Sep 10, 2007

Chittagong Hill Tracts: ‘Landgrabbing’ Must Stop

Representatives of the Jumma people have put pressure on the Government to investigate what is seen by many as illegal, military-orchestrated settlement operations, depriving the indigenous population of their land.

Representatives of the Jumma people have put pressure on the Government to investigate what is seen by many as illegal, military-orchestrated settlement operations, depriving the indigenous population of their land.


Below are extracts from a letter on behalf of several NGOs to the Chief Adviser of the Interim Bangladeshi Government:


Dr. Fakruddin Ahmed
Chief Adviser
Interim Caretaker Government
People's Republic of Bangladesh

Subject: Concern at illegal and forcible occupation of land belonging to the Jumma people in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).


We are writing to express our deep concern over what appears to be planned and systematic campaign of the settlers and members of the Bangladesh military to grab lands belonging to the Jumma people in Chittagong Hill Tracts, especially in Dighinala Upazilla under Khagrachari district of the Chittagong Hill tracts (CHT).

We have come to know from various sources that Bangladesh militaries and Bengali settlers have been involved in human rights abuses on the indigenous Jumma people of the CHT. According to recent reports from various sources at least 222.38 acres of plough as well as hilly land have been forcibly taken away in Dighinala Upazilla under Khagrachari district during the last 2-3 months. Of these, 42 acres have been grabbed in Rengkarjya Mouza No. 28 under Merung, 149.18 acres in Choto Merung Mouza No. 29, 5.2 acres in Bara Merung Mouza No. 30 and 26 acres belonging to Boalkhali Buddha Vihara and Orphanage under Dighinala Thana.

To highlight the recent land grabbing pattern, I take the liberty of citing a few cases below:

a. Unsolicited arbitration by army: gross injustice

On 19 July 2007, Betchari sub-zone commander Major Qamrul Hassan (37 Bengal, 4 Bir) in Bara Merung called an unsolicited arbitration meeting in his camp and in a whimsical verbal judgment gave away 13 Kani (5.2 acres) of land belonging to three Jumma villagers to other three settler families namely Sirajul Islam, his brother Nazrul Islam s/o Kashem Ali and Md. Yunus s/o Abdul Mannan of Rashik Nagar village.

Of the 13 Kanis, 5 kanis each belongs to Sadhan Chakma s/o Bandara Chakma and Lalit Kumar Chakma s/o Ranga Mua Chakma, and 3 kanis to Bilati Chakma s/o Megh Raj Chakma.

The Jummas had been in the possession of these lands since the time of Pakistan and they did have valid documents pertaining to these lands and showed them during the so-called arbitration meeting. On the other hand, the settlers, who came to the area in the 1980s under government-sponsored transmigration programme, have failed to produce any valid papers. Yet, the commander assuming the roles of the judge, the jury and the land surveyor at one and the same time gave his judgment in fovour of the settlers.

b. Unsolicited arbitration: Supriya Chakma's land taken away

Mrs. Supriya Chakma is the head teacher of Boradam Government Primary School in Dighinala. She owns 3.2 acres of plough land in Betchatri of Merung. In July a so-called arbitration committee formed by Dighinala zone commander Major Qamrul Hassan gave her land to a settler woman, despite the fact that she had valid documents pertaining to the said land.


d. Fresh attempt at expansion of Bengali settlement in Sadhana Tila, Babuchara

According to sources, the army is making desperate attempt to settle 812 Bengali families on approximately 300 acres of land in Sadhana Tila under Babuchara in Dighinala Upazilla of Khagrachari district. The settlers have begun clearing the land since 13 August. The area houses a Buddhist temple and a sizable Jumma settlement. If the plan is implemented, the temple will be destroyed, many Jummas will be evicted and dispute over land will increase dramatically.


We want to believe that the recent land grab incidents have been committed without knowledge of the government and that your government does not support and tolerate such activities. In our opinion a vested interest group within the military establishment in CHT may have orchestrated those incidents knowing full well that they would cause disturbance and embarrass your government.

We are aware that since assumption of office on 12 January this year, your interim caretaker government has taken a number of courageous measures including reclamation of illegally occupied lands and canals. While we appreciate your government for bringing the land grabbers to justice, we regret to note that such measures are confined merely to the plain districts and that no such measures have been taken so far to reclaim the land of the Jumma people in CHT.

The Chittagong Hill Tracts in the southeastern corner of Bangladesh is home to eleven ethnic nationalities that have been living there for centuries. They have their own customs governing land use and management system which is often referred to as traditional land rights by which lands are owned by the whole community. The successive governments of Bangladesh have refused to acknowledge this right of the Jumma people and settled under a state-sponsored transmigration programme approximately 400,000 landless Bengali people on the lands of the Jumma people. This has had a devastating impact on the Jumma societies and became a perennial source of tension and conflict in CHT.

The government authorities of Bangladesh often cite CHT's low population density to justify its population transfer policy. However, studies showed that the argument advanced by the proponents of this policy that the CHT had been lying vacant is a myth. Suffice it to say that after the inundation of 54 thousand acres of first class cultivable land due to the construction of Kaptai dam in the 1960s, an estimated 40,000 Jummas had to cross over to India because there had not been enough land for their rehabilitation in CHT.

We, therefore, appeal to the interim caretaker government of Bangladesh to take bold steps to reverse the policy that the partisan governments of the past had pursued with regard to the CHT and acknowledge and respect the traditional land rights of the Jumma people.

We also urge your government to take the following measures in the interest of the people of the CHT:

a. To immediately stop illegal land grabbing in CHT including Merung, Boalkhali and various parts of Bandarban and return the illegally occupied lands to their rightful owners.

b. To cancel the plan to resettle illegal settlers in Sadhana Tila in Babuchara under Dighinala Thana of Khagrachari district;

c. To stop using the settlers as a tool of national oppression against Jumma people and to agree in principle to rehabilitate them in plain districts with means of livelihood;

d. To take legal actions against those army officers and settlers who would be found guilty of land grabbing and inciting communal tension;

e. To stop all kinds of repression and human rights violations in CHT;

f. To lift the state of “emergency” and to restore all political and civil rights of the citizen of Bangladesh; and

g. To withdraw all military camps from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in order to stop military terrorism against the Jumma people.


On behalf of the following organizations

Jumma People's Network – Korea (JPNK)
Imagination for International solidarity (IFIS)

Palestine peace solidarity
Secretary General, Buddhist solidarity for reform (BSR)
Oh Kyungseok. Research Professor. Academy of Democratic Society and Policy.
Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS)

Copy to:

Ministry of foreign affairs, Republic of Korea

Embassy of the united state of America

United Nations high commissioner for Human rights

Embassies of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional cooperation):
India, Pakistan, Srilanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives