May 23, 2023

UNPO and PCJSS Report Indigenous Land Grabbing under the Guise of Development Projects in the Bandarban district of Bangladesh

The Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) in close collaboration with the communities affected from the Bandarban District and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) have submitted to the UN Special Rapporteurs a report raising concerns regarding the ongoing rights violations suffered by indigenous peoples in Bangladesh. In particular, the report details the recent incidents involving the encroachment of land belonging to the indigenous peoples in the Bandarban District in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).

The human rights violations enumerated in the report reflect an ongoing pattern of land grabbing of Bangladesh’s indigenous peoples in the name of business and development. The report aims to provide relevant and first-hand information concerning recent developments related to land encroachments that have had a devastating impact on locals, while also highlighting the Bangladesh government continual failing to fully respect, protect, and fulfil its obligations to the indigenous peoples of the CHT, particularly in light of the governments non-implementation of the CHT Accords.

Recent Events concerning the Lama Rubber Industries Limited Company

Starting in early 2022, a series of devastating incidents involving the encroachment of land belonging to the indigenous Mro and Tripura villagers of the Sarai Union of Lama Upazila of Bandarban District have developed.

The encroachment, led by the Lama Rubber Industries Limited Company (though with the support of Bangladeshi state actors), has led to the devastating destruction of forests and crops, while causing acute shortages of food and water for the affected villagers. The company has used hired mercenaries, including Rohingya refugees, to forcibly occupy the land and intimidate the local population. In particular, the Lama Rubber Company employed methods such as arson to destroy significant areas of forests and crops, as well as contaminating the water through poisonous substances.

In addition to forceful land grabbing and destruction of vital sources of livelihood, we also have firsthand reports of violent attacks being carried out as a means of targeting and evicting locals.

The National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh has confirmed that the company has attempted to target and evict the local Mro and Tripura indigenous people indigenous peoples by burning farming land and natural forests and destroying water springs in Lama upazila of Bandarban. However, despite recommendations to cancel the leases and provide support for affected communities, as well as ordering the Superintendent of Police of Bandarban District to take legal action against land grabbers, no legal action has been taken against the land grabbers.

Ongoing Pattern and Non-Implementation of the CHT Accord

These most recent events are not an anomaly, but rather reflect an ongoing pattern of land grabbing of Bangladesh’s indigenous peoples in the name of business and development. Through the leasing and expropriation of indigenous lands in the Chittagong Hill Tracts to non-residents, including military and civil officials, political leaders, and business companies, countless indigenous peoples have lost their farming lands and sources of livelihood, while face continual displacement from their ancestral land and homesteads

These developments directly undermine the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord is a peace agreement signed between the Government of Bangladesh and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS), an organization representing the indigenous people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, in 1997. The accord aimed to resolve the long-standing conflict between the government and the indigenous people over land, autonomy, and cultural rights, and importantly, recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples over their land and territory, while acknowledging that the previous land acquisitions and leasing without the consent of the indigenous peoples were unjust. The Accord stated that the leases would be cancelled and that the land would be returned to its rightful owners. However, the Deputy Commissioners of the CHT districts continue to ignore and violate orders to revoke the illegal settlements.

However, despite the existence of the CHT Accord, as well as numerous international human rights instruments and national laws recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples – the Bangladesh government has continually failed to fully respect, protect, and fulfil its obligations.