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Jumma Statement on Human Rights in Bangladesh at PFII

Jumma Statement on Human Rights in Bangladesh at PFII

UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
Fourth Session
New York, 16-27 May 2005
Date: 24 May 2005

Statement by Prajnalankar Bhikkhu, representative of the Peace Campaign Group

Thank you, Madam Chairperson, for giving me this opportunity to speak.

Distinguished members of the PFII, government delegates, representatives of UN agencies and indigenous sisters and brothers!

I am speaking on be half of the Peace Campaign Group, an organization of the Jumma indigenous people for policy research and human rights advocacy in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).

Madam Chair,

PF is a learning process. It is mutually enriching. We should integrate the experience we gain from here into our policies and actions for better future of the indigenous peoples and the society as a whole. It is time to speak the truth. It is time to be constructive. And it is time to redress our “past mistakes”. However, Madam Chair, we are profoundly shocked and disappointed by the statement of the distinguished delegation of Bangladesh. The statement does not reflect the reality faced by the indigenous people in the CHT. It is a false statement. So, we disagree with it.

The 23 January 2005 Issue of the New York Times Magazine published an article namely, “The Next Islamist Revolution?” The article deals with the growing religious extremism in Bangladesh and its serious threat to all democratic institutions.

The 2001 general elections in Bangladesh voted a four-party coalition [Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Jamaat-e-Islam, Islami Okyo Jote (United Alliance of Muslims) and Jatiyo Party (M)] to power. It helped religious extremist groups and organizations, like Jagrata Muslim Janata, Harkatul Jihad and Quami Madrasa Musaderin, gain a strong ground in the country. The country with religious extremist policy-makers in power is now on the brink of a “failed state” with strong potential of a “terrorist state”. With 88% Muslims of the 141 million peopled poor Islamic state (in the sense of recognition of Islam as “state religion”: Part I, Article 2 A, Bangladesh Constitution), “Bangladesh is Now New Rest Stop for Fugitives” (Taliban and Al-Qaed remnants), reported the Herald on 23 October 2002. These facts have been well-documented in the Alex Perry’s “Deadly Cargo”, Bertil Lintner’s “BANGLADESH: A Cocoon of Terror” and Eliza Griswold’s “The Next Islamist Revolution”.

The country has already been greatly troubled by serial political killings of opposition leaders; violent attacks on Western interests; control over and suppression of independent media persons, human rights activists, intellectuals and indigenous political leaders; and systematic racial discrimination and ethnic-cleansing against the indigenous peoples and religious minorities (Bengali-speaking Hindus, Buddhists and Christians).

For example,

1. Bomb blasts on the Awami League rally on 21 August 2004 in Dhaka in which former Prime Minister Ms. Sheikh Hasina was narrowly survived and dozen of her party colleagues were killed, bomb blasts killing her think-tank and former Finance Minister Shah S. A. M. S. Kibria along with four other opposition leaders on 27 January 2005 in Dhaka and the Awami League Dhaka Branch League Advisor Khorshed Alam on 17 May 2005;

2. Grenade hurling on the British High Commissioner on 21 May 2004 in Sylhet apparently for UK’s role in the US-led “coalition campaign” in Afghanistan and Iraq;

3. Bomb blasts in Khulna Press Club hurting four journalists on 4 February 2005, threat to the office of the Bengali daily Prothom Alo in Dhaka on 19 August 2004, killing of a Dhaka University Prof. Humayun Azad on 11 August 2004, threat to controversial writer and feminist Taslima Nasreen and writer and minority rights activist Salam Azad which forced them to flee to India for personal security recently, barring the PCJSS (Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti, the only political organization representing the Jumma indigenous people) President and CHT Regional Council Chairman Jyotirindra Bodhipriyo Larma from attending the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues held in May 2004 in New York and blocking the travel document (passport) of Rupayan Dewan, Vice-President and In-charge, External Relations, PCJSS; and

4. Blatant violation of the CHT Accord signed between the PCJSS and the previous Awami League government in 1997, violent communal attack on the 14 indigenous villages on 26 August 2003 in Mahalchari, military crackdown on indigenous political and student activists on 25 May 2004 in Guimara and growing religious intolerance and atrocities against Hindus, Buddhists and Christians in plain districts. No proper investigations into these crimes have been conducted. Rather, the government has been allegedly creating obstacles in the process of investigation. All these lead us to the conclusion that religious extremist policy-makers in power have taken control over the real administration of Bangladesh and now they are engaging religious extremist groups and goons in elimination of all democratic institutions to establish some sort of Islamic rule in line with Eliza’s “Next Islamist Revolution” in the country.

The government has violated all the key promises made in the CHT Accord. The CHT, the traditional homeland of the Jumma indigenous people, has been converted into a virtual cantonment of Bangladesh military surrounded by hundreds of masques, madrasas and Muslim Bengali settlements. The military continue to be the de facto authority in the region despite commitment made in the CHT Accord for their withdrawal. The indigenous people have been hostage to the repressive Bangladeshi military regime codenamed “Operation Uttoran”.

The government has been engaged in doing all suitable for its hidden program of islamization in the CHT. Indigenous political, human rights and student activists, who oppose this program and demand for proper implementation of the CHT Accord in democratic way, are arrested, tortured and sent to jail on false charges of “terror”, “extortion” and so on. They are being so terrorized psychologically that they are even going to lose their morale to democratically protest human rights abuses committed against them. In fact, the indigenous people are living in such a situation where they are not free to exercise their democratic rights and fundamental rights and freedoms. The most threatening thing is state-sponsored crimes — and settlement of Muslim Bengalis in large number in lands traditionally owned by indigenous people under military security-cover — a demographic invasion — a silent genocide — against the indigenous people. Muslim population in the CHT has increased from 2% in 1947 to more than 60% in 2001! It was only last week that the coalition government has decided to settle 60, 000 more new Muslim Bengali settlers in Sajek area in the CHT. The situation in the CHT can alone be compared to that happening in Darfur few months ago. Because of growing religious extremism and serious law and order problems in Bangladesh, donor representatives denied attending Bangladesh Development Forum in Dhaka in April 2005 and SAARC meeting, which was scheduled in April 2005, had to be postponed for indefinite time.

Religious (Islamic) extremism and corruption are the main challenges for development and peace in the CHT. It may be noted that Bangladesh has figured as the “most corrupt country” in the world in the four consecutive years (2001, 02, 03, and 04– Reports, Transparency International, Bangladesh).

The coalition government elected democratically in 2001 has turned out to be a corrupt Islamic autocratic regime before the end of its five-year term! It is a terrible mockery with democracy. Now the coalition appears to have engaged itself in a systematic campaign to eliminate its oppositions and flood the CHT with Muslim Bengali settlers before the next general elections due to be held sometime in 2006. In these circumstances, if the international community does not intervene with Bangladesh now, the indigenous people of the CHT will be forced to choose one of the following options:

a. To leave their homeland permanently

b. To embrace Islam

c. To commit suicide

d. To wage an armed struggle.

Madam Chairperson,

We want a free and multicultural democratic society in Bangladesh. Therefore, we strongly recommend the followings:

1. To declare Bangladesh a “failed state” and immediately send UN peace-keeping force to the CHT for security and protection of the Jumma indigenous people;

2. To impose economic sanction against Bangladesh for not respecting the basic human rights and freedoms of the indigenous peoples and non-compliance with its obligations to the CHT Accord and the Bangladesh Development Forum; and

3. To conduct a detail investigation into the current CHT situation by the UN Special Rapportuer on the Human Rights Situations of Indigenous Peoples.

Thank you, Madam Chairperson, for your kind attention!

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