Jun 14, 2004

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Action Alert calling for defending Democracy, Human Rights and Peace in the

The human rights situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) has significantly worsened after taking over the office by a four-party coalition government led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in October 2001
The human rights situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) has significantly worsened after taking over the office by a four-party coalition government led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in October 2001. It can be assumed from a recent incident in which the government barred the leader of the Jumma indigenous people Mr. Jyotirindra Bodhipriyo Larma from leaving the country! The government violated his fundamental right to move freely within Bangladesh and leave the country as enshrined in the Article 36 of the Constitution of Bangladesh obviously because of his distinct indigenous ethnic origin and religious and cultural backgrounds, and its worse human rights records in the CHT.

Mr. Larma was invited by the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to attend its 3rd session held from 10-21 May 2004 in New York.

Under the influence of the Islamic fundamentalist coalition partners -- Jamat-e-Islam, Islami Okyo Jote and Bangladesh Jatiya Party -- the BNP led coalition government continues to support the Bengali Muslim population transfer and settlement program in the CHT in violation of the “CHT Peace Accord” reached between the former Awami League government of Bangladesh and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) on 2 December 1997. According to a report in Bengali (the report has been translated into English and enclosed, see Enclosure No.1), there are 26,220 families of settlers in Khagrachari hill district and 1,605 families of the same in Rangamati hill district. The report says that presently each family is being provided with only 21 kg rice/ration at free of cost per week though it is entitled to get Tk. 1,500/- for construction of house, Tk. 300/- as grant per month and 21 kg rice per week as per the “Amanisha Declaration of 1988”. The report further says that there are also “many families who are yet to get ration card”. The report does not refer to the number of settler families in Bandarban hill district worst hit by overwhelming presence of settlers (61.88%, according to the district electoral rolls).

The government continues to provide Tk. 450/- and Tk. 612.50 as allowance per month respectively to each member and platoon commander of the Village Defense Party (VDP), an auxiliary force drawn from the young settlers to combat indigenous fighters during the conflict-period. The number of VDP members is estimated to be around 100,000. In addition, there are 80,000 army personnel, 25,000 BDR (Bangladesh Border Security Force) personnel, 8,000 Answars (Islamic Guards) and 1,500 navy servicemen in the CHT.

There has been an increasing inflow of new Bengali Muslim settlers into the CHT. Islamic fundamentalism is on increase in the region to an alarming extent. According to a Bangladesh government website, www.bangladesh.gov.bd, there are 224 Madrasas (Islamic schools)/masques in Rangamati hill district alone. Khagrachari hill district has more than 300. These figures do not include the Madrasas in the Bandarban hill district and nearly 1,700 mosques mushroomed in the tiny hill region. Apart from Islamic education, students are taught prejudiced education that contributes to development of racism and militancy in their psyche. Many national and international Islamic organizations and NGOs, such as Bangladesh Islamic Foundation and Al-Haramine Islamic Foundation, provide fund for spread and development of Islam in the CHT. Settlers have already outnumbered the local indigenous population in many areas in the CHT like Alikadam, Lama, Nakyangchari, Ramu, Roangchari, Guimara, Merung, Ramgarh, Matiranga, Gomti, Langudu etc. Many suspected international “Islamic terrorists” are seen in these areas. The leaking out of 10 trucks laden with 10,000 illegal sophisticated arms in Chittagong on 2 April 2004 could have links with them (see a picture of the arms enclosed, see Enclosure No. 2). Embarrassed and shaken by this sensitive news, Prime Minister of Bangladesh Ms. Begum Khaleda Zia promptly called upon the reporters not to flash news and pictures harmful to the interest of the nation in media at a meeting with the representatives of the Dhaka Reporters’ Unity on 6 April 2004. This is not the only arms haul in Bangladesh; earlier many such illegal arms got leaked. It is an evidence of increasing Islamic militancy and fundamentalism in Bangladesh that has been destroying the religion, culture and identity of the indigenous people in the CHT.

The government, especially the illegally appointed Chairman of the CHT Development Board (CHTDB) and Member of Bangladesh Parliament elected through electoral frauds from the Khagrachari hill district Md. Abdul Wadud Bhuiyan, is giving all required support and co-operation to new settlers for settlement in the CHT. The Prothom Alo, one of the leading Bengali dailies in Bangladesh, published a long article entitled “Anusandhan” (In Quest) in several parts in March 2004 dealing with the corruptions and irregularities of Md. Bhuiyan. In the article Md. Bhuiyan has been charged with huge misappropriation of fund allocated to the CHTDB. The article alleges that the government has formed an Islamic armed militant group consisting of 150 cadres and more than 100 goons in the CHT under his leadership. With the help of this group the government silenced its political opponents including media persons -- like district reporter Azimul Haq of the Prothom Alo and Narul Azam of the Dainik Jugantar -- who criticized his (Md. Bhuiyan) corruptions and irregularities in the CHT. With the fund allocated to the CHTDB for development of the indigenous people, Md. Bhuiyan has established new villages, “Wadud Pally”, for settlers after his name throughout the CHT as part of the government-sponsored Bengali Muslim population transfer and settlement program in the CHT. Two DCs (Deputy Commissioners = highest district administrative officials) Mazibur Rahman Halder and Humayun Kabir in the Khagrachari hill district were transferred from the CHT to other plain districts for their differences with him. The PCJSS and its front organizations observed a series of strikes demanding his resignation from his post.

The government is spending millions of Taka for Islamization and militarization in the CHT at the cost of the indigenous people. This spending is unproductive in terms of socio-economic development and peace building in the region. This money should be used for rehabilitation of Jumma refugees and internally displaced Jummas, drinking water, healthcare, education, electricity, road-construction and agricultural development in rural areas through the CHT local governmental bodies, such as the CHT Regional Council.

Despite the “CHT Peace Accord”, the repressive Bangladeshi Islamic military regime in the CHT continues to violate the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the indigenous people with complete impunity.

According to the PCJSS, there are more than 500 Bangladeshi Muslim military and paramilitary camps in the CHT till today. These camps set up to curb the movement of the non-Muslim indigenous people during conflict-period in late 1970s and early 1990s were supposed to be withdrawn from the region under the Part D, Article 17 (a) of the “CHT Peace Accord”. But the government continues to non-comply with and blatantly violate the Article and abstain from lifting the military rule, “Operation Dabanal” [Operation Wild-fire renamed as “Operation Uttoran” (Operation Upliftment) after the agreement] from the CHT imposed in 1982. Rather the government is using the military to suppress the indigenous political activists pressing the government for proper implementation of the “CHT Peace Accord” and to pave the way for further infiltration, settlement and empowerment of Bengali Muslim settlers in the CHT. It is resulting in the undermining of the CHT peace process and excluding the indigenous people from political decision-making and development opportunities.

On 25 May 2004 at around 5 am, the military led by a Captain from Sindukchari camp and Guimara brigade raided the PCJSS office in Guimara area and arbitrarily arrested 17 PCJSS activists and PCP (Hill Students Council) and PCJS (CHT Youth Organization) members while organizing the local people for strengthening their movement for proper implementation of the “CHT Peace Accord”. The military brutally tortured them and put them in detention for one day. No water and food were given to the victims during the detention. The victims are:
1) Mr. Mong Thowai Marma (28) s/o Tufan Marma of Chhota Pilak under Guiamar
2) Mr. Alo Bikash Chakma (22) s/o Mangal Chandra Chakma of Badshachari under Dighinala
3) Mr. Sunil Kanti Tripura (22) s/o Sneha Kuamr Chakma of Betchari under Dighinala
4) Mr. Tatu Tripura (23) s/o Tarang Kumar Tripura of Headman Para under Dighinala
5) Mr. Mista Ranjan Tripura (24) s/o Nagendra Tripura of Headman under Dighinala
6) Mr. Sukumar Chakma (20) s/o Nayan Chandra Chakma of Betchari under Dighinala
7) Mr. Omar Chakma (30) s/o Bima Ranjan Chakma of Kabakhali under Doghinala
8) Mr. Bali Tripura (30) s/o Kalinga Tripura of Headman Para under Dighinala
9) Mr. Shanti Chakma (22) s/o Ajoy Chakma of Boalkhali under Dighinala
10) Mr. Sohag Chakma (20) s/o Sneha Kumar Chakma of Hajachari under Dighinala
11) Mr. Sumedh Chakma (25) s/o late Kipta Sen Chakma of Betchari under Dighinala
12) Mr. Ujai Marma (25) s/o late Mong Marma of Headman under Guimara
13) Mr. Ruapayan Chakma (26) s/o Halesh Chandra of Parshuramghat under Guimara
14) Mr. Sagar Baccha Chakma (22) s/o Purna Kanti Chakma of Kumujya Para under Ramgarh
15) Mr. Mongchai Marma (25) s/o Aung Prue Marma of Chhota Pilak under Ramgarh
16) Mr. Devamoy Chakma (32) s/o Hriday Muni Karbari of Bara Pilak under Ramgarh
17) Mr. Antar Tripura (16) s/o Birendra Tripura of Shingali Para under Ramgarh.

On 25 May the PCJSS and its front organization such as PCP and PCJS jointly organized a demonstration in Khagrachari hill district condemning the military atrocities and demanding immediate and unconditional release of the indigenous activists. They threatened to go for an indefinite road blockade program in Khagrachari hill district from 27 May if the authorities failed to meet their demand.

On 26 May the military handed the detainees over to Guimara police station with serious injuries, and ordered the Assistant Sub Inspector (ASI) of Police Mohammad Ataur Rahman to file a case against them under Section 54 of the Bangladesh Criminal Code. In the case, the police asked the court not to release the accused on bail! The accused were produced to court in critical condition. The court rejected an application seeking their release on bail. The accused were sent to Khagrachari jail.

As the authorities did not release the indigenous activists, so the PCJSS, PCP and PCJS went for an indefinite road blockade program from 27 May as they planned earlier.

The police assisted by military personnel of the 203rd Infantry Division ransacked the PCJSS office in Khagrachari and arrested 69 PCJSS and PCP leaders, activists and ordinary people, and took them to Khagrachari police station in the afternoon.
In Khagrachari district headquarters the police were arresting indigenous people indiscriminately. The ruling BNP cadres were patrolling on the streets equipped with sticks shouting slogans against the indigenous people creating further communal tension in the hill district.
At around 1:45 pm the police raided several houses of indigenous people. They opened blank fire while doing so, and arrested and beat indigenous people indiscriminately in Mohajanpara area. As a result, Mr. Tribhuban Chakma was seriously injured. He was admitted to a local hospital. Mohajanpara area was still under military cordon.
The PCJSS, PCP and PCJS activists tortured and put into jail have reportedly been released last week. But they have not been acquitted from the false case filed against them. As a result, they are being subjected to terrible harassments.
It may be noted that the repressive Bangladeshi Islamic military regime had perpetrated massive human rights violations including 13 major genocides against the indigenous people during the conflict-period (late 1970s - early 90s). It resulted in killing of nearly 15,000 Jummas and displacing hundreds of thousands of Jumma people of whom, over 120,000 were forced to become refugees in neighboring India in the 1980s and 90s. But no perpetrator has been brought to justice! They continue to practice human rights abuses against the indigenous people in peacetime as well. These human rights abuses include massacre, killing, torture, attack with arson, arbitrary arrest and detention, rape, sexual assault, political harassment, religious intolerance, looting, extortion, land-grabbing etc. In its April 2004 report, “PERSISTENT HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES WITH COMPLETE IMPUNITY: A Report On The Human Rights Abuses Committed By Bangladesh Security Forces Against The Jumma Indigenous People In The Post-Conflict Chittagong Hill Tracts (2 December 1997 - 31 March 2004)”, Peace Campaign Group has documented 144 cases of such human rights abuses including four massacres -- Babuchara Massacre on 16 October 1999, Dighinala Massacre on 22 May 2001, Ramgarh Massacre on 23 June 2001 and Mahalchari Massacre on 26 August 2003 -- in the post-conflict CHT. Thousands of Jumma indigenous people were subjected to these human rights abuses. In the last massacre, two indigenous people including an eight year-old baby were killed, nine indigenous women were gang raped and three of them were abducted, more than 50 indigenous people including Buddhist monks were beaten to serious injuries, more than 400 houses including three Buddhist temples of the 14 indigenous villages were burnt down by the military. Such human rights abuses are crimes against humanity and contravene --

• Article 1, Article 3, Article 5, Article 8 and Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
• Article 2 (1) and (2), Article 4, Article 10 (1), Article 14 (1) and Article 16 (1) of the Convention against Torture, and Article 2 and Article 3 of the General Assembly Resolution 3452 (XXX) of 9 December 1975;
• Article IV of the Convention on Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the Convention on War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity;
• Article 5 (b) of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination;
• Article 7 and Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
• Article 1, Article 2 and Article 4 (1) of the General Assembly Resolution 47/135 of 18 December 1992; and
• Article 6 (a), (e) and (f) of the General Assembly Resolution 35/55 of 25 November 1981.

In a joint military-police drive codenamed “Operation Clean Heart” launched on 17 October 2002 nearly 40,000 army personnel were deployed across the country to crackdown “crimes”. The operation was used as a political tool to crackdown indigenous political activists and their supporters pressing the government for proper implementation of the “CHT Peace Accord”. In fact, Bangladesh has been committing a systematic “state-sponsored violence” against the indigenous people to implement its Islamization policy in the CHT. In addition, the military continue to freely interfere with the civil administration and democratic institutions in the CHT. The military also practice wide irregularities during elections for their favorable candidates. Ironically, it is the same security forces that earn money and recognition while working as part of international peacekeeping operations in various countries ravaged with war and violence under the aegis of the United Nations! International community cannot allow the government of Bangladesh to use its security forces as warmongers and human rights violators against the country’s 700,000 indigenous people struggling for survival of their identity. In fact, Bangladesh military have become the main source of insecurity, fear and terror, lawlessness and disorder in the CHT! The indigenous people have become hostage to the repressive Bangladeshi Islamic military regime. This paradox must be protested and stopped for promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and peace in the CHT.