04. Bangladesh: Alleged violent attacks on Jumma villages in Rangamati and Khagrachari districts, Chittagong Hill Tracts

By | 15 September, 2010

Cases examined by the Special Rapporteur (June 2009 – July 2010)

A/HRC/15/37/Add.1, 15 September 2010
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IV. Bangladesh: Alleged violent attacks on Jumma villages in Rangamati and Khagrachari districts, Chittagong Hill Tracts

37. In a letter dated 5 March 2010, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, James Anaya, together with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Phillip Alston, called the attention of the Government of Bangladesh to information received in relation to alleged attacks against indigenous peoples in 14 indigenous villages in Sajek Union, in the Rangamati district, Chittagong Hill Tracts.

38. This letter follows an earlier letter of 3 April 2008 in which Special Rapporteur James Anaya, together with the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, Raquel Rolnick, and the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, called the attention of the government of Bangladesh to allegations regarding ongoing illegal seizure of the traditional lands of Jumma indigenous communities in Barbadah, Khagrachari and Merung districts, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

39. The Government of Bangladesh responded to the 5 March letter in communications dated 6 April and 18 May 2010. Also, the Special Rapporteur met with a representative of the Government of Bangladesh in Geneva 1 July 2010 to discuss the situation.

Allegations received by the Special Rapporteurs and transmitted to the Government on 5 March 2010

40. In their communication of 5 March 2010, the Special Rapporteurs transmitted to the Government information they received about the alleged attacks against indigenous peoples in Sajek Union, Chittagong Hill Tracts, and requested that the Government respond to the allegations contained in the communication in light of relevant international standards.

41. According to the information and allegations received:

a) Bengali settlers, backed by the Bangladesh army, burnt down over 200 houses belonging to indigenous Jumma villagers. Several shops and one Buddhist temple were also burnt to the ground, and homes were looted.

b) On 20 February2010, military personnel opened fire into a crowd of indigenous villagers. Six Jumma villagers were killed and at least 25 were injured in the attacks. An additional 1,500 indigenous peoples were displaced as a result of the attacks.

c) On 23 February 2010, in Khagrachari district, Chittagong Hill Tracts, houses and shops belonging to indigenous peoples were burned down by Bengali settlers in the presence of military personnel.
d) These events followed similar events from 20 April 2008, during which a group of Bengali settlers attacked several indigenous Jumma villages, injuring people and burning down more than 70 houses, with no effective intervention by the Bangladesh authorities. Since the incidents in 2008, tensions in the Sajek area, in Rangamati district, have remained high. Indigenous residents fear additional attacks by military personnel and settlers.

e) The Jumma people have been living in the area for decades and have continuously protested the Bengali settlement on their land. Nonetheless, in January 2010, Bengal settlers, with the support of the army, resumed expansion of their settlements into Jumma lands within the Sajek area, thereby escalating already existing tensions.

f) Bangladeshi army personnel prohibited independent observers, including human rights activists and journalists, from accessing the villages where the attacks occurred.

Responses from the Government of 6 April and 18 May 2010

42. The Government of Bangladesh responded to the above information and allegations in letters of 6 April and 18 May 2010. The following is a composite summary of the Government’s responses:

a) The information is not accurate. The land of Sajek Union in Baghaichari Upazila in the Rangamati Hill District is a designated Protected Forest Reserve. There is no private ownership of land in Sajek Union. Some Chakma tribal peoples and Bengali families have been living on the Reserve illegally for the last few years. The Chakma and Benagli peoples have fought for ownership as well as possession of the piece of land that constitutes the Protected Forest Reserve. Tension over the land has given rise to several violent incidents, including a clash between the Chakma and Bengali peoples in the Baghaihat-Gangarammukh area on 19-20 February 2010.

b) The incident occurred in the following context. One Chakma tribal member sold the right to possession on a piece of land to a Bangalee named Shah Alam. Shah Alam paid for the land and took possession of it; however, some Chakma leaders pressured the Chakma people who sold the land to retake it from the Bangalee. A dispute over the possession of land resulted. The parties attempted to resolve the dispute, holding several negotiations in the presence of local leaders from both parties’ communities, but they failed.

c) An NGO named “Hillehilli”, financed by foreign donors, used to work with Chakma women on economic development and gave the local women’s organization a turmeric-crushing machine. Despite Mr. Shah Alam’s protests against the use of his land, the women’s organization set up their turmeric-crushing machine on the disputed area in an attempt to claim the land. This specific incident was the root of the clash that occurred on 19-20 February 2010.

d) In the incidents of 19- 20 February 2010, both tribal and Bengali people were injured, a few dozen houses and stores belonging to both the Chakma and Bengali people were set on fire and two Chakma people (Buddhaputi Chakma and Laxmi Bijoy Chakma) died.

e) After the incidents, on 20 February 2010, a coalition of politicians and Ministers, local government representatives and several journalists visited the affected Baghaihat-Gonf Emmukh-Bongaltali Korengatali Battali area. While in the village, the visitors gathered information from the local people about the incident. They presented their opinions on ways to change the legal and political climate in the locality and requested that the Bengali and Chakma peoples respect each other’s rights and dignity. The visitors also distributed aid (including rice, potatoes, and salt) on behalf of the government, which was valued at .5 million Bangladeshi Taka (BDT).

f) On 24 February 2010, the same coalition of visitors went to the Baghaihat-Gongarammukh area. There, they once again shared their ideas and views with the local communities. The visitors requested that both tribal and Bengali peoples work to maintain the local law and order and that they live peacefully together in the interest of their own development. The coalition assured those affected by the violence in the area that adequate rehabilitation and housing would be provided and that the culprits’ actions would be subjected to a neutral and trustworthy investigation. Aid and relief materials were distributed.

g) On 6 March 2010, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee for the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs along with other members of the Committee and the Deputy Commissioner of the Rangamati Hill District, the Police Superintendent, local government representatives, and journalists visited the affected Daghaihat-Gongarammukh area at Sajek Union in Baghaichari Upazila and discussed the February 2010 violence. The members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee urged the local communities to strengthen relations between themselves. They also assured all affected parties that the distressed would be rehabilitated properly and no culprit would go untried.

h) The Ministry of Relief and Disaster Management has allocated 200 metric tons of rice; .5 million BDT as cash relief; 2 million BDT grants for repairing houses; and 500 hundred bundles of corrugated iron sheet for the victims of the February 2010 incidents. Moreover, a special “vulnerable group feeding” (VGF) program was founded. The program will run from March 2010 to May 2010 and will supply each affected Chakma and Bengali family 30 metric tons of rice. Additionally, the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs allocated .5 million BDT and 100 tons of rice as emergency relief to be distributed among the affected families. A request has also been forwarded to the concerned local authority for 85.32 metric tons of rice and 500 bundles of CR sheet to be distributed by way of another VGF program that would run from June 2010 to February 2011.

i) On 4 March 2010, six houses were burnt at Daine Bhaibachara of Sajek Union. After the incident, Baghaichari Upazila Parishad Chairman, Vice-Chairmen, Upazila Nirbahi Officer, Baghaichari, the officer in charge of the local police station, local leaders and journalists visited Daine Bhaibachara to inquire into the incident. They talked to the local people and saw the burnt houses but found no evidence that anyone inhabited them. After an investigation, the Government concluded that miscreants had intentionally set the houses on fire in order to get the Government’s attention. During the investigation, no one claimed the houses as their own. To date, nobody has approached the local administration or police station to complain about the burnings.

j) Two cases have been filed on behalf of the alleged victims of the February 2010 incidents at the Baghaichari Police Station in Baghaichari Upazila Le: Case No. 02 (dated 22 February 2010) and Case No. 03 (dated 23 February 2010). The trials are yet to be held, but will be heard in the court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate in the Rangamati Hill district. Four of those accused have been arrested. An investigation is still underway. When the investigation is complete, the trial will begin.

k) Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in her previous term, took the bold step to conclude the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord in 1997, in order to bring back peace, security and stability. The present government, after assuming office in January last year, made no delay in resuming the process of full implementation of the Accord. As part of this process, a good number of military camps were withdrawn from the hill districts, including 35 camps in the latter part of 2009. Further, the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Commission was reinvigorated with the new institution of the Head of the Land Commission and more subjects were transferred to Chittagong Hill Tracts local councils.

l) Presently [at the time of the 6 April 2010 letter], the Land Commission is in the field, working on surveys to address land disputes. The Government has always attached special emphasis to the socio-economic development of the people living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, with particular focus on the marginal and vulnerable groups, especially ethnic minorities. More education and health facilities are being provided to the tribal minorities than their fellow citizens elsewhere in the country; quota facilities have been given to the tribal minorities in higher educational institutions and government jobs; and development projects and livelihood support have been taken up with tribal minorities as beneficiaries. The Government is planning to establish more schools, colleges, and universities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts; and is also planning to take up commercial, economic, and tourism ventures there to develop this resourceful region of the country. The Government’s commitment to the full implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord remains total and its sincerity and efforts are in no doubt.

Observations of the Special Rapporteur

43. The Special Rapporteur thanks the Government of Bangladesh for its detailed response to his communication and the allegations contained therein and acknowledges the information received that an investigation of the February 2010 incidents is underway. He looks forward to receiving additional information in relation to the results of the investigations and any actions taken against those responsible for any human rights violations. The Special Rapporteur also notes the willingness of representatives of the Government of Bangladesh to discuss the issue of the Chittagong Hill Tracts during a meeting of 1 July 2010 in Geneva.

44. In light of the seeming ongoing pattern of conflicts related to land within the Chittagong Hill Tracts region—as reflected in both the 8 April 2008 and 5 March 2010 letters sent by the Special Rapporteur, and acknowledged in the Government’s response of 18 May 2010—the Special Rapporteur stresses the need for heightened attention to the land situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, as he communicated to the Government in the meeting of 1 July 2010. In this regard, the Special Rapporteur notes the Government’s expressed commitment to fully implement the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accords of 1997 (CHT Accords). Particular attention, in this context, should be paid to article 26(1) of the 1997 CHT Accords, which provides that “notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time-being in force, no land within the boundaries of Hill District shall be given in settlement, purchased, sold and transferred including giving lease without prior approval of the [Chittagong Hill Tracts] Council.”

45. Finally, the Special Rapporteur notes that he has made a request to the Government for its consent to a visit Bangladesh, and looks forward to a positive response. In any event, the Special Rapporteur will continue to monitor closely the situation within the Chittagong Hill Tracts and implementation of the CHT Accords.