GHRD Statement at the House of Lords conference on implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord, 4 July, 2011

06-07-2011

Thank you to Lord Avebury and the Jumma People’s Network for the invitation to speak at this very important event. 

We are pleased to be present today to share some of our observations from monitoring the situation for the Jumma in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Sadly, our recent interviews with Jumma in the region confirm that human rights violations are continuing and the Jumma have no access to justice.

Global Human Rights Defence has been monitoring the human rights situation for minorities and women in Bangladesh for over seven years and has made the CHT a key focus for 2011. In May 2011, GHRD’s local observer conducted an eight day fact finding mission to the region, speaking with members from over 100 Jumma families who were victims of the February and April arson attacks which occurred in Rangamati and Khagrachari districts earlier this year. The photos you see behind me were taken during this investigation. 

Findings:

Our investigations confirm the reports of local Jumma organizations around the time of the violence, finding that some 638 Jumma people were affected, most of whom have lost their homes. Over 100 Jumma houses, one school and two Buddhist temples were burnt to ashes and Jumma villagers were forced to flee to the jungle during the attacks. 

During the April violence, Bengali settlers in Jalia para area attacked Jumma passengers, pulling them down from public buses. Bengali settlers were stopping every vehicle and looking for ethnic minority people who they then pulled out onto the road and proceeded to kick, slap and beat with batons. At least 16 Jumma were seriously injured in this attack. 

Every Jumma interviewed confirmed that army personnel and members of the Border Guards of Bangladesh were present during the violence but failed to do anything to stop it. Rather, they watched as Jumma homes were burned down. 

On the morning of February 17, Jumma leaders asked personnel from the Tematha camp for help but they failed to answer this call. When they did finally arrive on the scene later that evening, Border Guard personnel stood and watched as Jumma homes were set on fire. 

During the April violence, around 60 army men and around 5 army vans were patrolling in the area. Witnesses said that the army kept patrolling along the road side while on the other, Bengali settlers started entering Jumma villages and setting fire to their homes. In Shankhola village, some 25 army men stood eating fruit from Jumma properties after they had fled. They watched as the houses and shops of the Jumma people were looted, vandalized and set ablaze. 

Government and administration officials visited the region directly following the attacks. A three member committee was formed to investigate the events and report back within two working days; however, to date the committee has not submitted its findings. 

Despite seeing the devastation with their own eyes, nothing has been investigated by the government or the local authorities and the main perpetrators who have already been identified, continue to walk free in the area. The government of Bangladesh has also failed to investigate the involvement of the security forces and their open approval of the attacks. Not a single arrest has been made following this violence. 

The small compensation provided is not enough for the Jumma to rebuild their lives and they continue to live under the open sky or in traditional tents. Most of the students have not returned to school as their books, pencils, school dress and other essentials were burnt to ashes.

Transparency and accountability:

Instead of promoting transparent investigations and reporting following the attacks, the government proclaimed an ‘emergency curfew’ prohibiting any access to the region.The area is surrounded by army personnel who benefit from total impunity and are involved in every aspect of governance in the region. 

The Jumma who are the victims of this violence are forcibly cut off from the rest of Bangladesh and the world and are unable to tell their story or ask for help. 

During our team’s investigations, the local authorities expressed strong suspicion towards any international involvement in the region. Our observers were approached and questioned on several occasions by members of the Border Guards of Bangladesh and by the district special branch of police who requested information on the identity of the team, the organisation they worked for and purpose for their visit. On one occasion, the authorities questioned our team for over three hours, our observer stated:

“He took us to one corner of the field in front of the police station. Sitting on the ground, he asked similar questions repeatedly for 3 hours…asking about my organization, our purpose for coming to the region and whether we had any links to any foreign organization.” (Statement made by GHRD’s local observer who investigated the attacks)

Analysis

These attacks amount to a government failure to uphold basic human rights and protect the Jumma. The implication of military forces in the attacks and the lack of impartial investigation prove that the government of Bangladesh is either unwilling or unable to protect its Jumma population and must be held accountable within the international forum. 

Implementation of the 1997 Peace Accord was a major election promise of the ruling government, the Awami League. To date, the government has failed to honour this commitment and land grabbing and disputes over land continue to be the main reason for attacks by Bengali settlers against the Jumma in the CHT. 

GHRD’s view remains that the government of Bangladesh must take responsibility for the human rights violations in the region and must fully honour its stated commitment to the 1997 Peace Accord by: impartially investigating the human rights violations that have occurred and the role of the military in these violations, bringing those responsible to justice and demilitarizing the region. 

GHRD will continue to investigate and publicise human rights violations in the CHT as long as minorities remain under threat. 

Thank you

Julia de Blaauw

Human Rights Officer

Global Human Rights Defence

The Netherlands

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