February 21, 2005

Chittagong Hill Tracts: The Peace Campaign Group - Meeting on Bangladesh

Peace Campaign Group urges Bangladesh Development Partners to suspend all kinds of aid to the present coalition-ruled Bangladesh until and unless it fulfills its commitments made at the previous Bangladesh Development Forums

To Bangladesh Development Partners Participating in A Special Meeting on Bangladesh

23-24 February 2005

Washington

21 February 2005

Dear Sir/Madame,

WE, the Peace Campaign Group, welcome the meeting.

Our paper, "BANGLADESH DEVELOPMENT FORUM 2004 AND CHALLENGES FOR DEVELOPMENT IN THE CHITTAGONG HILL TRACTS", that we had emailed to some of the representatives of Bangladesh development partners prior to the start of the last year's Forum in Dhaka, foretold: "Islamic fundamentalism is on increase in the CHT to an alarming extent". Within a short span of time this prediction has manifested itself as a real threat not only to the Jumma indigenous people in the CHT, but also to all democratic institutions in Bangladesh. Today, it is the main challenge to any Bangladesh development planning.

The 2001 general elections in Bangladesh voted a four-party coalition [Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Jamaat-e-Islam, Islamic Okyo Jote (United Alliance of Muslims) and Jatiyo Party (M)] to power. It helped Islamic extremist groups and organizations, like Jagrata Muslim Janata, Harkatul Jihad and Quami Madrasa Musaderin, gain a strong ground in the country. The country with Islamic extremist policy-makers in power is now on the brink of a "failed state" with strong potential of a "terrorist state". With 88% Muslims of the 141 million peopled poor Islamic state (in the sense of recognition of Islam as "state religion": Part I, Article 2 A, Bangladesh Constitution), "Bangladesh is Now New Rest Stop for Fugitives" (Taliban and Al-Qaed remnants), reported The Herald on 23 October 2002. These facts have been well-documented in the Alex Perry's "Deadly Cargo", Bertil Lintner's "BANGLADESH: A Cocoon of Terror" and Eliza Griswold's "The Next Islamist Revolution".

The country has already been greatly troubled by serial political killings of opposition leaders (bomb blasts on the Awami League rally on 21 August 2004 in Dhaka in which former Prime Minister Ms. Sheikh Hasina was narrowly survived and dozen of her party colleagues were killed, bomb blasts killing her think-tank and former Finance Minister Shah S. A. M. S. Kibria along with four other opposition leaders on 27 January 2005 in Dhaka); violent attacks on Western interests (grenade hurling on the British High Commissioner on 21 May 2004 in Sylhet apparently for UK's role in the US-led "coalition campaign" in Afghanistan and Iraq); control over and suppression of independent media persons, human rights activists, intellectuals and indigenous political leaders [(bomb blasts in Khulna Press Club hurting four journalists on 4 February 2005, threat to the office of the Bengali daily Prothom Alo in Dhaka on 19 August 2004, killing of a Dhaka University Prof. Humayun Azad on 11 August 2004, threat to controversial writer and feminist Taslima Nasreen and writer and minority rights activist Salam Azad which forced them to flee to India for personal security recently, barring the PCJSS (Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti, the only political organization representing the Jumma indigenous people) President and CHT Regional Council Chairman Jyotirindra Bodhipriyo Larma from attending the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues held in May 2004 in New York and blocking the travel document (passport) of Rupayan Dewan, Vice-President and In-charge, External Relations, PCJSS]; and systematic racial discrimination and ethnic-cleansing against the indigenous peoples and religious minorities (blatant violation of the CHT Accord signed between the PCJSS and the previous Awami League government in 1997, violent communal attack on the 14 indigenous villages on 26 August 2003 in Mahalchari, military crackdown on indigenous political and student activists on 25 May 2004 in Guimara and growing religious intolerance and atrocities against Hindus, Buddhists and Christians in plain districts). No proper investigations into these crimes have been conducted. Rather, the government has been allegedly creating obstacles in the process of investigation. All these lead us to the conclusion that Islamic extremist policy-makers in power have taken control over the real administration of Bangladesh and now they are engaging Islamic extremist groups and goons in elimination of all democratic institutions to establish some sort of Islamic rule in line with Eliza's "Next Islamist Revolution" in the country.

The government has violated all the key promises made in the CHT Accord. The CHT, the traditional homeland of the Jumma indigenous people, has been converted into a virtual cantonment of Bangladesh military surrounded by hundreds of masques, madrasas and Muslim settlements. The military continue to be the de facto authority in the region despite commitment made in the CHT Accord for their withdrawal. The indigenous people have been hostage to the repressive Bangladeshi military regime codenamed "Operation Uttoran".

The government has been engaged in doing all appropriate for its hidden program of islamization in the CHT. Indigenous political, human rights and student activists, who oppose this program and demand for proper implementation of the CHT Accord in democratic way, are arrested, tortured and sent to jail on false charges of "terror", "extortion" and so on. They are being so terrorized psychologically that they are even going to lose their morale to democratically protest human rights abuses committed against them. In fact, the indigenous people are living in such a situation where they are not free to exercise their democratic rights and fundamental rights and freedoms. The most threatening thing is state-sponsored crimes -- and settlement of Muslims in large number in lands traditionally owned by indigenous people under military security-cover - a demographic invasion -- a silent genocide -- against the indigenous people. Muslim population in the CHT is believed to have increased from 2% in 1947 to more than 60% in 2004!

The government, who defines Bangladesh as an "Islamic democracy" to qualify for international aid, has miserably failed to meet its commitments made at the previous Bangladesh Development Forums for good governance, law and order, establishment of a national human rights commission, separation of the judiciary from the legislative and administrative organs of the government and setting up an ombudsmen or anti-corruption mechanism, among others. The "Islamic democracy" has figured as the "most corrupt state" in the world in the four consecutive years (Transparency International, Bangladesh Reports: 2001, 02, 03 and 04).

The coalition government elected democratically in 2001 has turned out to be a corrupt Islamic autocratic regime before the end of its five-year term! It is a terrible mockery with democracy. Now the coalition appears to be engaged in a systematic campaign to eliminate its oppositions before the next general elections due to be held sometime in 2006. In these circumstances, any international aid, if given to Bangladesh, is bound to result in survival of the regime in power and growing up of Islamic extremism and violations of democratic and human rights of common people, the Jummas of the CHT in particular.

We want a free and peaceful plural democratic society in Bangladesh. Therefore, we strongly urge you to suspend all kinds of aid to the present coalition-ruled Bangladesh until and unless it fulfills its commitments made at the previous Bangladesh Development Forums and the following conditions:

1. To help facilitate an independent and impartial international enquiry into the political killings and human rights abuses committed against oppositions and the Jumma indigenous people in the CHT leading to justice with persons or families victimized in these acts of violence;

2. To properly implement the 1997 CHT Accord without any further delay;

3. To immediately lift the military rule, "Operation Uttoran", from the CHT and stop all kinds of human rights abuses against the Jumma indigenous people;

4. To recognize the distinct identity of the indigenous peoples and religious minorities in the constitution of Bangladesh and stop all kinds of discrimination and torture against them;

5. To ensure security to the lives and properties of persons belonging to indigenous peoples and religious minorities; and

6. To ensure freedom of press and respect international human rights standards.

With regards,

Prajnalankar Bhikkhu General Secretary