Chittagong Hill Tracts: Discriminatory directive cancelled


In January this year, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a memorandum containing orders that imposed restrictions on foreigners’ access to Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and required all interaction between individuals, national/international organisations, and indigenous peoples to be supervised by local administration members, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), or the military.[1] This directive violates fundamental human rights under international law[2] and those guaranteed by the Constitution of Bangladesh,[3] while making the work of human rights groups increasingly more difficult and potentially hindering the implementation of the CHT Peace Accord[4].   

The Home Ministry’s directives included the following restrictions:

§ Foreign nationals must seek prior permission from Home Ministry to visit CHT (directive 4). This only applies to visits to CHT and can therefore be considered discriminatory towards the indigenous people.

§ Meetings with CHT community forbidden without presence of local administration/army or BGB (directive 5).This directive is detrimental to the human rights documentation work carried out in CHT, as it jeopardises the safety of all parties and makes confidentiality of information practically unattainable. 

§ BGB to carry out its activities on acquired land (directive 9).Under the amended CHT District Council Act 1998, BGB cannot acquire any land, apart from the Reserved Forest[5] land, without the permission of one of the Hill District Councils[6] (HDC). However, according to the information from GHRD’s local partners and other local organisations, there are numerous instances  of BGB having acquired land without obtaining HDC approval

§ Check-posts at CHT’s entrances to become more active (directive 10). There are numerous military check-posts and camps in CHT that are supposed to provide security to the area. However, according to local organisations and the CHT Commission, a significant number of attacks against indigenous peoples are occurring in plain sight of these posts.  

§ Former Shanti Bahini[7] members in CHT law enforcement agencies to be transferred out of CHT (directive 11). Local human rights organisations and indigenous leaders have consistently emphasised the importance of inclusive and diversified law enforcement agencies in CHT for the implementation of the Peace Accord and to provide security for the people of the region. Singling out former Shanti Bahini members will negatively impact the implementation of the CHT Peace Accord, as it will polarise law enforcement agencies and jeopardise the security of an already violence-prone region.  

Recent developments

Last week the Government withdrew the restrictions on foreigners’ travel to CHT and meetings with the indigenous community. However foreign nationals will still have to inform the Home Ministry prior to their visit, while researchers should inform the Ministry at least 20 days in advance. There are indications that the decision to cancel the travel and meeting restrictions has not reached local administration, which means that the restrictions might still be implemented on the ground. As such, the validity of the change that is intended to remove the restrictions remains doubtful.

GHRD is deeply concerned by the unconstitutional and discriminatory orders of the Home Ministry. Under the terms of the Peace Accord[8], if the Government intends to formulate laws regarding CHT, it must do so in consultation with the CHT Regional Council[9]. However, these directives came without prior consultation with the Regional Council. These directives are in breach of the CHT Peace Accord, violate fundamental human rights, and add to the already increasing tension in the region.

Photo credit: Discovering Dhaka

[1] GHRD received an unofficial English translation of the 11-point directive on 19 February  2015 from our partners. 

[2] Bangladesh acceded to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination on 11 June 1979 and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights on 6 September 2000.

[3] The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, 4 November 1972.

[4] The CHT Peace Accord is a peace treaty signed between the Government of People’s Republic of Bangladesh and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) on 2 December 1997 after decades of protracted armed conflict in CHT.

[5] Land that is not considered traditional land by the indigenous community in CHT.

[6] HDCs are the local administration bodies that are vested with the power of giving prior approval in the case of  any sort of lease, purchase, sale, transfer, or acquisition of the land in the CHT region.

[7] Shanti Bahini was the military wing of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) formed in 1972. They formally laid down arms after the signing of the CHT Peace Accord.

[8] CHT Peace Accord, section C(13).

[9] The CHT Regional Council was formed in accordance with the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord 1997. The CHT Regional Council formally began its functions on 27 May 1999, as per the CHT Regional Council Act 1998 (Act 12 of 1998).

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