Aug 30, 2007

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Reports of Forced Settlement

Recent reports suggest an increase in what is viewed as illegal settlement by non-indigenous groups on indigenously owned land

Recent reports suggest an increase in what is viewed as illegal settlement by non-indigenous groups on indigenously owned land. Furthermore, there are fears that the 1997 Peace Accord may be declared invalid by the High Court

Below are extracts from an article published by the Asian Centre for Human Rights:

In a major development, Chief of Bangladesh Army and de facto ruler of the country, General Moeen U Ahmed visited Dighinala of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs) yesterday [28 August 2007]. While nothing has been made public nor reported in the press in Bangladesh, the visit is significant considering that the government of Bangladesh has intensified the settlement of […] plain settlers into the CHTs and repression on the indigenous Jumma activists.

The Sadhana Tila area under Dighinala, which comprises of about 300 acres of land, and houses a Buddhist Meditation Center and a sizable indigenous Jumma population, has become the flashpoint of the conflict. Since 13 August 2007, indigenous Jumma peoples and […] plain settlers supported by the military personnel and the police have been living on the edges of an impending communal riot. Bangladesh army personnel led by Dighinala Zone Commander, Major Qamrul Hassan ordered the Buddhist monks of the Meditation Centre and the indigenous people to leave Sadhana Tila area in order to settle over 800 […] plain settlers' families.

As indigenous Jumma peoples refused to comply, trucks and jeeps load of illegal settlers have been coming to Sadhana Tila and cutting the jungle around the Buddhist temple for constructing houses under the protection and command of the army and the police personnel.


The case of Sadhana Tila is not an isolated one. The forcible land grabbing by the illegal settlers and the Bangladesh military has intensified after the imposition of Emergency in January 2007.

In another recent case of forcible land grabbing, the illegal settlers have reportedly grabbed 59 acres of land belonging to 17 Jumma peoples in Kobakhali Mouza (No. 51) under Dighinala Police Station in Khagracahri district. […] Presently, works for construction of houses in the lands seized from the indigenous peoples are reportedly underway. The army has reportedly planned to settle 200 plain settlers' families in Kobakhali Mouza.


The Jumma activists have been unfairly targeted by the Bangladesh military taking advantage of the Emergency situation. Since the declaration of Emergency on 11 January 2007, at least 50 Jumma activists have been arrested, including 20 members of PCJSS (Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity) and 10 members of UPDF (United Peoples Democratic Front).


Most cases have been filed under Section 16(b) of the Emergency Power Rules of 2007 which denies release on bail to the accused during the enquiry, investigation and trial of the case.


On 29 May 2007, Mr Milton Chakma, Assistant Coordinator of the Hill Watch Human Rights Forum and also a leader of United Peoples Democratic Front, was arrested from Chengi Bridge in Khagrachari without any arrest memo. Mr Chakma was shown arrested on the basis of a First Information Report (FIR) filed by Md. Shahidul Islam, Sergeant (No. 3998686) of 24 Bengal Regiment. In the army records, he has been shown arrested on 31 May 2007, although the Bangladesh army had picked him up on 29 May 2007 from Chengi Bridge area.


The Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord has been in tatters much before the care-taker government assumed powers. Even when the democratically elected governments were in power, the army enjoyed unbridled powers which resulted in blatant violations of rights of the Jummas. Since the imposition of the Emergency, the situation in the CHTs deteriorated drastically.

The direction of the High Court on 27 August 2007 to the government of Bangladesh to explain as to why the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord of 1997 signed with the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity should not be declared “illegal” has come as a shot in the arms of the military. The two-judge bench comprising Justice Shah Abu Nayeem Mominur Rahman and Justice Zubayer Rahman Chowdhury has already set aside certain provision of the Accord by directing the authorities to allow the illegal plain settlers who were implanted into the Chittagong Hill Tracts to register themselves in the voters' list.

The government will not challenge the directions of the High Court to enroll the illegal settlers into the voters' list. Irrespective of whether the constitutional validity of the Accord is upheld or not, the renewed implantation of illegal settlers and continued land grabbing poses the most serious threat to the indigenous Jumma peoples. With indigenous leaders being implicated in false cases, one can protest against such policies in Bangladesh only at own peril.