On 5 July 2014, a commission of inquiry, including eminent persons of Bangladesh — Co-Chair, advocate Sultana Kamal and members Ms. Khushi Kabir, Dr. Iftekharuzzaman, Dr. Shapan Adnan, Barrister Sara Hossain, and CHTC [Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission] Secretariat Coordinator Ms. Hana Shams Ahmed and Research Fellow and Journalist Ms. Illira Dewan — was attacked in the Rangamati Hill Tracts.  The commission was carrying out its 7th mission from 2-8 July.


They were attacked in the vehicle in which they were travelling, and were injured.  Journalist Illira Dewan was seriously injured and required stitches to her head.  She was kept in Chittagong Medical College Hospital under observation for 36 hours. The attack occurred in broad daylight and the local administration and police failed to protect the team, despite the commission announcing their mission in advance.  As well, no effective steps have been taken against the attackers, even though it has been reported in Bangladeshi national dailies and a number of political parties, civil society organizations and individuals have made representation to the government of Bangladesh in this regard. The attack on the commission comes in the wake of continued attacks on indigenous people in the CHT with a view to ethnically cleanse the region.  It is unfortunate because on the ground it pits poor and marginalized land-hungry ethnically Bengali peasants against the indigenous people of the CHT.


In 1997, the government of Bangladesh under Sheikh Hasina (who once again is Prime Minister of Bangladesh) signed the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord.  Since then, despite assurances given by the government in Bangladesh and abroad, including the last two Universal Periodical Reviews of Bangladesh at the UN Human Rights Council, it has not implemented the Accord.


The President and Secretary of the International Council for Indigenous Peoples – Chittagong Hill Tracts, (ICIP-CHT) Aditya Dewan and Rana Chakma, have written urgent letters to  Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, to express their deep concern that a number of crucial provisions of the Accord still reman unimplemented. They see the attack on the CHTC mission as part of efforts to destabilize the CHT situation by people who do not want implementation of the Accord.


On 10 June, hired labourers who are Bengali settlers, along with Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) attacked indigenous people in three villages and forced them to leave.  The villages are Santosh Kumar Karbari Para, Gobinda Karbari Para and Notun Chandra Karbari Para of Dighinala Union under Dighinala upazila in Khagrachari Hill Tracts.  In all,  29.81 acres were expropriated by force.  There is concern that all the villagers, many of who are repatriated refugees from India, will lose their homes and lands and they will be compelled to living in inhuman condition.


Many indigenous men and women were seriously injured in the attack.  As well, two women in their ‘50s and ‘60s and a 16-year old girl who were in hospital, being treated for the injuries sustained in the attack were arrested.  84 indigenous people, men, women and children,  belonging to 21 families fled their villages without any belongings and took shelter at Babuchara High School.   Even here they are not safe for it because the BGB personnel have been threatening them, blocking the roads and controlling their movements. As well, the existence of the primary school there is threatened.  It had been established in the East Pakistan era, but now, with the rest of the villages it has been fenced in with barbed wire, making it inaccessible.


Prior to being attacked, the International Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission (CHTC) on its 7th mission had visited these villages on July 3, 2014 and confirmed ongoing construction by the BGB on land of the villages.  A number of villagers told the CHTC mission that false cases had been filed against them and that they were compelled to go into hiding. Many of the villagers were already displaced persons, removed  from Balukhali of Rangamati Hill Tracts in 1959 due to the construction of the Kaptai Hydroelectric Dam, and many others were displaced during the insurgency war from 1975-1996, when some were compelled to flee to Tripura State in India in 1989 as refugees


In their letters to Sheikh Hasina, the ICIP-CHT calls on her to:


1.  take necessary urgent action to bring the attackers to justice to ensure the CHTC mission  can  carry out its legitimate rightful activities in a fair manner impartially;


2. fully implement the CHT Accord before its 17th year of signing in December 2014.


They also point out that acquiring or transfer of lands, hills and forests, without consultation or the consent of the District Council is against the provisions of the CHT Accord, which is the case in this instance. They have asked the Prime Minister to action to prevent the setting up of the BGB Headquarters at Dighinala in Khagrachari Hill Tracts and to ensure the return to the villagers of their homes and lands. As well they ask for compensation for destruction of the villages and the distribution of food and other necessary items to villagers, including those needed to the children to return to school after the Ramadan vacation.  In addition they want the government to ensure that all government agencies follow the provisions of the CHT Accord to establish the law and order and bring peace in the CHT. Finally the want full implementation of the CHT Accord before the end of 17th year of its signing — December 2014.

(supplied by Dolores Chew)

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