Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kapaeeng Watch News Release on situation of indigenous peoples in Bangladesh: 29 October 2008

'Punish rapists of indigenous women'

The Daily Star, 14 October 2008

Hundreds of indigenous people from Kalmakanda and Durgapur upazilas in Netrakona district yesterday formed a human chain in front of the office of Kalmakanda upazila nirbahi officer demanding punishment of two persons for raping indigenous women.

Two cases were filed with Kalmakanda Police Station on September 20 and October 11 against Jamal Mia of Baluchara village and Amir Hamza of Jigatola village for raping two indigenous women on September 19 and October 10, said police and indigenous leaders.

After the human chain organised by local NGO Sarbik Manab Unnayan Sangathan, indigenous leaders submitted a memorandum to Kalmakanda UNO. Police failed to arrest the accused of the two cases although they are seen moving in the area, said the memorandum to UNO.

Indiscriminate felling of trees at Khashia Punji protested

The Daily Star, 24 October 2008

Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (Bapa) and Bangladesh Adivasi Forum (BAF) yesterday formed a human chain at TSC intersection on the Dhaka University campus protesting the indiscriminate cutting down of trees at Khashia Punji in Moulvibazar.

Bapa President Prof Muzaffer Ahmed said wholesale cutting down of trees at Khashia Punji not only poses a threat to the environment, but also it is an issue of justice. The environment, biodiversity and livelihood of the local indigenous people are facing threats due to such type of whimsical act of the government, he added. Prof Ahmed said the government decision would put questions to the future national plan to face the impacts of climate change. At the programme, he called on the government to be careful not to take such decision immediately.

The speakers said a huge number of trees have already been cut down as part of chopping down 4,000 trees in Khashia Pan Punji at Nahar Tea Garden at Srimangal and process of felling down more trees underway. They placed a five-point demand, including immediate halt to cutting down of trees and their sale and stop taking tax from the local indigenous people. The speakers said though only 864.58 acres of land is registered with the tea garden, it is using more than 1200 acres of land.

Though the news of corruption by the local official of forest departments is published in the media, they are still cutting down trees indiscriminately, they added.

Cremation ground of indigenous people grabbed

The Daily Star, 26 October 2008

Fifty-two indigenous families in Naogaon yesterday demanded stern actions against a group of local influential people for trying to grab their cremation ground at Sonapur village through fake documents. The Santal and Oraw families yesterday made the demand at a press conference at the Metropolitan Press Club in Naogaon.

The indigenous people have been using about 0.19 acres of land as their cremation ground at Sonapur village of Manda upazila for over a century. But recently a group of local influential people including Rakib Pramanik and Rafiqul Pramanik are trying to grab the cremation ground, they alleged. They were barred from cremating bodies there and also received death threats from the influential group, the indigenous people alleged. They said the henchmen of the influential group also attacked them in September when they went to the cremation ground carrying a deceased member of their community.

Later, Ranjit Oraw, president of Lahanti Akra Forum, an organisation of indigenous people, handed over a written complaint to Manda Upazila Nirbahi Office (UNO) Bipul Chandra Biswas at the latter's office. The UNO asked the land office to investigate the allegations and submit report to him, they said. But the land office is yet to submit the report.

The indigenous families also alleged that the influential people have managed fake documents and are trying to evict them from their 3.42 acres of khas land and 3.43 acres of khas pond they leased from the authorities concerned at Borambari village of Niamatpur upazila. They also alleged that instead of taking actions against the influential people the police are harassing the indigenous people.

Lahanti Akra Forum President Ranjit Oraw, Bangapal Sardar, Bhulu Mahto, Noresh Kujur, Romesh Tropo, Fulchan Oraw, Mongol Oraw, Tuku Hasda and Bimol Murmu were also present.

Political parties urged to include indigenous peoples' issues in their election manifestos

On 25 September 2008 Bangladesh Adivasi Odhikar Anlodon (BAOA), a support group of civic forum for indigenous peoples, called upon the political parties to include indigenous people's concerns in their manifestos for the December 18 parliamentary polls.

In a written statement read out at the press conference held at Dhaka Reporters Unity, General Secretary of BAOA and also professor of Dhaka University Mr. Mesbah Kamal said that the state of indigenous people, especially those who live in plain lands, is vulnerable and they need special attention from all the parties to survive. He placed a 15-point charter of demands of the indigenous people for consideration of political parties.

The demands included constitutional recognition of the indigenous people, implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord, education in their respective mother languages, returning back their land through immediate functioning of the CHT Land Dispute Settlement Commission, separate land commission for plain land indigenous people to preserve their cultural and religious identities, canceling of eco-park project on indigenous peoples' areas, reservation seat for indigenous peoples at parliament and local government bodies, taking special measures for security of indigenous women, special census to determine the actual number of indigenous people in the country. BAOA also urged the government to ensure safety of the ethnic minority groups during and after the general elections.

Mong Raja Prue Chy cremated

The Daily Star, 28 October 2008

The cremation ceremony of late Mong Raja Paihala Prue Chowdhury was held yesterday in Khagrachhari. Hundreds of people started to gather at the residence of the late Mong Raja at Madhubazar (zero mile) in the hill district from the morning to pay homage to him. He was cremated at 3:00pm amid blasting of firecrackers after his personal security forces gave him a guard of honour. His son Saching Prue Chowdhury first set off firecrackers to start the cremation as per the Mong ritual.

Later, Khagrachhari District Council Chairman Manindra Lal Tripura, Rangamati District Council Chairman Jagotjyoti Chakma, Bandarban District Council Chairman Prof Thansama Lusai, Lt Col Samad Chowdhury on behalf of the Bangladesh Armed Forces and CHT Chief Coordinator of UNDP Robert Stalman also set off firecrackers.

Superintendent of Police Mohammad Quaiumuzzaman Khan, Deputy Commissioner AKM Khairul Alam, Khagrachhari Municipality Mayor Joynal Abedin, and Bangladesh Marma Sanghati Oikya Parishad President Kongchari Master, among others, were present.

Paihala Prue Chowdhury was killed on October 22 in a road accident at Patachhara near Ramgarh in Khagrachhari. All educational institutions in Khagrachhari remained closed yesterday to show respect to the deceased king. Crown Prince Saching Prue Chowdhury delivered a speech prior to the cremation.

"The Raja had always worked for the welfare of the people and was concerned about their socio-economic development," he said adding that his father had repeatedly requested the government and various non-government organisations to take up development projects in the hill tracts.

Paihala Prue Chowdhury, who was the 7th Mong king, is survived by his wife, a son and two daughters. After the death of the then Mong king and his uncle Neuprue Sain Chowdhury in 1984, the government recognised Paihala Prue as Neuprue's nominee, local sources said.

Paihala was working as the district information officer at that time. He became the Mong Circle Chief, locally known as Mong Raja, in 1991. The government recognised him as the Mong Raja after he won a legal battle with Unika Devi, the stepdaughter of Neuprue Sain, in 1998.

Reforms in land commission law soon: Debashish

The Daily Star, 28 October 2008

Special Assistant to Chief Adviser Raja Debashish Roy at a consultation yesterday said the government is working to bring some reforms in land commission law in a month or two.

Debashish Roy, also in-charge of CHT and environment and forest ministries, was speaking as the chief guest at the consultation on 'Collective action on indigenous issues' at Biam auditorium in the city. The reforms would reflect some aspirations of the indigenous people, he added. The special assistant "The CHT Commission should be implemented. If so, the possibility of a separate national commission for the indigenous people could also be discussed." Debashish said one of the commissioners of the newly formed Human Rights Commission could be engaged for the indigenous people.

The consultation, jointly organised by Research and Development Collective (RDC) and Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), was presided over by Justice Gholam Rabbani.

Speakers at the consultation underscored the need for forming a national commission for the indigenous people of the country to overcome their problems. They called on the political parties to include the issue of the indigenous people in their election manifestos and allocate reserved seats for them in the parliament and all the local bodies of representatives to ensure their participation in their own development. They said the non-implementation of the CHT Treaty is a problem of the indigenous people and the government should take steps to implement it.

RDC General Secretary Prof Mesbah Kamal presented a keynote paper at the consultation. He said representation of the indigenous people at the national, regional and local levels should be ensured, adding that non-recognition of the indigenous people in the constitution and land-related problems are their main problems.

Gholam Rabbani said it is illegal to discriminate the indigenous people on grounds of race, sex or religions in this independent country. They also participated in the country's liberation war.

Ex-additional secretary ASM Mobaidul Haque, VSO Country Director Shahana Hayat, VSO Programme Officer Mahtabul Hakim, Bangladesh Adivasi Parishad Chairperson Anil Marandi and Danida Human Rights and Good Governance of Programme Officer Kirti Nishan Chakma.

Regional consultation on ILO Convention 107 held in Mymensingh & Sreemangal

On 28 October 2008 ILO Dhaka office and Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum organized a regional consultation meeting on ILO Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention, 1957 (No. 107). Raja Devasish Roy, Special Assistant to the Chief Advisor for CHT Affairs Ministry and Forest and Environment Ministry was present as chief guest in the consultation meeting while Director of ILO Dhaka Panudda Boonpala, ADC (general) of Mymensingh District Administration Md. Mohsin, former member of parliament and indigenous leader Mr. Promod Mankin, Divisional Forest Officer Md. Mahbubur Rahman, Father Joseph Gomes, Mayor of Mymensingh Municipality Advocate Mahamud Al Nur Tarek, Programme Officer of DANIDA Mr. Kirti Nishan Chakma, representative of Oxfam-GB Mr. Soikot Biswas, Vice President of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum Mr. James Barendrong, Regional Director of Caritas of Mymensingh office Mr. Theophil Nokrek and a good number of indigenous leaders and activist from different localities of greater Mymensingh region were present in this day long event. The sessions were presided over by Bishop Ponen Kubi and Ajoy A Mree respectively while Mr. Sanjeeb Drong moderated in all sessions.

In the morning session, General Secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum Mr. Sanjeeb Drong presented keynote paper on ILO Convention 107 and situation of indigenous peoples in Bangladesh, Sub-regional Coordinator on Indigenous and Tribal Issues of ILO Office in Delhi Ms. Sarah Webster explained aims and objectives and overview of PRO 169 activities in Bangladesh and International Labour Standadrds Specialist of Delhi ILO Dellhi Mr. Cuan Kompier spoke on 'ILO and tribal and indigenous peoples: what ILO Conventions can do?'.

In his speech Raja Devasish said that the ILO has the only mandate within the UN system to work specially on indigenous and tribal peoples' issues. The Government of Bangladesh ratified the ILO Convention (No. 107) on Indigenous and Tribal Populations in 1972 but yet to formulate any national policy in favor of it. For establishing rights according to the ILO Convention No.107, indigenous peoples should do lobby in national and international level.

Speakers of the consultation said that Convention No. 107 is a broad development instrument, covering a wide range of issues such as land, recruitment and conditions of employment, vocational training, handicrafts and rural industries, social security, health and education. But still the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh are not getting their rights according to the convention. They all urged to government to formulate all concerned national policies according to ILO Convention No. 107. At the end of the day, the meeting adopted a good number of recommendations

Earlier, on 26 October 2008 another regional consultation was held in Sreemangal under Moulvibazar district. Information and Publicity Secretary of PCJSS Mr. Mangal Kumar Chakma presented keynote paper on ILO Convention 107 and situation of indigenous peoples in Bangladesh. Inaugural session was presided over by Headman and Khasi leader Mr. Pidision Prodhan Suchiang while other two working session were presided over by Rev. Father Joseph Gomes, OMI, Justice and Peace Ministry and Manipuri leader Mr. Ananda Mohan Sinha. Among others, tea community leader Mr. Pankaj Kundu, Khasi women leader Ms. Flora Bably Talang, Manipuni women leader Ms. Bibha Sinha, Banidace Kongla spoke in the consultation as panel discussant.

Speakers of this consultation raised issues of eviction of Khasi peoples from their traditional Pan Punjies, harassment of Forest Department, lack of adequate marketing facilities of betel leafs, destruction of forest of bio-diversity by Shevron, lack of proper implementation of East Bengal State Acquisition and Tenancy Act of 1950, non-recognition of rights of tea estate labourers, land of traditional punjies leased out to non-IPs without free, prior and informed consent and violating customary rights, eviction of IPs through Muroichara eco-park (Kulaura), Madabkunda eco-park (Baralekha), social forestry project etc, misuse of Vested Property Act (Enemy Property Act), lack of government facilities at Pan Punjies, for example, only 5 primary schools out of 100 punjies, land settlement given only 5-7 punjies out of 100 punjies, approximately 90% Khasi peoples' land are not registered, Punjies within tea estate frequently attacked by tea estate owners for eviction, deprived of fair price of betel leafs, landslide along the boarder damages cultivable land etc.

In his keynote paper, Mangal Kumar Chakma recommended 11 points of charter. These are incluuded to ensure the constitutional recognition of IPs; recognise collective and individual rights of IPs over land and natural resources, customs and traditions etc; and to return back their land and homestead; ensure rights to self-determination of IPs including implementation of CHT Accord in letter and spirits and international conventions; ensure full and effective participation of IPs including decision-making level in the development activities; include a subject of IPs' rights in the PATC training for BCS officers; reserve seat for IPs in parliament and local govt bodies; initiate mechanism to access Expert Committee meeting by IPs; make aware political leaders, intelligentsia and bureaucrats for sensitization on human rights and fundamental freedoms of IPs; sensitize Bangladesh Country Office for undertaking advocacy programmes for implementation of ILO C107; initiate special vocational training programme for IPs and undertake inter-govt initiative to combat climate change including landslide in IP territory.

Meeting between PCJSS and Election Commission held

On 29 October 2008 a meeting on registration of PCJSS and forthcoming parliamentary election between PCJSS (Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti), a political party of indigenous Jumma peoples in CHT and Bangladesh Election Commission was held at office of Chief Election Commissioner.

PCJSS president Mr. Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma led the PCJSS delegation and other members of the delegation were central member Mr. Goutam Kumar Chakma, political affairs secretary Mr. Ushatan Talukdar and Information and Publicity Secretary Mr. Mangal Kumar Chakma. On the other, Chief Election Commissioner Dr A T M Shamsul Huda led the EC team while other two election commissioners Mr. Chahul Hossain and Brig. Gen. Shakhawat Hossain were present in the meeting.

Mr. J B Larma raised the issue of registration of PCJSS with Election Commission as a political party considering distinct socio-political, cultural and historical background of the indigenous Jumma peoples and CHT region. He also urged the Election Commission to give special attention on forthcoming parliamentary election particularly for CHT region for free, fair and neutral election and to take initiative to holding Hill District Councils' election.

Chief Election Commission said that they would look into the matter as per rules and regulations.