Jun 14, 2017

UNPO Calls on International Community to Stand by Indigenous Communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

Photo Courtesy of PCJSS

Over the past few days, the Bangladeshi army and allegedly army-backed settlers intensified persecutions and atrocities on indigenous Jumma people in the region of the Chittagong Hills Tracts. On 2 June 2017, Bengali Muslim settlers gathered for the funeral of Nurul Islam Nayon, a leader of Juba league, the youth organization of the ruling party, for whose death Bengali settlers blame the local “Jumma” indigenous communities. Following to the procession, the settlers launched an arson attack in four Jumma villages. During these attacks, it was reported that a 75-year-old woman was killed and 3 other villagers were tortured. Besides, more than 250 Jumma houses were blazed, including over 94 houses and shops in Tintila of Longadu upazila headquarters, at least 88 houses in Manikjorchara and 42 houses at Battya Para villages.  After the security forces arrived in the Jumma villages, the Bengali settlers started looting and setting on fire the Jumma houses, shops belonging to Jumma people and even the offices of the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), the only political party protecting the interests of the indigenous. As a result of the attacks, which lasted for hours, almost 6000 villagers were forced to flee from their homes and find refuge in the forest. None of them had the chance to save their properties and they are now living under open sky in bad conditions, without food, clothes or access to health services, while the rainy season has just started hitting the area. Despite the fact that several days have passed since the attacks, the affected Jumma communities have received no sign of support from the government.

Despite the efforts of the local Jumma representatives and leaders to highlight the lack of security and the preoccupation of a large part of the indigenous communities, the security authorities replied that ‘there is nothing to be worried’ and have remained silent following the attacks. According to eyewitnesses, the settlers carried out the looting and arson attack in the presence of the police and army forces. It is also alleged that security forces provided the attackers with inflammable materials such as petrol and kerosene to help them set fire to the Jumma houses. Afterwards, peaceful protests were organised by civil society organizations and different student organisations in the capital Dhaka, as well as in Chittagong, Khagrachari, Bandarban and Rangamati and in a few cities abroad including Delhi and New York. During these protests, the vicious attacks were condemned and the crowds called for the perpetrators of the arson attack to be brought to justice. However, the protests were severely repressed as security forces brutally attacked the peaceful demonstrations and beat Jumma people with sticks.

Unfortunately, this is just one of the examples of ongoing persecution against the Jumma people in the Chittagong Hills Tracts. Intelligence service and security forces have carried out religious desecration upon Jummas for years and they have recently intensified the religious oppression by dismantling worshiping articles inside the temples and interfering in the observance of religious rituals. As a part of the religious desecration process, intelligence agencies and security forces in the CHT have spread a cruel propaganda on Buddhist shrines, meditation centers and Buddhist monks of the indigenous Jumma people. Moreover, the interference of the army in all spheres including general administration, law & order, development programmes and land-related issues have recently increased. It is worrying that the Jumma people and Indigenous Peoples’ organisations are subjected to inhuman torture, political harassments and arbitrary arrests on the grounds of fabricated cases. The Bangladeshi Constitution guarantees freedom of religion as it stated under Article 28(1): “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.” However, the Jumma people are discriminated and being prevented from practicing their religion with various means.

In this regard, UNPO condemns the barbaric arson attacks on the indigenous Jumma people and urges the Bangladeshi government to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of Jumma villagers, to compensate for the damages inflicted on the community during the recent attacks, and to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the matter.

Furthermore, UNPO stresses once again the importance of implementing the 1997 Peace Accords, which for years the Bangladeshi has been procrastinating with excuses while allowing its authorities and security forces to persist in their discrimination and oppression of the indigenous. The implementation of some of these overlooked provisions of the accords would be a significant step towards an improvement of the situation and towards the peaceful coexistence of a variety of different cultures and ethnicities in Bangladesh.