Jan 19, 2007

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Authorities Urged to Withdraw Travel Advice

Efforts of non-violence displayed by CHT's indigenous population cited as reason to remove advisory against travel.

Below is a report published by Peace Campaign Group:

Peace Campaign Group (PCG) welcomes the resignation of the Bangladesh’s president Ijasuddin Ahmed from his post of Chief Advisor to then Caretaker Government and the subsequent developments in Bangladesh. His resignation is one step forward to holding free and fair elections due to be held on 22 January and establishment of a free, democratic, secular and plural society in the country.

PCG, an organization defending democracy, human rights and peace in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), is very disturbed and concerned over the “travel advice” issued from the British High Commission, Dhaka, today to foreigners interested to visit the CHT. In a statement (also available at its website) the High Commission warns foreigners of “being caught up in”, what it says, “clashes between rival tribal groups, settlers and the military” in the region.

PCG thinks such “advice” is contradictory to the demand and aspiration of the Jumma indigenous people of the CHT for involvement of international observers from the United Nations, European Union, the United States of America and India in the election process in their territory as observers for credible elections. In addition, it gives a wrong signal to the international community about the indigenous people and their traditional homeland.

The CHT has continued to be ruled by a de facto Bangladeshi military regime despite a peace treaty reached between the indigenous people and the Bangladeshi authorities in 1997.

The Bangladeshi authorities have failed comply with their obligation to withdraw all “temporary military camps” from the area, as agreed upon in the treaty.

Bangladeshi military provide security and protection to more than half a million ethnic Bengali settlers settled in the CHT under state-sponsored population transfer program in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It is causing unrest and violence in the region. It may be noted that ethnic Bengali settlers have nearly outnumbered the locals and are responsible for land alienation of thousands of indigenous families.

Bangladeshi military are allegedly involved in widespread human rights abuses including rape and kidnapping of indigenous women with complete impunity. Lt. Ferdos who kidnapped Ms. Kalpana Chakma, Organizing Secretary of Hill Women Federation, on 12 June 1996 is still moving openly and freely. He has allegedly killed Ms. Chakma after kidnapping and raping her. There are many similar cases of rape against Bangladeshi military in the CHT. 

Recently, eight Bangladeshi military men involved in peace-keeping operations in Sudan were expelled from their job after finding them guilty of sexual abuses against Sudanese women (The Ajker Kagoj, December 07, 2006).

The indigenous people have been demanding total ban on recruitment of Bangladeshi military in international peace-keeping services unless they stop rape and sexual abuses against indigenous women in the CHT.  In May 2006, representatives of the indigenous people urged the Office of the United Nations Peace-keeping Operations and the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York to consider their demand and investigate the allegations of sexual abuses by Bangladeshi military in the CHT.

PCG encourages more and more foreign media and human rights groups to visit the CHT and investigate the alleged human rights violations including rapes and sexual abuses by Bangladeshi military in the area.

PCG urges the current Caretaker Government of Bangladesh headed by Fakhruddin Ahmed to withdraw “temporary Bangladeshi military camps” from the CHT as a pre-condition for free and fair elections in the region and arrange full security and safety for foreigners interested to visit the region.

PCG also urges the United Nations, European Union, the United State of America and India for exercising their influence over the Bangladeshi authorities for this purpose and proper implementation of other unimplemented terms of the CHT treaty for sustainable peace and development in the Hills.


SOURCE: Peace Campaign Group