May 07, 2018

Chittagong Hill Tracts: UNPFII Urges Respect of Accord Amidst Violations From Bangladeshi Government

The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord was seen as a landmark step towards peace and reconciliation between the Bangladeshi government and the varied indigenous  peoples of the CHT. Yet its implementation has been found wanting no thanks to controversial amendments and stalling by the central government in Dhaka. Via the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), UNPO Member the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti has successfully advocated for a review of the treaty’ implementation, resulting in the Forum’s endorsement of the request. With such prominent speakers including Bolivian President Evo Morales, here below is a detailed account of how the hearing in New York took place. The UNPO fully endorses the call for the Bangladeshi government to set a time frame for the implementation of the Accord and the adoption of the rules of procedure relating to the Land Commission being set up.

Article below published by the Kapaeeng Foundation

The 17th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) urged the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) to declare roadmap for implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord, to execute powers and functions of the CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils and to approve Rules of Business of the CHT Land Commission.

In the recommendations, the UNPFII says, "10. Recalling the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur appointed to undertake a study on the status of implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997 (E/C.19/2011/6, sect. VIII), the Forum encourages the Government of Bangladesh: (i) to set a time frame for the full implementation of the Accord including devolution of authority to the CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils; and (ii) to adopt the Rules of Procedure for the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Commission, and allocate sufficient human and financial resources for the Commission."

The 17th session of the UNPFII was held on 16-27 April 2018 at the UN Headquarters in New York. The main theme of the session was “Indigenous peoples’ collective rights to lands, territories and natural resources”. In the opening ceremony held on 16 April 2018 at 11:00 am, Ms Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, a representative of the Tuareg people from Mali, was re-elected as Chair of the UNPFII. Mr. Miroslav Lajčák, President of the UN General Assembly; H.E. Evo Morales, President of Bolivia; Elliott Harris, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, among others, spoke in the opening ceremony.

Mr. Miroslav Lajčák, President of the UN General Assembly, stressed that – while the UN had taken important steps to enable access to international fora for indigenous peoples – the organization has not “opened its doors wide enough” and that more ambitious steps need to be taken.

In his remarks, Bolivian President H.E. Evo Morales, himself a member of the indigenous Aymara people, added that indigenous communities are at the forefront of the protection of indigenous peoples’ environment and sustainable livelihoods, stating that “indigenous peoples and others alike need to be organized to protect the rights of Mother Earth against the pillage of our natural resources for a system that profits a few”.

Around 1200 representatives of indigenous peoples, member-state, UN specialized agencies, academics, human rights organizations around the globe attended the meeting. 13 Indigenous representatives, namely, Raja Devasish Roy, Chakma circle chief and former expert member of the UNPFII; Mangal Kumar Chakma, Information and Publicity Secretary of PCJSS; Pallab Chakma, Executive Director of Kapaeeng Foundation; Santoshita Chakma Bakul, General Secretary of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Jumma Refugees' Welfare Association; Rani Yan Yan; ina J. Lushai of Bangladesh Indigenous Women's Network; Augustina Chakma of PCJSS; Krishna R Chakma of CHT Foundation; Samarjit Sinha of Greater Sylhet Indigenous Peoples Forum; Mrinal Kanti Tripura; Nwe Oo (from California, USA) (from Patukhali); and Chipamong Chowdhury (Rebota Bhante) (from Kaptai), MPhil student of Columbia University et al attended the meeting.

On the other, 7-8 Government representatives, namely, Md. Nurul Amin, Secretary of CHT Affairs Ministry; Sudatta Chakma, Additional Secretary of CHT Affairs Ministry; Anowar-Ul Haque, Chairman of the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission; Lt. Col. Tanvir Ahmed, Director of PMD; Nanda Dulal Bonik, Deputy Secretary of CHT Affairs Ministry; and more 2/3 persons participated in the event.

From government side, Secretary of the CHT Affairs Ministry Md. Nurul Amin and Chairman of the CHT Land Commission Anowar-ul Haque delivered statements. In his statement on agenda item-8 main theme “Indigenous peoples’ collective rights to lands, territories and natural resources”, Nurul Amin reiterated government position on the notion of "indigenous Peoples" which should be administered judiciously within the purview of various historical, colonial and constitutional contexts. He expressed that the present government remains firmly committed to progressive and full implementation of the Peace Accord through active engagement and consultation with all concerned.

In another separate statement, Chairman of the CHT Land Commission Anowar-ul Haque said that "All other members of the Commission except the Divisional Commissioner of Chittagong belong to the ethnic people." He also added that "The resolution of land dispute is an ongoing process, where we need full cooperation of all concerned which is the precondition of establishment of land title of the CHT people.

From indigenous representatives, Mangal Kumar Chakma of PCJSS, Santoshita Chakma of CHT Jumma Refugees' Welfare Association, Pallab Chakma of Kapaeeng Foundation, Augustina Chakma of PCJSS and Samarjit Singha of Greater Sylhet Indigenous Peoples Forum have delivered statements.

Mangal Kumar Chakma of PCJSS, in his statement on "Agenda Item-4: Implementation of the six mandated areas of the Permanent Forum with reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples", said that implementation of the CHT Accord of 1997 signed between the Government of Bangladesh and the PCJSS is related to implement the six mandated areas of the Permanent Forum. In fact, for political and peaceful solution to the CHT problem there is no alternative but implementation of the CHT Accord. The characteristics of the tribal-inhabited CHT region must be preserved as per CHT Accord, and all powers and functions have to be brought into force as per laws under the CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils introduced under CHT special administrative system. As CHT Accord of 1997 not being implemented, the human rights situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts is growing more restless. The blueprint for demographic engineering to make indigenous Jumma peoples minority in their ancestral land is being rapidly implemented. The Government is using all forms of strategy from development activities to militarization, construction of border roads and link roads, declaration of reserve forests, indiscriminately leasing of  lands to the outsiders, expansion of tourism industry etc.

Pallab Chakma of Kapaeeng Foundation, in his statement on "Agenda Item 10: Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples", said that Extraction, agribusiness and hydropower are considered to be the topmost projects opposed by indigenous peoples resulting to their criminalization. Similarly, ‘urbanisation’ through infrastructure projects, e.g. road expansion, tourism and conservation through declaration of areas as national park have caused conflicts, attacks and displacement to indigenous peoples.  Often, if not always, these so-called development or conservation initiatives are being implemented in violation to the collective rights of indigenous peoples. Some States, criminalization is institutionalised by declaring indigenous peoples who are politically organising in the name of maintaining territorial integrity as committing acts of treason. States should engage indigenous peoples, in cooperation with other relevant human rights bodies and actors, in a meaningful dialogue towards addressing the militarization affecting them, including implementation of treaties, agreements (e.g. CHT Accord) and other constructive arrangement, particularly for countries in transition and regions under peace negotiation.

Santoshita Chakma of CHT Jumma Refugees' Welfare Association, in his intervention on "Agenda Item-12: Future work of the Permanent Forum, including issues considered by the Economic and Social Council and emerging issues", appealed to the Permanent Forum to influence Government of Bangladesh for rehabilitation of repatriated Jumma refugees and IDPs for effective and speedy implementation of 20-point Package Agreement and provisions of the CHT Accord; rehabilitation of Bengali settlers outside CHT with due honour and dignity for the sake of returning land of Jumma refugees and IDPs back and withdrawal of more than 400 temporary camps, including de facto military rule 'Operation Uttoron' (Operation Upliftment) from the CHT.

During the "Agenda Item-5: Dialogue with indigenous peoples", Augustina Chakma also said that one of the main goals of the sustainable development goals is to leave no one behind, however the voluntary national review report of Bangladesh submitted in July 2017 revealed that the government did not adhere to its aim to leave no one behind. The report failed to incorporate the major issues faced by indigenous people, particularly indigenous women and children who were practically absent in the process in Bangladesh, and hence invisible in the report. She called on the permanent forum to emphasize the integration of indigenous women and youth to fully and effectively participate as leaders and experts in all levels of governance and decision-making, both at local and national levels, and at also international level, including the processes related to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Samarjit Singha of Greater Sylhet Indigenous Peoples Forum, in his statement on agenda item-8: “Indigenous peoples’ collective rights to lands, territories and natural resources”, said that the government initiatives require to take more attention to deal and resolve land problem effectively with due understanding of the culture and values of the indigenous peoples. He added that the basis for indigenous peoples' land rights is traditional occupation and use, and UNDRIP and ILO's Convention No. 169 enshrine a series of fundamental principles to determine the scope of indigenous peoples' rights to lands, territories, and natural resources and provide guidance on adequate procedures for states' official recognition and registration of indigenous peoples' land ownership.

Besides, Raja Devasish Roy was one of the panellists of the Agenda Item-8 (Main Theme on Land, Territories and Resources) and delivered excellent presentation during his intervention.

This is the first time that Permanent Forum organised interactive dialogue between the state-members and indigenous peoples on "lands, territories and natural resources". Accordingly, interactive dialogue of Asia region was held on 24 April in the afternoon session. Participation of the Bangladesh government delegation and indigenous peoples of Bangladesh was one of the interesting discussion. Soon after delivering three panellists’ speech by Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Secretary-General of AIPP and a member of Nepal National Human Rights Commission, Secretary of the CHT Affairs Ministry made a statement (read out) stating that as per CHT Accord, the government of Bangladesh formed CHT Land Commission in which all the member except Divisional Commissioner of Chittagong are ethnic minority.

Then Pallab Chakma took the floor. He first thanked Bangladesh Government for continuous engagement with the Permanent Forum. He mentioned that the government took some initiatives for indigenous peoples. These included production of textbook in five indigenous languages, enactment of Small Ethnic Group Cultural Institutes etc. Then he added that though government formed the Land Commission, but 16 years have been spent to amend the contradictory provisions of the its Act and no single land dispute was resolved in last 20 years. Now work of the Land Commission remains standstill due to pending of approval of the Rules of Business of the Commission at Land Ministry.

Then Mangal Kumar Chakma participated in the dialogue extending greetings to Bangladesh government delegation including chairman of the CHT Land Commission. He said in his intervention that despite the CHT Accord authorizes the CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils to deal subjects of Land and Land Management, Law and Order, Police, Forest and Environment etc, but these subject are yet to be transferred to these councils. Even, the government continues transfers of land, settlement, acquisition of land without prior approval of the HDCs and does not bring the land-related officials under the jurisdiction of the HDCs. He put question to Special Rapporteur how her good office helps encourage government of Bangladesh to implement these important provisions of the Accord. He also asked government representatives what is the plan of government to address these issues.

Turn was followed by Santoshita Chakma. He said that following the dozens of massacres, around 120 thousand Jumma were compelled to take refuge in India in 1980s and 90s who repatriated as per 16-point Package Agreement in 1994, 20-point Package Agreement in 1997 and finally CHT Accord in 1997. However, despite government promises, they were not given security of lives and properties and given back their land.

In the meantime, some written papers were taken by Bangladesh Mission officials to Secretary of CHTAM. The secretary then read out this paper say that the government implemented 48 provisions out of 72 fully and is committed to implement the Accord. The Nurul Amin then requested Chairman of Land Commission to say few words. Anowar-ul Hoque said that all the members of the Land Commission except Divisional Commissioner of Chittagong are ethnic people. So everybody can guess that who are responsible for not being able to resolve a single dispute. He also mentioned that the constitution of Bangladesh provides equal status of all citizens of the country. There is no discrimination against ethnic people in Bangladesh at all.

Following the speech of Chairman of Land Commission, Special Rapporteur Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz took the floor. She said that there is no country across globe without discrimination. She mentioned that disturbing news regarding criminalization of indigenous peoples, sexual violence against indigenous women and girls, land grabbing, militarization etc. are being come out from Bangladesh.

Later, Pallab Chakma of Kapaeeng Foundation and Sudatta Chakma of CHTAM also spoke on implementation of SDGs and invisibility of indigenous peoples in this development process. Pallab Chakma, indigenous peoples, particularly those who are in plain land, are engaged in planning and implementing the SDGs.


Photo courtesy of Shawn