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Then and Now: Repression on indigenous Jummas
Excerpts from AITPN report

Until the signing of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs) Accord on 2 December 1997 between the Jana Samhati Samiti and the government of Bangladesh, the region was known for its gruesome human rights violations. After the surrender of the Parbattya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (known as JSS) and its armed cadres belonging to the Shanti Bahini pursuant to the Accord, the government had done little to implement the Accord and repression continues unabated. The indigenous peoples of the CHTs, collectively known as the Jummas, have struggled hard to draw attention of the international community. The conflict between the Jana Samhati Samiti and the United People's Democratic Front, two representative political organisations of indigenous Jumma peoples, over the CHTs Accord has been exceptionally self-destructive.

The Awami League government which signed the Peace Accord in 1997 did little to implement the Accord. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party had vehemently opposed the Accord. In the general elections held in October 2001, Awami League was voted out. The BNP consistently sought to undermine or sabotage the Accord. The next general election is slated to be held by March 2007 with no signs of the Accord being implemented.  For all practical purposes, the CHTs Peace Accord has become a "Dead Accord".

a. Land grabbing by the government and illegal plain settlers

Systematic attacks on indigenous Jummas especially of those living in the vicinity of the cluster villages of the illegal settlers have increased further since the signing of the CHTs Accord. Illegal settlers are often assisted by the Bangladesh army personnel to forcibly occupy the lands of indigenous Jumma peoples. Many of the illegal settlers who came in 1970s and 1980s have been elected to the local government bodies like Union Council and they have been in the forefront of the attacks on the indigenous Jumma peoples. The latest attacks took place on two indigenous Jumma villages at Maischari on 3 April 2006 with a view to grab the lands of indigenous Jummas.

Apart from directly assisting the illegal plain setters to grab the lands of indigenous Jummas, the Bangladesh military has been responsible for forcible seizure of lands of the Jummas in the name of construction of military bases. The government of Bangladesh has undertaken programmes to acquire a total of at least 66,774 acres of land for military purposes respectively 9,650 acres of land in Bandarban for the expansion of Ruma military cantonment which will affect about 1,000 indigenous Jumma families; 11,446.24 acres of land in Sualok Union of Bandarban for establishing an Artillery Training Centre which will uproot 400 indigenous families (each family was provided only a paltry sum of Taka 3,000 to 8,000 as compensation); 450 acres of land in Pujgang under Panchari Thana of Khagrachari district for construction of an army cantonment; 45 acres of land in Babuchara under Dighinala Thana in Khagrachari district which will affect at least 74 Jumma families in three villages; about 183 acres of land in Balaghata in Bandarban district; 19,000 acres of land in Bandarban for the expansion of an Artillery Training centre and 26,000 acres of land in Bandarban for establishing Air Force Training Centre.

These are in addition to the notices to acquire a total of 5,600 acres of land in Chimbuk area of Bandarban district in the name of constructing an Eco Park and 5,500 acres of land in Sangu Mouza of Bandarban district in the name of creating an "Abhoyarannyo" (animal sanctuary). The government officials have also been forcing indigenous Jumma peoples to lease away 40,071 acres of land in Lama, Nikkyong Chari, Alikadam and Bandarban Sadar to private individuals for rubber and tea plantation.

The Land Commission established under the CHTs Accord was mandated to resolve the land disputes. It met only once in eight and half years after the signing of the CHTs Accord. As  the government of Bangladesh continues with its policy to grab the lands of the indigenous Jumma peoples through the security forces, illegal settlers, forest department etc., how could the Land Commission be made functional?

b. Militarisation and human rights violations

The Chittagong Hill Tracts is one of the heaviest militarized zones in the world. Approximately one-third of the Bangladesh military is deployed in the CHTs. The government reportedly spends an estimated US$125 million per year for the continued presence of the military in the region.

The military personnel have been responsible for torture, rape and other gross human rights violations.

Many Jummas have also become victims of lust of the army and the police personnel to obtain "quick promotion". On 5 March 2006, security forces led by one Captain Zahid entered into Khagrachari District Court and took away two Jummas, Shuchil Kanti Chakma and Kamala Ranjan Chakma, without the permission from the sitting judge. These two Jummas were arrested from Mahalchari the previous day. Captain Zahid  then photographed them after putting weapons in their hands. Khagrachari District Bar Association condemned the incident, but no action was taken against the delinquent officer. Indigenous Jummas have been victims of arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention and torture in custody to extract confessions or provide information about alleged terrorists.

Indigenous Jumma women have been extremely vulnerable to violence including rape and other sexual harassment and torture both at the hands of the security forces and illegal settlers.  On 10 April 2006, a Jumma widow identified as Rupali Chakma, wife of late Dhan Kumar Chakma, was raped by an army officer, Subedar Kobad of Dwi-Tila army camp in Baghaihat in Rangmati district. The victim was returning home from Baghaihat after drawing government allowances and the vehicle in which she was traveling was stopped by the security personnel. Subedar Kobad forcibly took her off to the Dwi-Tila camp and raped her. Though the victim was admitted in Rangamati Hospital for treatment, no arrest was made.

Whenever indigenous Jumma peoples sought to protest against rape and other sexual harassment of their women, the security forces and the illegal settlers retaliated with violence and mayhem. On 23 March 2006, illegal plain settlers launched violent attacks on Jummas at Jouta Khamar village under Ghagra union of Kaukhali upazila in Rangamati district. At around 9:30 pm, an illegal plain settler identified as Md. Rafique, s/o Abdul Salam, tried to rape Ms. Rajeshwari Chakma, w/o late Dhenga Chakma. Md. Rafique was driven away by the Jumma villagers who rushed to the spot hearing shouts for help from the victim. But Md Rafique returned with more settlers and attacked the Jumma villagers. In the attack, 8 Jumma villagers were reportedly injured, and many houses were looted and their properties destroyed.

Indigenous Jumma children have been victims of torture, rape and other sexual abuses at the hands of the security forces and the illegal plain settlers. On 23 January 2005, a 9-year-old boy named Bandachya Chakma, son of Pagana Khulo Chakma of Dojar area was sexually abused by an army personnel. The victim and his friend had gone to the forest to collect forest products when the army personnel encountered them. The accused sent the victim's friend to buy him food, and sexually harassed the minor boy. Later, the accused gave Taka 50 note to the victim to not to disclose the matter.

The CHTs Accord had provided for the withdrawal of temporary military camps. In 2004, the JSS stated that only 35 out of 500 camps had been withdrawn. Since then government has established more new camps at Milachari under Bandarban district and at Ghagra in Rangamati district.

One of the key provisions of the CHTs Accord i.e. the demilitarisation has not been implemented at all.

c. Ethnic cleansing through implantation of the illegal plain settlers

The CHTs Accord did not help to resolve the illegal settlers' issue. Tens of thousands of illegal plain settlers continue to pour in with the support of the government. On 23 April 2006, the Parliamentary Committee on the CHTs Affairs confirmed that number of people living in the cluster-villages in the three hill districts of Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachari became double and rose to 50,000. The illegal plain settlers are kept in the cluster villages until they can forcibly occupy the lands of the indigenous Jumma peoples and permanently settle down. The government provides 86 kilogram of rice to per settler family per month, in addition to other amenities. However, no such assistance is provided to the internally displaced Jummas. Rather, in 2000 the task force on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) set up by the government of Bangladesh identified 38,156 plain settlers' families as IDPs. It is a travesty that those illegal settlers who in the first place displaced indigenous Jummas have also been identified as IDPs. The actual number of internally displaced Jummas is about 100,000 families.

About 43,000 Jumma refugees returned to CHTs from Tripura State of India after the peace accord was signed in 1997. About 40 villages of returnee refugees are still under the occupation of the illegal settlers. Over 3,000 families did not get their lands back in violations of the agreement signed with the Returnee Jumma Refugees Welfare Association.

d. The dead CHTs Accord Implementation Committee

Clause 3 of Part A of the CHTs Accord provided for formation of an Implementation Committee to monitor the process of implementation of the Accord. The Implementation Committee constituted of a member to be nominated by the Prime Minister as Convenor, the Chairman of the Task Force formed within the purview of the Accord and the President of the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti.

The CHTs Accord Implementation Committee is as dead as dodo.

e. The CHTs Illegal Settlers' Affairs Ministry?

The CHTs Affairs Ministry set up pursuant to the CHTs Accord has been turned into the Ministry for the Illegal Settlers. In November 1999, after instructions from the Prime Minister's Office, illegal plain settlers who displaced the indigenous Jumma peoples in the first place were included in the definition of IDPs. Consequently, in 2000, the Task Force under the chairmanship of Dipankar Talukder prepared the list of 1,28,364 IDP families, including 90,208 tribal and 38,156 non-tribal families.  On 21 December 2000, the CHTs Affairs Ministry served a notification No. 62/99-587 empowering the Deputy Commissioners of the three hill districts in the CHTs to issue "permanent resident certificate" to the illegal plain settlers. On 23 November 2005, a directive from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) forced the Jumma NGOs to abandon a workshop on land rights issues hours after it was convened at Rangamati.

f. The CHTs Illegal Settlers' Development Board!

The CHTs Development Board was set up essentially to carry out the implementation of the programmes for illegal settlers. Little has changed after the signing of the CHTs Accord.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia appointed BNP Member of Parliament from Khagrachari, Wadud Buiyan as the Chairman of the CHTs Development Board on 11 February 2002 in violation of the CHTs Accord that provided for appointment of an indigenous person as the Chairperson. Under Buiyan's leadership, the CHTDB has been undertaking settler-oriented development programmes and bringing in thousands of illegal settlers and providing them free rations. The illegal settlers feel so indebted to MP Wadud Buiyan that now many villages where they have been settled have been re-named as "Wadud Palli" ("Wadud villages"). When the Deputy Minister for the CHTs Affairs, Mani Swapan Dewan refused to toe the line on the issue of providing rations, he was divested of his portfolio although he remained minister.

g. The CHTs Regional Council: Dhaka's rubber stamp

Little has been done to implement the Accord apart from appointing key JSS officials as members of the Regional Council. The tenure of the Regional Council under the Accord is five years. However, though the JSS assumed charge in May 1999, no election has yet been held to the Regional Council so far. No election to the three Hill District Councils has also been held since 1989.

While the JSS rightly opposes elections to the Regional Council and Hill District Councils because of the inclusion of the illegal settlers into electoral rolls, the issue has increasingly become an excuse to cling on to power in the Regional Council. After all, the illegal plain settlers have been participating in the local government and municipal elections.

The District Councils do not give a hoot to the CHTs Regional Council. JSS President Santu Larma who also serves as the Chairman of the Regional Council rightly makes regular complaints about the non-implementation of the Accord. However, it is difficult to make distinction as to whether complaints were being made by him as signatory to the Accord on behalf of the JSS or as the Chairman of the Regional Council. The Regional Council remained the most ignored local government institution in the country.

The continuation of the JSS in the Regional Council is the only sign that the CHTs Accord is on. But it only helps the government of Bangladesh as did the surrender of the JSS.

Response of the government of Bangladesh

AITPN report was circulated at the 5th session of the Permanent Forum in May 2006. Many indigenous Jumma representatives also made oral interventions.

 The representative of Bangladesh made an oral intervention on 23 May 2006. The representative while protesting against the report and oral interventions stated, “We have noted the contents of some statements as well as publications made available in the Forum. It is a matter of regret that most of those are concocted. Many are motivated by a desire to grab the sympathy of the international community. Tribal representatives often present wrongdoing against them as attempts of victimization. But they have often been found, upon investigation, as regular criminal activities, which are no different from other peoples'. It would be our hope that the distinguished members of the Forum and the fellow delegates would appreciate the sincere efforts by the Government and reject the propaganda. My delegation deplores the actions of those individuals who take it as a mission to tarnish the positive image of their own country for short term gains, which are often personal in nature.”

AITPN's reply to Bangladesh

The statement of the government of Bangladesh has failed to respond to any of the allegations made in the report of AITPN or oral interventions of the indigenous Jumma representatives. Apart from specific human rights violations mentioned in AITPN's report, the representative of Bangladesh also failed to respond to the threat issued by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the CHT Affairs Ministry on 31 August 2005 to take legal action against indigenous activists from the CHTs – Mangal Kumar Chakma and Mrinal Kanti Tripura of the PCJSS, Albert Mankin and Ina Hume for demanding implementation of the provisions of the CHTs Accord at the 4th session of the Permanent Forum.

It is a fact that Permanent Mission of Bangladesh in New York has sent note verbale to Dhaka in such a manner that the Parlianmentary Standing Committee on the CHT Affairs  Ministry felt it necessary to issue such a threat to the indigenous representatives – an unacceptable action in any society claiming to be democratic. The intervention reflected the diplomatic unease of being reduced to spooks.

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