Aug 14, 2008

CHT: UN Rapporteur reports on land seizure in Bangladesh

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UN Special Rapporteur, Mr. S. James Anaya, presents his report on the human rights situation in various Asian countries. 

Below is part of the report presented by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples. The full report can be accessed here .

Allegation letter concerning the seizure of traditional lands of Jumma indigenous communities

50. On 3 April 2008, the Special Rapporteur, together with the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living and the Special Rapporteur on the right to food sent an allegation letter to the Government of Bangladesh, to call its attention to information received concerning an alleged illegal seizure of the traditional lands of Jumma indigenous communities in Barbadan, Khagrachari and Merung districts, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

51. According to the information received, since March 2007, an estimate of 4,500 acres of land have been reportedly taken away from Jumma individuals and communities in at least 16 villages or commons belonging to five Unions (Dighinala, Kiang-ghat, Kamalchari, Khagrachari No.1, and Maischari) in Kagrachari district. Similar patterns seem to have been followed in other districts in the past.

52. According to the information, the lands had been illegally and forcibly grabbed by Bengali settlers from different cluster villages gathered around army camps. It was reported that army personnel were directly involved in all these cases, creating a climate of fear among the local Jumma villagers and instigating the settlers to seize their lands. In other cases, army personnel have reportedly given grants to families willing to build their houses in the area. In other cases, army personnel have allegedly been directly involved in the planning and implementation of the settlement. It was also reported that army personnel have actively assisted the settlers in the construction of houses in the allegedly seized lands. Finally, in other instances, local administrators have been reportedly asked to provide forged land documents to the settlers. In many of the reported evictions, the indigenous families were forced to leave their homesteads, as well as their domestic fruit gardens, bamboo and teak orchards, upon which they traditionally rely for their subsistence.

53. It was reported that the cases may have been in violation of article 26 (1) of the 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracks Accord which provides that "[n]otwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time-being in force, no land within the boundaries of Hill District shall be given in settlement, purchased, sold and transferred including giving lease without prior approval of the [Chittagong Hill Tracks] Council." In addition, it was reported that in those cases in which the Jumma villages lack a title deed over their traditional lands, the authorities consider them to be State land, freely disposing of it to facilitate the settlement of non-indigenous settlers.

54. Concern was expressed that these cases may be part of a systematic campaign to support the settlement of non-indigenous families in the Chittagong Hill Tracks, with the active support of the security forces, with an ultimate view to outnumber the local Jumma indigenous community in the region. Concern was further expressed that this process may be deliberately taking place to coincide with the state of emergency imposed on 11 January 2007 by the Caretaker Government.

Response of the Government

55. On 11 April 2008, the Government of Bangladesh acknowledged receipt of the letter and noted that it would be forwarded to the appropriate authorities.

56. The Special Rapporteur thanks the Government of Bangladesh for its initial letter but regrets that there is no record of any response to the substantive questions and concerns posed in the letter by the time of the finalization of this report.