Sunday, February 15, 2009

An Appeal for Full Implementation of the CHT Peace Accord

February 13th, 2009

The Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
The People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Mr. M. Humayun Kabir
The Honorable Ambassador of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
3510 International Drive, NW
Washington, D.C. 20008

Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina,

We would like to express our congratulations on the restoration of democracy through last December’s elections, and the start of the new Awami League administration in January 2009. We are most hopeful that the new administration will fulfill its commitments to secularism, rule of law and human rights for all. In particular, we would like to draw attention to your government’s pledge during the last election to fully implement the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord signed with Parbattya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) in 1997.

As you are aware, neither the last caretaker government nor the BNP administration of 2001-2006 took any initiative to implement this historical accord, which ended twenty-some years of insurgency in the CHTs. More than 11 years after its signing, there has been virtually no progress on the most important provisions of the accord, such as transfer of powers to local government councils, resolution of land disputes by the land commission, withdrawal of all temporary military camps, and rehabilitation of refugees and internally displaced persons. To the contrary, illegal land grabbing and violent attacks against the hill peoples by Bengali settlers have accelerated with the tacit support of the military. The security forces have continued false arrest, torture and extra-judicial killings of indigenous people, forceful expropriation of land, and religious persecution including destruction/desecration of temples. Countless indigenous girls/women are being raped with almost total impunity. The indigenous people have nearly lost hope for a peaceful future.

We call upon your Excellency to pay serious attention to these serious issues, and urge your government to fulfill its pledge to fully implement the CHT Peace Accord. Furthermore, we call upon your government to seriously consider a constitutional amendment to safeguard the peace accord’s framework for local autonomy within the sovereign state for future generations.


Buddha Ratana Bhikkhu, President, Indigenous Jumma People’s Network, USA

Endorsements for “An Appeal for Full Implementation of the CHT Peace Accord”

The IJPNUS held a meeting in Los Angeles

Dated: February 13, 2009

Dear Reverends, distinguished guests, brothers and sisters.

I feel great honor to have this opportunity to make you aware of the prevalent situation in my country, Bangladesh. I would like to thank this community and each one of you very much for giving me this privilege. My sincere thank goes to our friend Ms. Margaret Lindgren for making the necessary arrangements. I would like to share with you some of the burning problems relevant to the facilities available for the people of Bangladesh in religious activities. Further more I would like to brief you about the present crisis. My country, Bangladesh, is mostly comprised of a majority Muslim community, with only 12.00% Non-Muslim people including the inhabitants of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, or CHTs for short.

In the next few minutes, I will share with you some of the wounds inflicted by the successive Governments of Bangladesh on the minority ethnic people in Bangladesh and the indigenous Jumma people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) over decades. I believe your wisdom, courage and support would heal some of our wounds.

Please allow me to present you with brief information about the violation of human rights of minority people in Bangladesh and problems of the CHTs.

The CHT is the traditional homeland to eleven distinct indigenous communities called Jumma collectively. It was an independent kingdom until the inception of Mughal rule in India in the 12th century. The British colonized it in 1860. With the emergence of two independent states – the Muslim majority Islamic state Pakistan and the non-Muslim majority secular state India – in 1947, the British colonialism came to an end in the Indian Sub-continent. Because of the undeveloped communication system and immature political leadership, the leaders of the CHTs were not able to raise their demand for self-determination with the British authorities who were planning the partition of the Sub-continent. And once the British left the Sub-continent, Pakistan occupied the CHTs against the will of the indigenous people. This is how the political status of the CHT disappeared forever and the second phase of colonialism under Pakistani rule started there. East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, got liberation from Pakistani rule in 1971.

In 1947, when Pak-India got independence from British rule, the indigenous population of CHTs was 98%. And CHT was merged with Pakistan leaving the indigenous Jumma peoples at the mercy of the Pakistan Govt. Since then, the process of elimination of indigenous peoples has been started. Presently the population of the indigenous peoples in CHT is 40% and others from plain districts of Bangladesh comprise 60%. If the present process is continued for another one-two decades, the indigenous peoples are bound to vanish or be eliminated from the map of CHT.

In the early 1960’s the Govt. of Pakistan constructed a hydro-electric dam on Karnafuli River thereby displacing around one hundred thousand indigenous Jumma peoples from their ancestral homeland without proper rehabilitation and compensation.

The CHTs delegates submitted memorandums to the Bangladesh authorities demanding provincial autonomy in the CHTs for the protection of their identity in 1972. The authorities responded to their demand militarily and subsequently moved more than 400,000 Bengali Muslim settlers from various plain districts into the hills as part of its ethnic cleansing and Bengalization policy in the region. This resulted in several genocides and other forms of violation of human rights and harassment to women, setting fire on local inhabitants villages, Buddhist temples, and churches, as well as torturing etc. of the indigenous Jumma people and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Jummas from their ancestral lands and finally an exodus of some 70,000 Jumma refugees into the Indian State of Tripura in the late1980s.

Under international criticism, the Government of Bangladesh signed a peace agreement popularly known as the “CHT peace accord” with the political organization of the indigenous Jumma people, the Shanti Bahini or Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), on December 2, 1997. The accord provides limited autonomy to the indigenous people. However, most of the fundamental points of the accord remain unimplemented till today. Such points include formation of the local Governmental bodies and effective transfer of power to them, settlement of land-disputes between Jummas and Bengali Muslim settlers, rehabilitation of the Jumma refugees and internally displaced Jummas, and withdrawal of the “temporary” military and paramilitary camps and the Bengali Muslim settlers from the CHT etc. Experience gained over the years indicates that the Government has no political commitment to implement the accord. Rather, the Government has been manipulating the whole implementation process of the accord in a way in which more Bengali Muslims are migrating into the hills and development programs are becoming increasingly Bengali Muslim-oriented. This has had a seriously negative impact on the socio-economic condition of the local indigenous people.

The Government is carrying out a systematic demographic invasion of the CHTs. As a result, the Bengali Muslim population has increased in great number (more than 60%) in the CHT.

The indigenous people are neither getting the benefits of development programs nor are they getting back their lands, which are still under the occupation of the Bengali Muslim settlers and military. Many indigenous youths are finding themselves in a difficult socio-economic situation in which they are losing their traditional ways of livelihood without any sustainable alternatives. As a result, the crime rate is increasing rapidly and the whole CHT is moving towards a serious humanitarian crisis-like situation. This is leading them to adopt anti-social professions such as, hooliganism in the streets in the case of young men and prostitution in cities in the case of young women.

Unemployment is increasing at a hitherto unknown rate. Many indigenous youths are choosing to migrate to other developed or developing countries in search of livelihood. Cases of mental disorder and suicide of youths due to lack of living conditions within the CHT have been reported. Many indigenous women are being forced to work in private and corporate sectors in cities, where they are grossly exploited economically and sexually.

Because of their distinct racial origin, language, religion and culture, the indigenous Jumma people are often subjected to wide racial discrimination in education, employment, sports, justice, land and resources, trade etc. in Bangladesh. The country’s legal system is unitary and this provides no special legal safeguards to protect the rights of the indigenous Jumma people.

How serious violations are being perpetrated against indigenous Jumma people by the Bangladesh Government’s Civil & Military authorities.

Some civil and military officials who served in Banderban Hill District have taken 1000-1500 acres of land each from Indigenous Jumma Peoples, whereas as per as law of Bangladesh each person can have only 5 (five) acres of land. Arrangement should be made to return all lands belonging to Indigenous Jumma Peoples.

More than 100 indigenous people have been arrested since January 2007, often on false arms charges. Many have been tortured and given long and unjust prison terms, and two indigenous Jummas have died in police custody. Ranglai Mro was beaten and tortured before being given a 17 year sentence. It is widely believed that he was targeted for protesting against the eviction of 750 Mro families from their lands to make way for an army training centre.

Military Atrocities,
We have learnt that the military and paramilitary of Bangladesh are actively involved in all encroachment activities in the CHTs. It is very shameful that the UN peace keepers are involved in this, such as Betchari sub-zone commander Major Qamrul Hassan (37 Bengal, 4 Bde) in Bara Merung who just returned from Africa and was posted in the CHTs after completion of his tenure with the UN Peace mission.

Religious persecutions,
Religious persecution and intolerance is high in the CHTs of Bangladesh. As you may be aware, the majority of the Indigenous Jumma people are followers of Theravada Buddhism. It has been reported that the settlement of illegal Bengali Muslims has taken place in the lands of the Buddhist temple of Sadhana Tila, Boalkhali Buddha Vihara and Orphanage under Diginala sub-district, and Arjo Kuthir at Maischari in Mahalchari sub-district under Khagrachari Hill Tracts. The government officials have ordered not to build any Buddhist temples in Mahalchari. There are persecutions and arrests of Buddhist monks and novices on false cases and charges.

In March 2007 Ruma cantonment acquired about 7,570 acres of ancestral land belonging to indigenous Jumma people for extension of its garrison and ordered more than 400 families to leave the area. In Bandarban district alone, 40,077 acres of land have been given in lease to illegal settlers while a total of 94,066 acres of land were acquired for so-called afforestation projects and 75,686 acres were acquired for establishment of military bases in the district.

In another recent case of land-grabbing, illegal settlers have reportedly taken over 59 acres of land belonging to 17 indigenous Jumma people in Kobakhali Mouza (No-51) under Dighinala police station in Khagrachari district. In an operation lasting from 1st to 15th August 2007, large groups of settlers led by former Union Parishad (UP) member Mohammed Abu Taleb of Hashinchonpur village and former UP member Mohammed Kader of Kobakhali bazaar took control of the hilly lands belonging to Chakma people with the direct assistance of the army., the paramilitary forces and the local Village Defense Party (VDP, Bengali Muslim arms group in village) members.

Illegal Settlements,
In June 2007, the military reportedly settled down at least 200 Bengali settlers families at Dhankupya village under Khagrachari district after forcibly evicting 12 indigenous families from their ancestral lands. Earlier, on 8 March 2007, an army camp was set up on the land of Prithiviraj Chakma in the same village to protect the settlers.

You may also be aware about the on-going activities of the Bangladesh military that has unleashed a reign of terror across the CHTs by carrying out extrajudicial killing, arbitrary arrests, illegal detention, lodging false cases and terrorizing the people by frequent raids, military operations, torture, threats and intimidation.

Extra-judicial Killing,
On 5 August 2007, Rasel Chakma, son of Paritosh Chakma of Dewan Para village under Naniarchar Upazila (sub-district) in Rangamati district was arrested by the security forces and killed in custody. The security forces claimed that he died of a heart attack but the body reportedly bore injury marks of torture.

Earlier, on 3 March 2007, a group of army personnel from Ghilachari camp under Naniachar Thana arrested Suresh Mohan Chakma, son of Phedera Chakma at Choichari village in Rangamati district without any warrant or reason. The victim was tortured at Ghilachari army camp in Rangamati district and he died on 7 March 2007, a day after being released.

Arrest under False Charges,
It has been observed that indigenous Jumma people have been unfairly targeted by the military that are taking advantage of the Emergency situation. Since the declaration of Emergency on 11 January 2007, at least a few hundred Jumma people have been arrested.

False charges of extortion, kidnapping, murder etc have been lodged against the arrested Jumma people. During raids, the military plants weapons and ammunitions and claims to have recovered the same from the house of the detained persons to show a ground for arrest. Most cases have been filed under Section 16 (b) of the Emergency Power Rules of 2007, which denies release on bail to the accused during the enquiry, investigation, and trial of the case. Many have been indicted by courts under the Arms Act.

Persecution of indigenous leaders,
In July 2007, Satyabir Dewan, general secretary of PCJSS; Ranglai Mro, chairman of Sualok Union Parishad and headman of Sualok Mouza, and Bikram Marma, president of Kaptai Upazila PCJSS branch were each sentenced to 17 years of jail by a court in Chittagong under the Arms Act for allegedly possessing illegal arms. Another indigenous leader, Sai Mong Marma, organizing secretary, PCJSS Kaptai upazila branch was sentenced to 10 years in jail under the Arms Act. It has been widely alleged that these leaders have been falsely implicated under the Arms Act for protesting against the injustices committed by the Bangladesh military in CHT.

This is a rough description of the problems of the indigenous Jumma people in the CHT. The real picture of the problems is worse than what I have just stated. In Buddhist philosophy, we know - reality cannot be expressed in terms of language or words. I, therefore, encourage you to come to the CHTs and observe the situation directly to understand the gravity of the problems.

We call upon concerned citizens to support our demands to the Bangladesh government:

1. To stop military atrocities and human rights abuses on indigenous people in CHTs;

2. To immediately stop illegal land grabbing and return the illegally occupied lands to their rightful owners;

3. To stop using the Bengali speaking settlers as a tool of national oppression against indigenous Jumma people and to withdraw all illegal settlers from CHTs.

4. To implement the CHT Peace Accord of 1997.

5. To appoint indigenous people in all posts under the CHT local government system.

6. To establish an international Human Rights Camp in the CHTs.

7. To provide constitutional assurances for the future safeguard of the indigenous people and non-repetition of past abuses.

Dear friends, I hope you will help the indigenous Jumma people in CHTs, Bangladesh, take this message to the Bangladesh authorities as well as to the international community through your esteemed dailies or through your letters, expressions of concern and other suitable means.

Thank you very much for your patience and kind co-operation.

May all beings be in peace and happiness!

Jumma People’s Network, UK.
Asian Centre for Human Rights.
Survival International
Amnesty International

Monday, February 2, 2009

Bangladesh: Q & A session at the UPR


The United Nations Working Group of the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council is scheduled to examine Bangladesh on 3 February 2009. The government of Bangladesh has submitted its report (A/HRC/WG.6/4/BGD/1). As many as 17 stakeholders (civil society organizations), including Asian Centre for Human Rights, have contributed to the process to examine the human rights situation in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s submission does not appear to effectively reflect the human rights situation nor does it appear to correspond to the gravity of the critical human rights issues facing the country.

Since the submission of the report by the Bangladesh government, major changes have taken place in the country. For example, the National Human Rights Commission was established through an Ordinance and the Right to Information Ordinance was promulgated into law.

Most importantly, the Awami League won the national elections held on 29 December 2008 and a new government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been formed since then.

In the light of these developments, the Asia Coalition on UPR submits the following to be raised at the Working Group on UPR:

a. Elections in the CHTs Regional Councils:

The parliamentary elections held on 29 December 2008 and the forthcoming Union Parishad elections are to be welcomed.

However, no election has been held in the local bodies of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs). The CHTs Regional Council established in 1998 represents the people through unelected officials. The last elections in the Hill District Councils of Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachari were held in 1989 by then President General H M Ershad. The Hill District Councils and the Regional Council are being run by appointees of the authorities in Dhaka.

The government of Bangladesh should be asked as to when the elections in the Hill District Councils and the Regional Council will be held.

The members of the Working Group on UPR should recommend that the government of Bangladesh provide a timeline to hold elections in the Hill District Councils and the Regional Council of the CHTs.

b. Implementation of the CHTs Peace Accord

The present government of Bangladesh headed by Awami League signed the CHTs Peace Accord in December 1997.

Since that time the CHTs Accord has not been implemented. The army camps have not been withdrawn as required under Section 17 (a) of Part D of the Peace Accord and the CHT Land Commission established under Section 4 of Part D of the Peace Accord does not operate and not a single case of land dispute has been resolved.

A total of 9,780 families out of total 12,222 Jumma families who returned from India following the CHT Peace Accord have not got back their land or housing. . In May 2000, Task Force Committee identified 90,208 Jumma families and 38,156 non-tribal Bengali settler families as “internally displaced families” in CHTs[1]. In addition, there were some 10,000 tribal IDP families who were left out by the Task Force. By including the non-tribal IDPs, the government sought to legitimize the settlement of the Muslims from the plains in the CHTs.

While the Jumma IDPs were not provided any rehabilitation or food aid, educational facilities, health care services, sanitation and safe drinking water etc, illegal settler families have been provided free rations and other facilities by the government since 1978.[2]

On the other hand, indigenous peoples and their lands continue to be targeted. In 2008, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people sent a joint communication calling the attention of the Government to the alleged illegal seizure of the traditional lands of indigenous communities in the CHT and systematic campaign to support the settlement of non-indigenous families in the CHTs with the active support of the security forces, with the ultimate aim of displacing the indigenous community.[3]

The government of Bangladesh should be questioned as to what measures it will take to fully implement the Peace Accord especially withdrawal of the army camps, functioning of the CHTs Land Commission and addressing the issues raised by the Special Rapporteur. The government of Bangladesh should be recommended to specify the measures to ensure full and proper rehabilitation of all the returnee indigenous Jumma refugees and indigenous IDPs.

c. Return of ‘Enemy’ Property

In 2000 the Special Rapporteur on religious intolerance, after receiving information about appropriation of property under Vested Property Act, recommended the government of Bangladesh to ensure the full restoration of the property of the Hindu community and the Hurukh/Oroan tribes.[4]

The Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) in its UPR submission reported that Hindu minorities continued to be targeted and their religious freedoms violated. It is reported that some 1.2 million or 44 per cent of the 2.7 million Hindu households in Bangladesh were affected by the Enemy Property Act, 1965 and the Vested Property Act, 1974 which is empowered to identify the Hindus as enemies of the State and seize their properties.[5] According to an estimate, approximately 2.5 million acres of land owned by Hindus was seized under the Vested Property Act until the adoption of the Enemy Properties Return Act 2001.[6]

The current government of Bangladesh led by Awami League was in power when parliament adopted the Enemy Properties Return Act 2001 with a view to restoring ownership of the lost land to the Hindu families. However the Act remains un-implemented. According to a recent study by Abul Barkat, professor of economics at Dhaka University, nearly 200,000 Hindu families have lost over 40,000 acres of land since 2001.[7]

The government of Bangladesh should outline as to what measures it will take to implement the Enemy Properties Return Act 2001.

d. Human Rights Defenders:

Delhi-based Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network (AITPN) expressed concerns about the persecution of the indigenous human rights defenders in Bangladesh. The government has been seeking to establish an Eco-Park in the Modhupur forest area under Tangail district at the cost of displacement and survival of about 25,000 indigenous Garo and Koch peoples.

On 27 April 2007, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people jointly with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and the Special Rapporteur on the question of torture asked the government of Bangladesh to investigate the killing of Choles Ritchil and the ill-treatment of Protab Jamble, Piren Simsang and Tuhin Hadima, and prosecute the guilty as well as to compensate the victims and Mr. Ritchil’s family.

In its reply submitted on 11 October 2007, the government of Bangladesh stated that a one-member Judicial Investigation Commission headed by a retired District Judge has been set up to investigate the killing of Cholesh Ritchil. Four persons belonging to Armed Forces were awarded punishments, which included removal from service and exclusion from promotion. Finally, a number of other individuals, including public officials, doctors and forest officials, had also been subject to criminal proceedings.

The government of Bangladesh should be asked to make public the report of the Judicial Investigation Commission into the killing of Cholesh Ritchil and the action taken report including details of punishments awarded to the guilty along with the names and designation of the persons facing criminal proceedings.

e. Accountability for extrajudicial executions

The stakeholders’ summary (A/HRC/WG.6/4/BGD/3) underlines that the security forces of Bangladesh have been responsible for systematic and widespread “extrajudicial executions”, arrest and routine use of torture with impunity.

AITPN noted that the continued presence and expansion of military bases is contributing to ongoing human rights violations including extrajudicial killings in the Chitagong Hill Tracts (CHT).[8] According to human rights group Odhikar, a total of 319 persons have been killed by the law enforcement personnel during the first 23 months of the State of Emergency (11 January 2007 to 11 December 2008). Of them, 155 persons were killed by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and 118 by the police.[9]

The government of Bangladesh should be asked what measures are being taken to establish accountability into the killings by Rapid Action Battalion, the police and other security forces.

f. National Human Rights Commission

The care-taker government of Bangladesh should be congratulated for the establishment of a National Human Rights Commission and appointment of the members.

The government of Bangladesh should be asked what measures will be taken to enact a law including guarantees for inclusion of religious minorities and indigenous/tribal peoples as members of the NHRC.

g. Right to Information Ordinance

On 20 September 2008, the Caretaker government approved the Right to Information Ordinance, 2008 and it came into effect on 20 October 2008 with the publication in the official Bangladesh Gazette.

The Working Group on UPR should ask the government to pass the Right to Information Ordinance in the Parliament and to provide further information about the establishment of the Information Commission provided for under the Right to Information (RTI) Ordinance, 2008 to implement the RTI Ordinance.

h. Cooperation with United Nations human rights mechanisms

The government of Bangladesh has failed to comply with its treaty reporting obligation to submit periodic reports to treaty bodies. Bangladesh’s twelfth to fourteenth report to the CERD is overdue from 2002 to 2006; initial and second report to CESCR is overdue from 2000 to 2005; initial report to HR Committee is overdue since 2001; first to third reports to CAT is overdue since 1999 to 2007; Second report to OP-CRC-AC is overdue since 2007.[10]

Bangladesh has also failed to ratify a number of key international human rights instruments including the International Labour Organization Convention No. 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in independent countries.

The government of Bangladesh should be asked to submit its pending periodic reports to the treaty bodies and to ratify the ILO Convention No. 169 and other international human rights instruments which it has not yet ratified.
[1]. Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti, Bangladesh
[2]. Asian Centre for Human Rights – South Asia Human Rights Index 2008, Bangladesh Chapter
[3]. Para 39, A/HRC/WG.6/4/BGD/2
[4]. Para 40, A/HRC/WG.6/4/BGD/2
[5]. Para 48, A/HRC/WG.6/4/BGD/3
[6]. Religious minorities vulnerable in Bangladesh: US, Hindu Janajagruti Samity, 17 September 2007,
[7]. Bangladeshi Hindus loose property: study, Economic Times, 26 May 2007
[8]. Para 20, A/HRC/WG.6/4/BGD/3
[9]. 23 Months of State of Emergency in Bangladesh, Odhikar, 12 December 2008 available at
[10]. A/HRC/WG.6/4/BGD/2

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Letter to PM Sheikh Hasina with Recommendations to Improve Human Rights in Bangladesh

January 29, 2009

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

Prime Minister's Office
Old Sangsad Bhaban
Tejagaon, Dhaka-1215

Via facsimile: +880 2 8113244; +880 2 8111015

Re: Human Rights in Bangladesh

Dear Prime Minister,

Congratulations on your recent election success. As you know, Human Rights Watch has consistently raised human rights issues with the interim government put in place and supported by the army from January 2007-December 2008. We have also raised concerns with its predecessor, the coalition headed by the Bangladesh National Party.

The Awami League and its allies have a unique opportunity and the responsibility to address major human rights problems that have been ignored by successive governments. We hope that with the strong mandate you and your party have obtained that you will tackle the very serious abuses that Bangladeshis face at the hands of the security forces and others.

I urge your government to use the February session of the UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review to show the priority it places on addressing longstanding human rights problems by making concrete and specific commitments. We offer suggestions below. This will be an early test for your government.

In order to ensure that Bangladesh lives up to its obligations under the Bangladeshi constitution and international human rights law, we urge you and your government to give high priority to the following issues:

Extrajudicial executions and torture
Since the establishment of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in mid-2004, RAB and the police have jointly executed well over a thousand people in what they often refer to as "crossfire killings." Many, and probably most, of those killed in "crossfire" have been killed not in crossfire but have been executed in custody after being subjected to torture.

Torture generally appears to be a routine feature in criminal investigations, as well as a means for law enforcement officials to extort money. Legal provisions that give the authorities a broad mandate to arrest and detain people without a warrant have contributed to these problems.

An agency of particular concern is the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), which has been used by successive governments to silence opposition politicians and other perceived government critics. The agency has over the years been responsible for numerous arbitrary arrests and acts of torture.

Since the establishment of Bangladesh as an independent state, members of the security forces have committed violations of human rights without being prosecuted for their actions. This has resulted in almost total impunity for human rights abuses.

Arbitrary detentions
As you and members of the Awami League, the opposition Bangladesh National Party, and others experienced under the caretaker government, arbitrary detentions are a widespread problem in Bangladesh. But this is not a new problem. Many Bangladeshis, whether prominent individuals such as yourself or average rural dwellers, have for many years experienced the scourge of arbitrary detention by the security forces. We hope you will make ending this practice among the highest priorities of your administration.

In particular, we urge you to repeal the Special Powers Act, 1974, which has over the years been misused for political and other reasons to keep thousands of people detained for long periods of time without due process and a chance to challenge their detention before an independent tribunal. Detentions have often been based on mere allegations or politically motivated grounds. Under the military-backed caretaker government, the Special Powers Act was frequently used. The Act and its implementation have been repeatedly criticized by the Supreme Court, but remains in force despite past commitments by the political parties to have it repealed.

Many other individuals have been also been arbitrarily detained in situations in which the Act has not been invoked. They have been denied the right to counsel, denied the right to be produced in court in a timely manner, denied their right to a speedy trial without undue delay, and denied the right to trial before an independent tribunal.

Protection of Minorities and Women
Ethnic and religious minorities have since long been victims of intimidation, discrimination and land grabbing. According to one study, more than one million Hindu households have lost their land over the past 40 years through abuse and arbitrary application of the Enemy Property Act 1965 and the Vested Property Act 1974. The Vested Property Return Act of 2001, which provides for property to be returned to its original owners, has been ineffectual and land loss has continued at an alarming rate. There are continuous reports of indigenous groups, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and other parts of the country, being subjected to land grabbing, unlawful evictions in the name of development, and destruction of their homes and property.

The Ahmadis have been subjected to violent attacks as fundamentalists demand that they be declared non-Muslims, thereby violating their religious freedom.

Discrimination against women is common in both public and private spheres. Domestic violence is a daily reality for many women and dowry-related crimes are reported to be increasing. Sexual minorities are also subject to discrimination and consensual homosexual conduct is a crime.

Bangladesh has long been considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world (routinely placed at or near the bottom of Transparency International's index). Corruption has had a severely negative impact on the Bangladeshi people's enjoyment of economic and social rights. It is essential that the government undertakes effective measures to address the problem of corruption and that it ensures that all such efforts are undertaken with full regard to international human rights norms and international and domestic fair trial standards. The counter-corruption efforts of the caretaker government were marred by arbitrary and illegal detentions and reports of torture and mistreatment in custody in order to obtain confessions. These practices must end.

The Anti-Terrorism Ordinance, 2008, sets out an overly broad definition of terrorist acts, including mere property crimes as well as attacks targeting individuals, contrary to United Nations recommendations. It criminalizes speech meant to support or "bolster the activities of" a banned organization, without showing that such statements constitute incitement of criminal conduct. The new law also allows convictions for financing terrorism based on mere suspicion of criminal conduct, violating the basic criminal law requirement of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Human Rights Watch expressed its concerns about the Ordinance in a June 2008 statement (see Parliament should either allow the Ordinance to lapse or amend it to bring it into conformity with international law before codifying it into Bangladeshi law. The government and parliament should also ensure that any new laws drafted on the subject are developed through a thorough public consultative process.

Death penalty
There are currently about one thousand people on death row awaiting execution. Through a resolution adopted in December 2007, the UN General Assembly has called for a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty. As the death penalty is a punishment of an inherently cruel, inhuman and final nature, we urge the government to take immediate steps to abolish it.

To address the above problems, Human Rights Watch urges the government to:

Take all necessary measures to put an end to the security forces' involvement in extrajudicial executions, acts of torture and other abuses of human rights.
Address impunity by ensuring that all human rights violations are thoroughly investigated and that those responsible, regardless of rank and political affiliation, are prosecuted and brought to justice.
Disband RAB which has since the outset based its operating culture on practices such as extrajudicial killings. In the event RAB is retained we urge you to establish an independent commission to assess RAB's performance, to identify those believed to be responsible for serious violations such as extra judicial killings who should be excluded from a reformed RAB and prosecuted, and develop an action plan to transform RAB into an agency that operates within the law and with full respect for international human rights norms.
Disband DGFI which has too long depended on illegal practices such as arbitrary detentions and torture. In the event that DGFI is retained we urge you to establish an independent commission to assess DGFI's performance, identify those believed to be responsible for serious violations such as torture who should be should be excluded from a reformed DGFI and prosecuted, and develop an action plan to transform DGFI into an agency that operates within the law and with full respect for international human rights norms. DGFI's operations should be strictly limited to lawful military intelligence activities and in no circumstances should it engage in surveillance of the political opposition and critics of the regime.
Amend Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and any other legal provisions that give the authorities overly broad detention powers which facilitate torture and other human rights abuses.
Human Rights Watch urges the government and parliament to change existing law to:

Amend the military legislation currently in force and the Armed Police Battalion Ordinance to ensure that members of the armed forces and RAB involved in violations of human rights are tried under the civilian criminal justice system.
Amend all legal provisions, such as articles 132 and 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which in effect shield law enforcement officials from being held to account for violations of human rights.
Initiate a process, in accordance with stated intentions, for bringing to trial those responsible for war crimes such as acts of murder, rape and wanton destruction and pillage of civilian property, in connection with the 1971-war.
Repeal the Special Powers Act, which has been used to carry out arbitrary detentions for many years.
Review existing legislation, such as the Vested Property Act, which has allegedly contributed to large scale land loss among members of the Hindu minority. Take effective action to ensure that ethnic and religious minorities are protected from land grabbing, intimidation and discrimination.
Provide training on gender sensitivity to all law enforcement officials.
Finalize the draft law on domestic violence and ensure that it is consistent with international standards and that it is implemented effectively.
Repeal Section 377 of the criminal code, which criminalizes consensual homosexual conduct.
Human Rights Watch further urges the Bangladeshi government to make international legal commitments to promote and protect human rights by:

Acceding to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Acceding to the Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Acceding to the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Ratify the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
Ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Remove declarations and lift reservations made to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Covenant on Civil of Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
We know this is a big agenda. But we also know that with the majority your government enjoys in parliament you have an historic opportunity to engage in long overdue reform. We urge you and your government to grasp this opportunity to bring real change to the lives of Bangladeshis.

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to discussing these and other human rights issues in greater detail with you and the members of your government.


Brad Adams

Executive Director

Asia Division

Cc: Minister of Foreign Affairs: Dr. Dipu Moni; Minister of Home Affairs: Advocate Sahara Khatun; Minister of Law, Justice & Parliamentary Affairs: Barrister Shafique Ahmed


PCJSS leader Shaktipara Tripura arrested by police in Dhaka

A Dhaka court on Saturday sent to jail a Chittagong Hill Tracts leader, who had been on the run since two cases had been filed against him on charges of arms and currency smuggling in 2007.

Ferdaus Ara of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court, Dhaka, ordered Shaktipada Tripura, who is the organising secretary of the Parbotyo Choṭṭogram Jonoshonghoti Shomiti, into jail after he had been picked up from a Mirpur house on Friday night.

Ara also rejected a petition for his bail.

The cases had been filed against Tripura in a Khagrachhari court, said Mohammad Shahjahan Khan, sub-inspector of Mirpur Police Station.

The lawyers for Tripura, who is also a leader of Adivashi Forum, said two cases were filed with the court in 2007.

He was arrested when he had been preparing to return to Khagrachhari to fight the cases, they added.


Ranglai Mro still handcuffed

Handcuffed to his hospital bed, indigenous leader Ranglai Mro, who was brutally tortured, has been waiting 15 days for his bail order documents to reach the jail authorities from the High Court (HC).

The HC granted him bail on January 7 but the leader is still receiving treatment at the National Institute of Cardio Vascular Diseases (NICVD) under close watch of six to seven policemen.

“Until we receive papers from the court, we have been ordered to guard him in this way," said a policeman standing before his bed at Ward-6 of the hospital.

DIG (Prisons) Maj Shamsul Haider Siddique said the Dhaka Central Jail authorities did not receive any paper from the court and soon after receiving the papers he would take necessary steps to release the leader.

Bandarban District Jail authorities said they did not get any paper from HC as of yesterday.

Ranglai was arrested on February 24, 2007 and was tortured by law enforcers so severely that he fell ill and was moved to NICVD and kept in the Coronary Care Unit (CCU).

Even though he is in such a critical condition, the jail authorities had not removed his fetters till human rights organisations, Ain O Salish Kendra and the National Human Rights Commission, intervened.

Director of NICVD Mohibullah said his condition has improved a lot.

"I do not know how much more time it will take," said Ranglai with a tired voice adding that it is very inconvenient for him to move with the handcuffs on.

Mro, also chairman of the Sulaok Union Parishad of Bandarban, was arrested in a case filed under the Arms Act in connection with possession of illegal arms. He was convicted in the arms case on June 13, 2007, and sentenced to 17 years' imprisonment.

An HC division bench comprising Justice Mohammad Mozammel Hossain and Justice Afzal Hossain Ahmed issued his bail order on January 7.

Lawyers sought release of Mro on humanitarian grounds and for emergency medical treatment. They also argued that Mro had been falsely implicated in the case.