing has got a very serious turn particularly in Bandarban. For instances, Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) of Naikhyongchari upazila in Bandarban district made plantation and horticulture gardens on the 234 acres of land under Bakkhali mouza and 150 acres of land under Alikhyong mouza in Naikhyongchari upazila in the name of his wife and relatives. On the other, on 1 July 2009 the lease holders who are non-resident Bengalis threatened indigenous Mro villagers of 12 villages (228 families) under Lemu Palong mouza and Duluchari mouza to leave areas. Otherwise, they would be faced severe consequences. Indigenous Mro villagers put memorandum to the Prime Minister of Government of Bangladesh seeking justice. But no action has been taken so far.

(ii) Political intimidation

Political intimidation at this moment reduced. However, the local army continue conspiracy to arrest following PCJSS leaders in Rowangchari under Bandarban district:

a) Mr. Kyoba Mong, who contested for the chairmanship of the Rowangchari upazila in Bandarban and won the election but later announced defeated at a margin of 53 votes only and also president of PCJSS of Rowangchari branch

b) Mr. Aung Swe Mong Marma, chairman of Rowangchari sadar union and also vice president of PCJSS of Rowangchari branch and

c) Mr. Bharat Sen Tanchangya, general secretary of PCJSS of Rowangchari branch.

It is learnt that local army put pressure upon police authority of Naikhyongchari police station to arrest them referring the letter sent by Matiur Rahman, senior assistant secretary of Home Ministry on 4/07/2008 to MoCHTA, Bandarban Army Brigade authority, Superintendent of Police of Bandarban district, among others, in which above persons were falsely alleged to involve with extortion, terrorist activities and abuse of power. But it is yet to be executed.

In addition, the cases lodged against the PCJSS leaders including vice president Mr. Laxmi Prasad Chakma and general secretary Mr. Satyabit Dewan are yet to be withdrawn. A total of 15 cases were submitted to the Government Review Committee through concerned district committee for withdrawal. These cases were lodged against the PCJSS leaders during the period State of Emergency (2007-2008) and BNP-led coalition government (2001-2006) with an aim to political intimidation.

(iii) Operation on indigenous Chak localities in Naikhyingchari

On 16 August 2009 a group of BDR of 15 Battalion from Naikhyongchari camp and RAB jointly conducted operation at Baishari area under Naikhyongchari upazila in Bandarban district in the name of rescuing supervisor of rubber plantation Mr. Hefazuddin. It is mentionable that Mr. Hefazuddin and labourer of the plantation Md. Najer were kidnapped on 15 August allegedly by an extortionist group led by Prokash Chakma who introduces himself a member of UPDF. Later, the kidnappers released Md. Najer and demanded ransom for releasing of supervisor of rubber plantation Mr. Hefazuddin.

It is learnt that during the operation, the BDR and RAB first encircled the Badurjiri Chak Para under Naikhyongchari upazila and caught following 7 innocent jum cultivators belong to Chak community:

1) Mr. Aungchagya Chak (37) s/o Thuila Khai Chak;

2) Mr. Khijari Chak Karbari (50)

3) Mr. Chathau Chak (27) s/o Khijari Chak

4) Mr. Athui Chak (33)

5) Mr. Lagya Aung Chak (47) s/o late Ching Swe Chak

6) Mr. Swemong Sing Chak (18) s/o Lagya Aung Chak

7) Mr. Kyasing Mong Chak (30) s/o late Thuihla Khoi Chak.

Soon after the arrest, they were taken to a local primary school and tortured brutally there. Then they except Aungchagya Chak were released. Aungchagya Chak was kept under BDR custody since the arrest. He was not handed over to police authority and even produced before court till 23 August while the report writing.

Again, on 22 August 2009 BDR and RAB jointly conducted operation to rescue the kidnapped person. They took following 12 indigenous Chak villagers as helpers for searching operation:

1) Mr. Uchai Thowai Chak, (30) s/o Mongyeng Chak of Headman Para;

2) Mr. Uswe Ching Chak, (40) s/o Kyaja Chak of Headman Para;

3) Mr. Kyajairi Chak (38) of Headman Para;

4) Mr. Uchinh Mong Chak (15), a student of grade X, s/o Dhungcha Aung Chak of Upper Chak Para;

5) Mr. Aung Shajai Chak (15), a student grade X, s/o Basaik Chak of Upper Chak Para;

6) Mr. Chai Thowaihla Chak (30) s/o Raima Aung Chak of Upper Chak Para;

7) Mr. Uchagya Chak (20) s/o Chai Aung Chak of Madyam Chak Para;

8) Mr. Uthowai Mong Chak (50) s/o late Thowai Aungya Chak of Madyam Chak Para;

9) Mr. Chai Aung Chak (50) s/o Kyajahla Chak of Madyam Chak Para;

10) Mr. Chathui Aung Chak (30) s/o late Nithowai Hla Chak of Madyam Chak Para;

11) Mr. Kyaching Chak (13) s/o Chaihla Mong Chak of Madyam Chak Para;

12) Mr. Dhungchai Aung Chak (18) s/o Athui Chak of Madyam Chak Para.

But BDR and RAB failed to rescue the kidnapped person. Due to failing, they became angry upon the helpers of innocent Chak villagers. Then the Chak villagers were gathered to a local junior high school and inhumanly started to torture by turn by the BDR and RAB there. Besides them, the following Chak villagers were also brutally tortured by the BDR and RAB at the junior high school:

1) Mr. Machingla Chak (12) s/o Jani Aung Chak of Upper Chak Para;

2) Mr. Kramaching Chak (18) s/o Jani Aung Chak of Upper Chak Para;

3) Ms. Nongkhain Chak (25) w/o Uchaka Chak of Upper Chak Para;

4) Mr. Dhungcha Aung Chak (48) s/o Raima Aung Chak of Upper Chak Para;

5) Mr. Chingchala Chak (47) s/o Dhongneo Chak of Upper Chak Para;

6) Mr. Janing Aung Chak (55) (a primary school teacher) s/o late Mongcha Thowai Chak;

7) Ms. Janimey Chak (50) w/o Janing Aung Chak;

8) Ms. Lachau Chak (45) w/o Swe Jaiu Chak.

After meeting retaliation, most of villagers were set free on 22 August, but 7 innocent villagers were kept under BDR custody. The Chak villagers called on Mr. Bir Bahadur, ruling MP from Bandarban for taking necessary measure on 23 August. Mr. Bahadur assured them to look into the matter. It is also learnt that more 5 villagers were also released on 23 August afternoon, but following Chak villagers are still under BDR custody without producing before court as per the laws:

1) Mr. Aungchagya Chak (37) s/o Thuila Khai Chak of Badurjiri village;

2) Mr. Mong Wai Chak (20) s/o Kijairi Chak, Madyam Chak Para.

BDR and RAB personnel threatened that all the villagers would be put in jail and indigenous Chak villages would be evicted if the villagers failed to rescue the kidnapped Bengali person. The villagers of indigenous Chak community at Baishari areas under Naikhyongchari are living with fears and insecurity.

(Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti)
Kalyanpur, Rangamati-450000, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh
Tel+Fax: +880-351-61248

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