The CHT Commission (CHTC) releases a press statement today based on its recent Mission to Bangladesh from 4th to 10th September, which was also extended to Rangamati and Khagarachari of the CHT. The purpose of the Mission was to asses overall political developments related to the CHT Accord and follow up on issues raised in the CHTC’s memo to the Prime Minister following its visit to the CHT in June 2010.
The Mission members were Dr. Shapan Adnan (member of the CHTC), Mr. Lars-Andres Baers (member of the CHTC, member of the UNPFII and the President of the Saami Council, Sweden), Ms. Christina Nilsson (coordinator of the CHTC International Secretariat) and Ms. Hanna Shams Ahmed (coordinator, Dhaka Secretariat).
The Mission met the State Minister of CHT ministry (MoCHTA), Minister for Land, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law to discuss the current state of affairs. The ministers admitted that the work of the Land Commission was at standstill. There has been no headway in initiating an independent investigation into the February arson-attacks in Baghaihat and Khagarachari and CHTC members were not informed as to whether there was anything imminent.
The press release adds “As a review of the Constitution is currently on-going, the Mission members raised the issue of constitutional recognition of the indigenous peoples. There seems to be divergent views on the acceptance of the term ‘indigenous peoples’ within the government. However, in this regard, the CHTC recalls, that Bangladesh has ratified the ILO’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples convention, 1957 (No. 107) earlier, which implies that it has already accepted that the Convention applies to the indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.”
The CHTC press release states that the Mission seriously observed the military and police officials’ tremendous pressure upon them, during their consultation with the ‘Pahari’ leaders at Khagarachari, for keeping their presence and take notes of the discussion. They even wanted the commission to give them the names and addresses of the ‘Paharis’ attending these meetings, but this demand was firmly resisted.
The Jummas from Baghaihat testified before the Mission that the army has been constantly keeping watch and harassing them since Feb 2010. They are still not being allowed to take their produce directly by river to their preferred markets. Instead, they alleged that army personnel are forcing them to download their goods from their boats at Baghaihat Bazaar and employ Bengali settlers to reload their goods on surface transport for onward transshipment.
The release further adds “All sections of the indigenous peoples of the CHT expressed their sense of increased insecurity arising from the decision to deploy the much-feared Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) to the region, over and above the continuing military surveillance and intimidation to which they are already subject.”
The Mission has made a 5-point recommendation which is 1) to keep provision for constitutional recognition to the distinctive identity, culture, and rights of the IPs. 2) Institute a high level independent inquiry into the Baghaihat attack-arson-killing of Feb 2010. 3) Amendment of the CHT Land Dispute Settlement Commission Act, 2001. 4) Undertake phase-wise withdrawal of temporary military camps in accordance with the CHT Accord, so as to restore full normalcy and full civilian administration. And 5) Fullest implementation of the CHT Accord and declare a clear process and timeframe for doing so.
(Please consult the original release).