International Jumma Organization.
May, 24, 2011: New York.
The International Jumma Organization in association with Friends of CHT, Bangladesh, organized a large rally outside the United Nations. It was attended by large numbers of Jumma people from Bangladesh who now live in the United States. Also in attendance were Bengali people living in New York, and indigenous peoples’ activists from countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe who are attending the 10th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII).
Speakers at the rally outside the UN emphasized that the Bangladesh government had signed the 1997 CHT Accord, and therefore had a duty to implement the Accord. The continued militarization of the region was condemned as a major violation of the Accord.
In the opening statement, Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the former chairperson of UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues and current member of Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission, said, “I visited burnt down villages, including Mahalchhari in 2003, and also other villages recently, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. These are villages burnt down in the presence of the Army. We are asking the UNPFII to look at this. Bangladesh army needs to stop these human rights violations, and there should be investigations into the attacks, which are happening very systematically.”
Dr Dina Siddiqi of Bangladesh, visiting Professor at Columbia University, framed the conflict in terms of the majority Bengali population’s privileges: “As long as some groups are excluded from full citizenship rights, the majority will have privileges rather than rights- privileges that will be tenuous and need to be secured constantly. We need to rethink the way we understand nationalism – we want to build up a just nationalism, not an exclusionary one, in which asking for rights is not construed as being against the national interest.”
Colonel Kirti Ranjan Chakma, retired officer, Bangladesh Army stated, “The army was given an absolute authority to control the affairs in the CHT. The political government of Bangladesh is practically powerless to decide anything related to CHT. Continued heavy presence of the army contributes to human rights violations in the entire region. We also hear of the involvement of the Army in backing Bengali settlers in their attempts to grab Indigenous Peoples’ land. For peace to be sustained and prevailed in the CHT, it is necessary that the army should be withdrawn immediately from all temporary camps mounted all over the CHT.”
Both Colonel Chakma and Dr. Dewan emphasized that Jummas are peace-loving people and want to be treated as equal citizens of Bangladesh. They stressed the fact that they were ashamed to come on a world stage and complain about something that is happening in their homeland and in their own country, and urged the government to implement the 1997 Accord.
Chief Wilton Littlechild, Chair of the Peace & Reconciliation Commission of Canada, said, “So long as the sun shines and grass grows and rivers flow, all treaties should be respected, and now these are enshrined in UNDRIP. We support the call of your people for implementation of the CHT Accord-- for demilitarization, resolution of land disputes and full participation of Indigenous Peoples.”
Andrea Carmen, Director, International Indian Treaty Council, said, “We share a common history of common struggles. Our villages were also burnt. You are not alone. US government is a supporter of the Bangladesh military. We will do our best to address your situation, to bring justice and peace.”
Mattias Ahren, President, Saami Council said, “A few years ago I visited CHT. It was beautiful but also sad to see how heavily militarized the area was. The Saami people were also once subject to forced assimilation. We hope your struggle will prevail and soon, and the Saami people show you solidarity.”
Lola Garcia-Alix, Director of IWGIA Secretariat, spoke about her experiences working on Chittagong Hill Tracts issues in the early 1990s. This was the time of the first international attention to human rights violations in the region, which resulted in publication of the landmark study, ‘Life is Not Ours’.
Saiti Louwa, from the El-Molo Women’s Group, Kenya focused on women’s issues: “We are in solidarity and call upon the Bangladesh government to implement the Accord. As women, we are in solidarity with the women of Bangladesh. We do understand the pain of being excluded and marginalized.”
The event was moderated by Dr Aditya Dewan, President of the International Jumma Organization.