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Survival International’s statement at the House of Lords seminar on CHT – 04 July 2011

House of Lords seminar’s video  http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=cht+seminar+at+house+of+lords&aq=f)

Militarization and its impact on the Jumma People

Survival International is a worldwide organisation supporting the rights of tribal peoples. We have been campaigning for the rights of the Jumma peoples for 30 years.

The military conflict in the Chittagong Hill Tracts began in the late 1970s with the formation of the Shanti Bahini, the armed wing of the Jumma’s political party waged a low –level guerilla war against the government of Bangladesh. The military response to this low intensity war and the subsequent militarization of the region, has been beyond all sense of proportion and continues to this day. As Chris Lars- Baer pointed out in his report for the UN permanent  forum this year – the military response in the CHT is a counter insurgency to an insurgency which ended in the 1990s.

Part of the government’s counter-insurgency measure was the bringing in of Bengali Settlers to the Hill Tracts; this has had a devastating impact on the lives of the Jumma peoples. Between 1979 and 1984 400,000 settlers were moved into the CHT, to an area where people were already suffering a scarcity of land after the construction of the Kaptai dam had flooded 40% of the arable land in the CHT and more than 50,000 Jummas lost their homes. Land disputes remain a major source of conflict and violence today.

The Transmigration programme that brought so many settlers into the Hill Tracts also increased the need for soldiers to ‘protect’ the new comers. In 1980 an estimated 30,000 regular and paramilitary troops were stations in the region – at its height it was estimated that there was one soldier for every 6 Jummas. During this period of insurgency an estimated 70,000 Jummas fled to India and another 100,000 people became internally displaced.

Officially the conflict came to an end in 1997 with the signing of the Peace accord, however in practice the conflict continues. This is largely due to the government’s failure to implement many of the fundamental points of the accord, such as the dismantling of the 500 temporary military camps and the settlement of land disputes.

The combination of land scarcity, the huge numbers of settlers, and a heavy military presence is incendiary.

The Bangladesh government claims that 200 of the 500 temporary military camps have so far been withdrawn, but the JSS and others dispute this figure putting it at 75, leaving 425 temporary military camps still in place 14 years on. The government has failed to provide a list of the dismantled camps, despite several requests. When the government removed 35 camps in 2009 they did so with much fanfare press attention however Jummas have told us that many of these camps have been re-established or simply replaced by other armed forces. There is still no time limit for the withdrawal of the remaining camps.

Although it is difficult to verify the exact number of troops currently deployed in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, military officials have confirmed that one third of the army is deployed in the region, an area which accounts for one tenth of the total territory of the country. This is an excessive amount, by any standard, especially in an area where there is no longer any insurgency.

Clearly the fighting between Jumma factions does not help the levels of tension and violence in the CHT, but it does not justify the large numbers of soldiers in the region, nor the ongoing military support of the settler community.

There have been continued and consistent allegations that the army is interfereing in civilian affairs in the region. ‘Operation Uttoran’, meaning ‘Operation Upliftment’, allegedly a counter-insurgency programme, gives powers to military officials to interfere in civilian affairs.

Also, adding to the concern over the excessive militarization of the region, there is the continued role of the military in development activities such as road-building and the distribution of food rations.

Gross human rights violations, committed mostly against the indigenous Jummas, continue and show a consistent pattern. These violations include arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial killings, harassment of rights activists and sexual harassment of Jumma women and girls. In most cases such violations are carried out with impunity.

Escalating communal tensions and incidents of violence between the indigenous peoples and settler community are a major cause for concern. In February 2010 in the Sajek region a conflict erupted after settlers grabbed Jumma land and resulted in the burning down of nearly 500 Jumma homesteads and the killing of at least three individuals. Local sources told us that soldiers fired indiscriminately at Jumma villagers after a soldier was injured during the clashes.

A similar incident happened again this April in Ramgarh – resulting in the burning of six Jumma villages. Following the incident the army and police refused to allow a relief team, carrying supplies for the Jummas to enter the area.  Some soldiers are said to have been directly involved in the attacks on Jumma people and their homes but the most common complaint made by Jummas is that instead of protecting them and their homes the soldiers stand by and do nothing whilst the attacks occur.

During the unrest in Ramgarh, settlers with knives dragged a Chakma woman off a bus and threatened to kill her. She also believed they were planning to rape her. She could see soldiers and police officers who came over when they heard her scream – she called them ‘sir’ and ‘brother’ and pleaded with them to save her, – they did nothing to help her, they just came over to see what the screaming was, and having seen what was happening they simply walked away.

Members of the security forces must be held accountable for the allegations of negligence of duty and complicity against them. Despite national and international pressure on the Government of Bangladesh to fully investigate these attacks, and the role of the military in them, so far there has been no such investigation.

Jummas from the Mro tribe are to displaced to make way for the expansion of an army cantonment in Ruma, without consultation with the local people or the Hill District Council. Mro, who have protested this move, have been harassed and tortured by the military. In 2007 Mro leader, Ranglai Mro was arrested on what are widely believed to be false charges in retaliation for his opposition to the eviction of his people from their land. Army officers tortured Ranglai while he was in custody causing life threatening health problems.

In the violent atmosphere that exists in the CHT, communal tensions between the Jummas and the Bengali settlers are never far from the surface. The smallest dispute can trigger violence between the two communities; even a car accident can generate a violent battle. The settlers are able to act with impunity, knowing that the soldiers will stand back and allow attacks on the Jummas to continue.

A Chakma man from Khagrachari, who asked not to be named, described his life to me, ‘Here they are trampling us under their feet – everywhere tribal villages are encircled by army and police camps. West of this village is an army camp on the hilltop – why? Just behind us is an army camp – why? We are encircled. We are completely living at their mercy here. Please let the people know we are drowning. We are a drowning people….’

Survival remains extremely concerned about the level of violence and militarization in the CHT. Human rights violations against the Jummas, at the hands of soldiers and settlers, supported by the army, must be stopped. Those responsible for the killings, rape, arrests, torture and intimidation of innocent Jummas must be brought to justice. The rights of the Jumma peoples to the ownership of their land must be recognised and the government should implement the peace accord fully with the removal of temporary military camps and the resolution of land conflicts as an urgent priority.

Sophie Grig
Senior Campaigner
Survival International
6 Charterhouse Buildings
London EC1M 7ET

Tel: (+44) (0)20 7687 8700
Fax: (+44) (0)20 7687 8701

Please find Global Human Rights Defence’s statement at the House of Lords: http://www.jpnuk.org.uk/human-rights-issues-in-the-cht/ghrd-statement-at-the-house-of-lords-conference-on-implementation-of-the-chittagong-hill-tracts-peace-accord-4-july-2011/

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