Aug 24, 2015

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Pre-Election Chagrin

On 14 August 2015, 8 members of the PCJSS, including Vice President Mr Chandra Lal Chakma, were apprehended by the army on their way to participate in the Barthali Union Council election campaign, ahead of the 25 August 2015 election.  The PCJSS strongly condemns the arbitrary detentions during the campaign, calling the incident ‘’against the democratic norms and rights’’.

Find below the statement:

Parbattya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) protests against detention and physical torture on 8 members of PCJSS including its vice president of Bilaichari branch Mr. Chandra Lal Chakma by the army personnel of Barthali army camp under Second Lt. Ashik and Subedar Khairuzzaman’s command and demands their stand release and bringing them to trial without delay.

On 14 August 2015 around 6:00 pm the army of Barthali army camp led by Barthali camp commander Subedar Khairuzzaman under Ruma zone of 29 Bengal arrested 8 persons including vice president of Bilaichari branch of PCJSS Mr. Chandra Lal Chakma (Rahul) from Barthali area of Barthali union under Bilaichari upazila of Rangamati district.

It is worthy to be mentioned that the persons including Chandra Lal Chakma were on their way to Barthali village to participate in the ensuing Union Council elections at the request made by chairman candidate Atu Mong Marma and member candidate for Ward No. 4 Birbahu Tripura. Further to be mentioned that the election for the freshly created Barthali Union Council under Bilaichari Upazila in Rangamati district is scheduled to be held on 25 August 2015. The election campaign has begun from 11 August following completion of the scrutiny of candidature and issuance of symbols to the candidates. Taking detention during the election campaign is tantamount to obstruct the election activity and against the democratic norms and rights.

It is learnt that on that day the Barthali camp authority detained the arrestees in the camp for the whole night and instead of handing over to Bilaichari police station, the army handed them over to the Ruma police station of Bandarban district on 15 August. Following the contact with the army and police station authorities, while the Chairman of Bilaichari Upazila Coucnil Mr. Shuva Mangal Chakma made himself available to the police station, all the 8 arrestees including vice president of Bilaichari PCJSS were released and handed over to him in the afternoon of 16 August.

Afterward on 17 August, except a person, the other 7 persons including Chandra Lal Chakma were returning to their own upazila along with the chairman candidate of Barthali Union Council Mr. Atu Mong Marma. The Barthali army camp commander Subedar Khairuzzaman again arrested the said 7 persons on their way back to their locality. At this, when Atu Mong Marma, introduced them to be his election workers and argued for their release, the army got him out from the camp with threatening.

Afterward on 18 August 2015, the army personnel led by Subedar Khairuzzaman set out for Ruma upazila with the 7 arrestees and on the way, the army personnel inflicted physical torture and caused serious injuries to 4 persons. The army personnel commanded by Subedar Khairuzzaman handed the arrestees over to Ruma police station at around 5:00 pm on that day. But as no case was filed on specific allegation against the arrestees, the police station authority released them within a short while. The victims were-

1. Chandra Lal Chakma (Rahul), vice president of Bilaichari upazila branch of PCJSS;

2. Jyotimoy Chakma, Dhapyachari, Bilaichari union;

3. Uttam Chakma, Digalchari, Bilaichari union;

4. Shuvamoy Chakma, Amtali, Bilaichari union;

5. Bankim Chandra Tanchangya, Tarachari, Farua union;

6. Biramoy Chakma, Bhalachari, Kengrachari union;

7. Sunil Tanchangya, Kutubdiya, Bilaichari union;

8. Dipayan Chakma, Kerongchari, Kengrachari union.

From among the persons freed from detention, two persons, namely, Jyotimoy Chakma, member of No. 2 Bilaichari Union pf PCJSS and Uttam Chakma, general secretary of Bilaichari Upazila Branch of PCJSS, got admitted at Bandarban Sadar Hospital as they were critically injured due to torture of army led by Subedar Khairuzzaman.

It is further to be mentioned that after having talk with the Deputy Commissioner of and District Election Officer of Rangamati Hill District on the ensuing election of Barthali Union Council, the Chairman of Bilachari Upazila Council Mr. Suva Mangal Chakma set out for Barthali Union to oversee the elections and overall situation for himself. But it is a matter of grave concern that while reaching in Barthali area in the evening of 22 August after an arduous walking along the ups and down inaccessible terrain track via Ruma upazila, the Commander of Barthali camp Second Lt. Ashik and Subedar Khairuzzaman made him halt and prevented him from entering the Barthali village. At a certain stage, the commander made him move away from Barthali union area. Even they forbade the chairman to pass the night at the house of Karbari (village head) of Barthali village. Consequently, he had to walk long way through the darkness to pass the night at Poli Prangsa village.

In this case, it is reckonable that there is no restriction as such in the provision of Election Rules forbidding any outside person(s) from participating in the election campaign in favour of any candidate. It is mention-worthy that there is a legal bar categorically stated under Section-6(13)(a) of the Union Council Election Rules 2010 that reads: “Speaker of the Parliament, Deputy Speaker, Chief Whip and any Minister, State Minister, Deputy Minister or any person enjoying the status equivalent to similar kind shall not participate in the election campaign or interfere in the election process during pre-election time” and  under Section-6(13)(b) it reads: “No government official shall participate in the election campaign or interfere the election process.” Herein the Union Parishad Election Rules 2010 there is no such bar forbidding the Chairman of Upazila Parishad or any person of the neighbouring union of the concerned union from going there and participate in the election campaign or election program.

In light of the legal provision stated as in the above, not allowing the Chairman of Bilaichari Upazila Council Mr. Shuva Mangal Chakma to enter in the union under his upazila and earlier, not allowing Mr. Chandra Lal Chakma and his retinue members to get in the union and rather apprehending them to the police station after meting out physical torture is tantamount to creating obstruction in the election program and that such action is contravening to the democratic norms and the basic rights recognized in the constitution.    

For free, fair and impartial Union Council election in Barthali Union and in the interest of establishing democracy and justice in the governance, the PCJSS demands the followings-

(1)  Stand release of Barthali camp commander Second Lt. Ashik and Subedar Khairuzzaman from the camp and bringing them to trial without delay;

(2)  To provide opportunity to all the workers working for all the candidates for free mobility and election campaign in the interest of fair, free and impartial elections; and

(3)  To undertake measures for proper treatment to the persons sustaining injuries.

It is mentionable that Section 17(a) of the Part ‘D’ of the CHT Accord stipulates to take back all temporary camps of the army, the Ansars and the Village Defense Party (VDP), excepting the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and six cantonments (consisting of those three at the three district headquarters and those at Alikadam, Ruma, and Dighinala), in phases from the CHT to permanent cantonments and to fix a time limit for this purpose.

However, no time limit has been determined for completion of the withdrawal of camps, which equates to a delaying of this process. Since the signing of CHT Accord, a total of 66 camps out of more than 500 have been withdrawn so far. On the contrary, a kind of ‘de facto’ military rule has been imposed through promulgation of ‘Operation Uttoron’ (Operation Upliftment) on 1 September 2001 in the post-Accord period. Military interference with and dominance over the civil administration, law and order, construction and repairing of roads, tribal affairs, forest resources etc. are still continuing on one hand, and on the other, they continue to actively support the outsider Bengali settlers in expanding and establishing new cluster villages in the CHT through counter-insurgency programme named “Shantakaran Prakolpa” (Pacification Project). Around 400 temporary camps are yet to be withdrawn and the military rule maintained under the “Operation Uttoron” is yet to be lifted. The military forces and its intelligence agencies played decisive role in adopting Home Ministry’s directives in January 2015 to impose embargo to foreigners intending to visit CHT and to the national/foreign organisations/ individuals on meeting with the tribals/indigenous Jumma people in CHT.

A study conducted by a designated Special Rapporteur on the status of implementation of the CHT Accord 1997 for the tenth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) confirmed that “...with its pervasive power and influence over Bangladeshi society in general and the CHT in particular, the army continues to oppose any substantive progress on the implementation of the Accord”. The Special Rapporteur judged the army’s intervention in civil affairs as one of the largest obstacles to the implementation of the CHT Accord. The UNPFII therefore adopted recommendations, among others, to recommend that the Government of Bangladesh declare a timeline and outline modalities of implementation and persons and/or institutions responsible for implementation of the CHT Accord and to recommend that the Government of Bangladesh undertake a phased withdrawal of temporary military camps from the region and otherwise demilitarise the region.



Photo Courtesy: Adam Jones @ Flickr