Jun 25, 2008

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Report on Latest Human Rights Developments

Active ImageA human rights report issued by Kapaeeng Watch, a human rights group for indigenous peoples in Bangladesh, highlights the latest human rights developments in the region.

Below is the report as issued by Kapaeeng Watch:

Government of Bangladesh declares district and session judge's courts in the CHT to be functioned from July 2008.

The Government of Bangladesh announced that District Judge Courts would be functioning in the three hill districts of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region from 1 July 2008. It is mentionable that on 24 February 2008 the High Court directed the government to set up civil and criminal courts run by judicial officers in the CHT within a year to implement the CHT Regulation (Amendment) Act, 2003. Though judicial power of the administrative officials ended with separation of the judiciary from the executive on November 1 last year, the Deputy Commissioners of three hill districts still retain the civil judges' posts while the divisional commissioner acts as district and sessions judge as per the CHT Regulation, 1900. An amendment to the Regulation in 2003 made it mandatory for the government to establish district and session judge's courts in the CHT, but that has yet to be implemented.

In the CHT Regulation 1900, a three-tier social court headed by three hill circle chiefs (or king) and their subordinate headman and Karbari is mandated to resolve only some social and family conflicts in the ethnic communities.

Consultation on PRSP held in Rangamati

On 21 June 2008 a consultation on Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) was held at conference hall of Deputy Commissioner's office in Rangamati district. The consultation was organised by General Economic Relation Division and Planning Commission with Deputy Commissioner of Rangamati district Md. Nurul Amin in the chair. Public representatives, government officials, civil society members, development activists, media persons etc attended the consultation.

Chairman of the CHT Regional Council Mr. Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma said that CHT is a home of multi-lingual ethnic peoples. So, problem of this region is also multiplex. He urged government to undertake development initiatives considering this distinctiveness and reality of this region in order to achieve poverty reduction in this region.

A keynote on 2nd draft PRSP has been presented by Zafar Ahmed Chowedhury, Secretary of Finance and Planning Ministry. Participants raised the issues of land rights and settlement of land disputes, protection of indigenous peoples' rights over land and forest, undertaking social safety net and food assistance programme during disaster, environment-friendly development initiatives etc. It is mentionable that government is formulating 2nd PRSP for the next three years.

Indigenous leaders alleged that government organised this consultation through Deputy Commissioner's office bypassing the apex body of CHT governance institutions i.e. CHT Regional Council and HDCs. The office bearers of these institutions have only been invited as general participants. They said that it is nothing but to indirectly paralyze the special governance system in CHT.

Follow-up: Sajek arson attack

On 18 June 2008 Bengali settlers destroyed 5 houses of Jumma villagers at recently blazed area in Sajek union under Baghaichari upazila of Rangamati district. Sources said that the Bengali settlers with the help of military forces are opposing Jumma villagers to build houses on their land. On the other, Bengali settlers are occupying land of Jumma villagers.

For instances, on 3 June 2008, a Bengali settler named Alam (30) planted banana saplings on the land of Niharu Chakma (36) at Balughat village. On 4 June 2008, another settler named Md. Jamal (35) (elephant keeper) and his four labourers planted banana saplings on the land of Kiron Chakma (37) s/o Natun Chandra Chakma of Balughat village. The same day, Shaha Alam (40) planted various kinds of saplings including banana on the land of Pattor Moni Karbari. Another settler named Mr. Kamal (known as Lambaya among the Jummas) planted jackfruit and other fruit tree seeds on the land of Lalu Chakma (55) at Gongaram Mukh village.

It is learnt that most of the affected Jumma villagers did not take Tk. 10,000 for construction of house declared by army chief General Moeen U Ahmad protesting against direct involvement of military forces of Baghaihat army zone with this arson attack on 7 indigenous Jumma villages committed on 20 April 2008 at Sajek union in Baghaichari sub-district that left 78 houses of Jumma people burnt to ashes. Report has also been received that military forces conducted operation through out the affected areas to gather affected Jumma villagers at Baghaihat army zone for distribution of this government grant. Sources conformed that a few affected Jumma villagers were caught up by the army and compelled to receive the grant.

It is also learnt that an innocent affected Jumma villager named Sneha Kumar Chakma (38) who was also gathered at Baghaihat zone for distribution of Tk. 10,000 for house construction was arrested by Baghaihat army on 1 June 2008 with an old case. He was handed over to Baghaichari police station and sent to Rangamati jail.

The army implicated him in a criminal case filed previously against unnamed persons on 13 January 2008 under sections 143/144/149/224/332/34 of the Bangladesh Penal Code. It is believed that Sneha Kumar Chakma was arrested because he was vocal against land aggression and expansion of illegal Bengali settlement in Sajek. At present, the victim is being provided legal aid by BLAST in Rangamati.

Sources also informed that Bengali settlers declared road blockage programme at Baghaihat bazaar for indefinite period in order to blockade transportation of agricultural products of Jumma villagers to other markets. It is mentionable that indigenous Jumma people have been boycotting Baghaihat bazaar since 20 April following the arson attack. Most of shopkeepers and dwellers of Baghaihat bazaar are Bengali setters who committed 20 April arson attack on Jumma villagers.

On 14 June 2008 a group of army from Baghaihat zone arrested four innocent Jumma villagers from their homes in an overnight raid in Sajek union. The arrested villagers are identified as:

Mr. Sunil Bikash Chakma (32) s/o Subhash Bashu Chakma of village Gongaram Doar in Sajek

Phorakaji Chakma (28) s/o Rojonya Chakma from Daney Baihachara village in Sajek

Sumon Chakma (30) from Daney Baihachara village in Sajek, and

Badichan Chakma (35) s/o Dhonnya Ram Chakma of village Kobakhali in Dighinala.

It is learnt that they were arrested from villages at around 11 p.m. They were taken to Baghaihat zone and tortured inhumanly. The following day, the army released Phorakaji Chakma and Badichan Chakma, but handed the other two over to the police implicating them in false cases.

The reason for the arrest could not be known. However, the Jummas have been demanding the withdrawal of the settlers from Sajek. They are enforcing a boycott of Baghaihat bazaar to force the government to accept this demand.

Army frequently conducts searching operation and tortures villagers in Bilaichari

On 3 June 2008 a group of army led by Lt. Tanvir from Dhupchari camp in Bilaichari upazila in Rangamati district raided the village of Down and searched for Bimal Kanti Chakma. The army stripped Riton Chakma (26) s/o Kandara Chakma naked and then beat him up severely. He is a resident of Dujuri Para village in Kaindya in Rangamati sadar upazila.

Thereafter, the army took Bishwa Sagor Tanchangya (35) s/o Roma Kanti Headman to the camp along with his licensed gun, stripped him naked and tortured. He was set free the following day. The seized gun was also returned.

On 4 June 2008 Lt. Tanvir and his soldiers took 4 innocent Jummas of Down village to the camp and beat them up alleging that they are engaged with terrorist activities. The army released them after torture. The victims have been identified as:

 Anil Karbari (52) s/o Dhulon Chandra Chakma,

Ranjan Chakma (50), s/o Dhulon Chandra Chakma

Kanchon Tonchongya and

Shanti Kumar Chakma (60).

On 6 June 2008 Lt. Tanvir tortured another three Jummas. This happened at around 9 a.m. when he detained them at the camp gate. He took them inside the camp and beat up after stripping them naked. The victims have been identified as:

Chandra Chakma (45),

Jibon Chakma (25) and

Subhash Chakma (30).

They were on their way from Bogakhali to Balaichari to collect relief being provided to the rodent-hit Jum cultivators by Belaichari TNO and UP chairmen. The army released them after torture.

On the same day at about 12 noon, another Jumma named Shanti Muni Chakma (18) s/o Jonokdhan Chakma was subjected to physical torture. Mr. Chakma is orally challenged. He was on his way from his village Shalbagan to the village of Down when the incident took place.

On 12 June 2008 at around 11 a.m. Lt. Tanvir also raided the village of Down and conducted searches into seven houses of the Jumma villagers.

The army broke into the houses of following villagers before searching. The doors of the houses were latched as all their family members were away to their jum fields. They were also inhumanly tortured. The victims were:

Bishwa Sagor Tanchangya (36) s/o Roma Kanta Headman and

Priti Moy Tanchangya (30) s/o Roma Kanta Headman.

Nanda Moy Tanchangya (45) s/o Badhu Chandra Tanchangya

Indrajit Chakma (45), (head teacher of Dujuripara Government Primary School) s/o Jonmajoy Chakma

Rupayon Chakma (25) s/o Jonmajoy Chakma,

Jotonphu Tanchangya (35) s/o Rai Charan Tanchangya and

Allyabo Tanchangya (50) s/o Rotia Tanchangya..