We, Buddhist monks from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh, studying in various universities and educational institutions in Sri Lanka are deeply concerned over the continuous land grabbing and human rights violations on our people by the government of Bangladesh. Our people, religion and culture have been threatened. With deep sorrow we would like to bring to your kind notice the serious human rights abuses on the minority indigenous communities in the CHTs.
The violation of Human rights including custodial death, falsified case and detention, rape, unnoticed arrest, etc, are reportedly widespread in the recent days. To express deep concern after receiving harrowing news about grabbing vested land of the Jumma indigenous people and resume of Bengali settlement throughout Chittagong Hill Track where members of Bangladesh military are involving.
These are happening by taking full advantage of ongoing state of emergency of Bangladesh where any kind of public gathering, meeting, demonstration and all kind of opposition activities are strictly prohibited since the present interim government came into power early in this year. The military authority and the law enforcing agency given sole power to kill and torture anybody who oppose the government, even it is only on the basic of suspicion. As press censorship are imposed very little information are going out of Chittagong Hill Tracts.
We, writing on behalf of the CHTs minority Jumma Buddhist people to express our deep concern over burning situation appear to be planned and systematic movement of the settlers and members of Bangladesh military to grab lands belonging to the Jumma indigenous people in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), especially in Dighinala Upazilla under Khagrachari district.
We have learnt from various sources that during the last 2-3 months, at least 222.38 acres of plough as well as hilly land have been taken away by force in Dighinala Upazilla under Khagrachari district. Of these, 42 acres have been grabbed in Rengkarjya Mouza No. 28 under Merung, 149.18 acres in Choto Merung Mouza No. 29, 5.2 acres in Bara Merung Mouza No. 30 and 26 acres belonging to Boalkhali Buddha Vihara and Orphanage under Dighinala Thana.
To highlight the recent land grabbing pattern, we take the liberty of citing a few cases below:
a. Unsolicited arbitration by army: gross injustice
On 19 July 2007, Betchari sub-zone commander Major Qamrul Hassan (37 Bengal, 4 Bir) in Bara Merung called an unsolicited arbitration meeting in his camp and in a whimsical verbal judgment gave away 13 Kani (5.2 acres) of land belonging to three Jumma villagers to other three settler families namely Sirajul Islam, his brother Nazrul Islam s/o Kashem Ali and Md. Yunus s/o Abdul Mannan of Rashik Nagar village.
Of the 13 Kanis, 5 kanis each belongs to Sadhan Chakma s/o Bandara Chakma and Lalit Kumar Chakma s/o Ranga Mua Chakma, and 3 kanis to Bilati Chakma s/o Megh Raj Chakma.
The Jummas had been in the possession of these lands since the time of Pakistan and they did have valid documents pertaining to these lands and showed them during the so-called arbitration meeting. On the other hand, the settlers, who came to the area in the 1980s under government-sponsored transmigration program, have failed to produce any valid papers. Yet, the commander assuming the roles of the judge, the jury and the land surveyor at one and the same time gave his judgment in favor of the settlers.
b. Unsolicited arbitration: Supriya Chakma's land taken away:-
Mrs. Supriya Chakma is the head teacher of Boradam Government Primary School in Dighinala. She owns 3.2 acres of plough land in Betchatri of Merung. In July a so-called arbitration committee formed by Dighinala zone commander Major Qamrul Hassan gave her land to a settler woman, despite the fact that she had valid documents pertaining to the said land.
c. Old man's land taken away:-
On 2 August, 2007 illegal settlers Md. Yunus s/o Mannan, Md. Nazrul and his brother Sirajul took away two acres of first class paddy land from sixty-years-old Buddha Moni Chakma s/o late Fogira Chakma of Tara Charan Karbari Para village in Moddyo Betchari under Merung. Betchari camp commander allegedly backed the settlers. Mr. Chakma has valid documents pertaining to his land.
The said commander also reportedly called Mr. Buddha Moni Chakma to his camp and forced him to sign a written pledge to the effect that he would not make attempt to reclaim his land, that he would acknowledge that his land does not fall within the perimeter of the disputed land but may lie somewhere else and that he would not create "troubles" for the settlers in their enjoyment of his land.
d. Fresh attempt at expansion of Bengali settlement in Sadhana Tila, Babuchara:-
According to sources, the army is making desperate attempt to settle 812 Bengali families on approximately 300 acres of land in Sadhana Tila (a Buddhist meditation center) under Babuchara in Dighinala Upazilla of Khagrachari district. The settlers have begun clearing the land since 13 August. The area houses a Buddhist temple and a sizable Jumma settlement. If the plan is implemented, the temple will be destroyed, many Jummas will be evicted and dispute over land will increase dramatically.
The zone commander of Dighinala Major Qamrul Hassan has reportedly announced an incentive grant of Taka 50,000 for each settler family who will be willing to settle there, in addition to Taka 1,000 as monthly allowance. He has also threatened to cancel the ration cards of those settlers who would refuse to resettle in Sadhana Tila.
Mr. Hassan has been reportedly putting continuous pressure on the headman of Baghaichari Mouza No. 50 Mr. Sattyendriyo Chakma, Union Council chairman Paritosh Chakma and other local elders to agree to his settlement plan. On 15 August 2007, he visited Sadhana Tila to personally assess the settlement plan.
We have also learnt that illegal land grabbing and settlement of non-resident plain settlers have continued in other parts of the CHT, including Maischari, Guimara, Matiranga, Manikchari and Panchari in Khagrachari and many parts of Bandarban district. In Bandarban hundreds of thousands of acres of land have been taken away under various pretexts.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts in the southeastern corner of Bangladesh is home to eleven ethnic nationalities who have been living there for centuries. They have their own customs governing land use and management system which is often referred to as traditional land rights by which lands are owned by the whole community. The successive governments of Bangladesh have refused to acknowledge this right of the Jumma people and settled under a state-sponsored transmigration program approximately 400,000 Bengali people on the lands of the Jumma indigenous people. This has had a devastating impact on the Jumma societies and became a perennial source of tension and conflict in CHT.
The government authorities of Bangladesh often cite CHT's low population density to justify its population transfer policy. However, studies showed that the argument advanced by the proponents of this policy that the CHT had been lying vacant is a myth. Suffice it to say that after the inundation of 54 thousand acres of first class cultivable land due to the construction of Kaptai dam in the 1960s, an estimated 40,000 Jummas had to cross over to India because there had not been enough land for their rehabilitation in CHT.
We, therefore, appeal to the interim caretaker government of Bangladesh to take bold steps to reverse the policy that the partisan governments of the past had pursued with regard to the CHT and acknowledge and respect the traditional land rights of the Jumma people.
We consider it is our duty to seek your sympathetic support to prevent these inhumanities on the indigenous people in Bangladesh. Hereby, we are making an appeal for immediate implementation of the following demands as a lasting solution of the inhuman problems in CHTs. We also urge to the Bangladesh interim caretaker government to take the following measures in the interest of the people of the CHT:
1. To stop Military atrocities and human rights abuses on indigenous people in CHTs.
2. To immediately stop illegal land grabbing in CHT including Merung, Boalkhali of Khagrachari and various parts of Bandarban and return the illegally occupied lands to their rightful owners;
3. To cancel the plan to resettle illegal settlers in Sadhana Tila in Babuchara under Dighinala Thana of Khagrachari district;
4. To stop using the Bengali speaking settlers as a tool of national oppression against Indigenous Jumma people and to agree in principle to rehabilitate them in plain districts with means of livelihood;
5. To take legal actions against those army officers and settlers who would be found guilty of land grabbing and inciting communal tension;
6. To stop all kinds of repression and human rights violations in CHT;
7. To lift the state of emergency and to restore all political and civil rights of the citizen of Bangladesh; and
8. To abolish the so-called Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) which is responsible for numerous cases of custodial deaths and other human rights violations.
9. Appointment of indigenous people in all posts under the CHT local government system.
10. Establishment of international Human Rights Camp in CHTs.
11. Constitutional assurance for the future safeguard of indigenous people and non-repetition.