Chittagong Hill Tracts: Bangladeshi Home Ministry Limits Access for Organizations and Foreigners
The Home Ministry of Bangladesh has restricted the access of foreign visitors and both national and international organizations to the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The restrictions make it extremely difficult to organize meetings between indigenous peoples and, for instance, human rights organizations. The indigenous political organization PCJSS has issued a statement condemning these restrictions, which they call 'racist' and 'discriminatory'.
Below is a statement publsihed by the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS):
The Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) strongly protests and condemns the decisions taken in the Ministry of Home Affairs that imposes embargo to foreigners intending to visit CHT and to the national/foreign organisations/individuals on meeting with the tribals/indigenous Jumma people in CHT and also demands to withdraw the said racist, discriminatory and anti-CHT Accord decisions without delay.
In a press release signed by Information and Publicity Secretary of the PCJSS Mr. Mangal Kumar Chakma on 6 February 2015, PCJSS said that the minutes of the meeting on the theme titled ‘Post-Peace Accord CHT Situation and Relevant Issues’ held on 7 January 2015 at Ministry of Home Affairs chaired by the State Minister, Ministry of Homes has come to notice of the organization. In the said meeting it was also decided, “If any individual/organization of national or international origin intends to hold a talk with the tribal peoples of CHT region, the presence of local administration and army/BGB shall have to be ensured and in case of the foreign nationals intending to pay a visit in CHT, also shall have to obtain permission by applying to the Home Ministry prior to one month ahead.” Such decision of the government is discriminatory, racially hating and of anti-CHT Accord. Whereas the foreigners do not require travelling pass to visit any part of Bangladesh but in case with CHT, enforcing obligatory rule for obtaining permission for a visit is utterly discriminatory and politically motivated ― it may be considered to have been so. Apart from this, the obligation that ensures presence of local administration and army/BGB personnel during interview by the individuals/organizations of national or international origin with the indigenous Jumma peoples is nothing but an absolute manifestation of racist and communal policy of the government. It is with this policy, the Jumma peoples have been treated as the 2nd class citizens, which is undoubtedly a matter of great concern. The decision of Home Ministry is also contravening to the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of Bangladesh [Article 28(1)] that stipulates, “The state shall not discriminate against any citizens on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.”
PCJSS also stated in the press release that in the said meeting, Secretary of CHT Affairs Ministry said, “Though most parts of the Accord have been implemented, the CHT Regional Council chief Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma (Santu Larma) does not agree with it. It is due to opposition on part of the tribal leaders, the elections in the three hill districts could not be held during the last 22 years… etc.” Even he also mentioned that JSS possessed illegal weapons.
PCJSS further said that the statement given by the Secretary of Ministry of CHT Affairs has been absolutely a politically motivated and imaginary utterance. In fact, from among the 72 sections of the Accord, only 25 sections have been implemented so far and the remaining two-third sections of the Accord have been left unimplemented as yet. But the government, especially, Ministry of CHT Affairs has been lying by saying that 48 sections out of 72 have already been implemented. From among the unimplemented core issues of the Accord, especially, preservation of tribal predominated feature of the region; putting the three Hill District Council Acts into the affect; resolution of land disputes having the contravening sections of CHT Land Dispute Resolution Act 2001 amended; rehabilitation of India-returnee and Internally Displaced Jumma refugees; withdrawal of all temporary camps including the military rule ‘Operation Uttoran’; cancellation of land leases given to the non-residents; appointment of permanent residents in the jobs available in all the three hill districts on priority-basis of the Jumma peoples; bringing amendment to the other concerned laws in order to ensure consistency with the Accord, etc. are the core issues of which, the government has not paced any step directing to their implementation.
On the other side, the government has not yet put the CHT Regional Council (CHTRC) Act and Hill District Council (HDC) Act into the affect and no initiative has been taken leading to holding elections in CHTRC and three HDCs. Even the Election Rules and Electoral Roll Rules for holding elections in the HDCs also have not yet been formulated. No initiative at all has been taken to enumerate voter lists with the permanent residents in the three hill districts. Hence, PCJSS finds the ground to believe that the secretary of CHT Affairs Ministry is lying by saying: ‘..it is due to opposition of the tribal leaders, election could not be held in HDCs..’ or ‘JSS possesses illegal arms’, with a mean intention to putting the responsibility of its abject failure in implementing the Accord upon Regional Council chairman and tribal leaders.
Furthermore to be mentioned that the powers and functions of Deputy Commissioners and Upazila Nirbahi Officers (Upazila Executive Officers) have not been amended in consistent with the laws of CHTRC and HDCs. Consequently, the DCs and UNOs are exercising their powers and functions ignoring the laws of CHTRC and HDCs as before, the matter of which is anti-accord and causing the situation getting restive.
Moreover, it is through the CHT Accord, the subjects of Police (Local) and Law & Order have been made legal provisions to be transferred to the CHTRC and HDCs. But the said meeting took a U-turn through passing resolution to transfer the police personnel recruited from the ex-combatants and tribal people, the decision of which is a straight way violation of the CHT Accord. Even, the Law & Order subject, instead of transferring to CHTRC and HDCs, absolute power has been entrusted with the army, which is contradictory to the special administrative system set-up comprised of CHTRC and three HDCs.