Due to non-implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord properly and fully, the human rights situation in the CHT had reached a critical stage in 2020. Eminent citizens of the country said at various events marking the 23rd anniversary of the CHT Accord in 2020 that the expectations created in 1997 through the signing of the CHT Accord have turned into frustration and anger as the Accord has not been implemented even in 23 years and the Jumma people are being ruled, exploited, deprived and oppressed.
In 2020, there were 139 human rights violations by the army, BGB and police. In these incidents, 3 people were extrajudicially killed, 50 were arrested illegally and 49 were detained for time being, 54 were beaten and harassed and 6 of them were seriously injured, 104 houses were searched and 25 houses including 20 temporary shops were vandalized, three times of blank shots had been fired in different areas to create panic. Despite the extreme calamity and crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, the repression and military operations of the army, BGB and law enforcement forces in the CHT did not stop and the land grabbing and eviction of Jumma people by the state and non-state parties continued. Communal tensions had been spread by the Muslim settlers led by the ultra-communal and ultra-nationalist organisation named Parbatya Chattagram Nagorik Parishad (CHT Citizens’ Council) with the help of the army, the administration and the ruling class. The conversion of Jumma people to Islam had been intensified by some radical and anti-Jumma Islamist groups.
16 Jumma women and children were subjected to violence by Bengali settlers including a member of army and there had been 47 incidents committed by the Bengali settlers, land grabbers, Rohingyas and security forces over the forcible occupation of land belonging to the Jumma people and land disputes. In these incidents, 17 Jumma villagers were injured, 3 communal attacks took place, 839 families were affected due to land grabbing, 3,036 acres of lands were invaded.
Terrorist activities were carried out by the Reformist and UPDF (Democratic) armed terrorist groups who were deployed by the army in various places of three hill districts. There had been 100 human rights violations by these army-backed terrorist groups in 2020. In these incidents, 21 people had been killed, 50 had been abducted, 17 had been beaten and harassed, 8 had been threatened with death, and cases had been filed against 82 members and supporters of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS). Besides, 12 houses had been set on fire by the Mog Party.
Implementation of CHT Accord and anti-Accord activities of the Government:
In 2020, the government of Bangladesh had not taken any initiative to implement the CHT Accord. Even no meeting of the CHT Accord Implementation Committee, CHT Land Commission and Task Force etc. formed under the CHT Accord had been convened in order to implement the Accord. Although a formal meeting of the CHT Land Commission was to be held in Bandarban on 3 February 2020, but because of quorum crisis, it did not take place. However, a new office of the Land Commission was inaugurated at the office of the Bandarban Hill District Council. At that time, the Bengali Muslim settlers supported by the administration and the army surrounded the chairman-members of the Land Commission to disturb the meeting. In fact, it goes without saying that the government had no initiative to implement the unrealized issues of the CHT Accord in 2020.
Partly, it is also true that as a result of the general holidays and lockdowns across the country due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the implementation process of the CHT Accord had been completely overshadowed in the activities of the government in 2020. Though, some clauses and sub-clauses of the Accord have been implemented in the last 23 years after the signing of the historic CHT agreement between the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and the PCJSS on 2 December 1997, two-thirds of the clauses are still unrealized. In particular, the fundamental provisions of the Accord are either completely unrealized or have been partially implemented.
Instead of a political and peaceful solution to the CHT crisis through the implementation of the CHT Accord, the government has taken the initiative to solve the problem through repression like the previous rulers. As a result, even in the last 23 years, the desired solution to the CHT problem is far from being achieved, rather the problem has become more and more complicated. At present, the overall situation in the CHT has reached a pre-agreement stage. Like the previous governments, the present government has been implementing the policy of Islamization and in addition to it, it has intensified the militarization in the CHT to completely eradicate the national identity of the Jumma people. All matters including general administration, law and order, development in the CHT had been handed over to the army and intelligence deployed in the region. The army had taken massive initiatives in 2020 to reinstate the camps that were withdrawn immediately after the CHT Accord. Many camps had been reconstructed in the same place in the last few years, including 7 new camps in 2020.
Instead of implementing the CHT Agreement, the government has intensified its anti-agreement and anti-Jumma interest activities. Instead of preserving the features of the Jumma inhabited area of the CHT, the blueprint to turn the CHT into a Muslim inhabited area has been intensified. Instead of forming full-fledged Hill District Councils with the elected persons through direct popular voting, the interim Hill District Councils were formed with the unelected ruling party members in December. Through this step, the trend of undemocratic and partisanship have been further strengthened. Even in 2020, the government had shown purposeful and shameless indifference in dealing with the ongoing cases in the Appellate Division against the High Court verdict of two separate cases filed by Badiuzzaman in 2000 and Advocate Tajul Islam in 2008 against the CHT Accord with the aim to foil the process of implementation of the Agreement.
In March, the Home Minister inspected the construction of border roads and land ports in the Rangamati hill district, bypassing the CHT Regional Council and Hill District Councils, which was a direct violation of the Accord. Instead of withdrawing the remaining 400 temporary camps as per the Agreement, during his visit to Khagrachari in December, the Home Minister announced the re-establishment of the camps that were withdrawn after the Accord undermining the CHT Accord.
Human rights abuses by the military continued in 2020 as all temporary camps including de facto military rule ‘Operation Uttaran’ have not been withdrawn yet. Jumma villagers under the jurisdiction of Bagalek Camp, Chungchampara Camp, Pukurpara Camp, Baklai Camp, Munnoam Camp and Roninpara Camp under Ruma Zone are being forced to work in the camp twice a year without pay. Besides, ten free bamboos from each family have to be given to the camp without price. In a temporary camp set up in Ruma, three Jumma villagers have to fetch water from the hill streams below 1,500 feet a day for the army without pay. During the transport of forest resources, in 2020, information was received about massive extortion by the army and BGB from timber-laden vehicles in various camps in the three hill districts, including Chota Harina and Barkal BGB zones and Subalong army camp.
Criminalization of Jumma rights activists:
The Awami League-led present grand alliance government has not only stopped the process of implementation of the CHT Agreement, but it has also continued to implement anti-Accord and anti-Jumma interest programs and intensified the criminalization of individuals and organizations that demand implementation of the CHT Accord labelling them as ‘terrorists’, ‘extortionists’, ‘armed miscreants.’ As a result, one after another case has been filed against rights activists engaged in the movement for self-determination. Arbitrary arrests, re-arrest from jail gates in another case while getting release on bail, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings in the name of so-called ‘crossfire’, inhumane torture, house searches in the name of finding terrorists have become a daily occurrence in the CHT region.
As stated before that there were 139 human rights violations committed by the army, BGB and police in 2020, the army extrajudicially killed 3 people. The three were unarmed and innocent people namely Arpan Chakma (31) of Bandukbhanga union in Rangamati Sadar upazila in February, and Nayan Chakma (48) of Sabekshang union in Nanyachar and Ujjal Chakma (48) of Mogban union in December. After the army made unwarranted arrests, many innocent people were detained in the camps for 6/7 days without trial and were brutally beaten in the army custody. For example, in May, Suichaprue Marma was taken to the Kaptai army zone and illegally detained for 7 days and beaten inhumanely. In August, an innocent Jumma carpenter named Birojit Chakma (26) was detained in Jibtali Union of Rangamati Sadar Upazila and tortured by keeping him at Gobaghona camp for 8 days.
After the arrests, the army and police sent many innocent people to jail labelling them as terrorists by putting arms with them purposely. In order to get promotion and to confuse the public opinion by showing the presence of armed terrorists in the CHT, the army and BGB themselves keep their weapons at certain places and pretend to rescue them. For example, in September, the BGB staged a huge arm rescue drama in Naikhyongchari upazila. Similarly, in November, the army and the BGB staged a drama to recover weapons in Sajek of Baghaichari upazila and Ruma upazila respectively. Members of the security forces have also been interfering in religious freedom in various places. For example, in May, BGB members of
Ramgarh Lacharipara BGB camp in Ramgarh upazila obstructed the construction of a Buddhist monastery by local Jumma villagers in Matiranga upazila. As a result of the so-called development activities of the army, 172 families had been affected.
Propaganda and restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly:
In 2020, the trend of suppressing civic rights had intensified across the country. Especially in the wake of the Corona pandemic, the government has been continuing this unprecedented repression. Arrests are being made illegally if any government activity is questioned during the corona crisis. Thus, freedom of expression in Bangladesh has been greatly curtailed. Opposition views are being fatally suppressed.
On the one hand, propaganda is being spread by the government and its agencies against PCJSS as well as Jumma people and about the CHT through hired yellow journalists that the military forces have been doing commendable job in the CHT and the CHT Accord has almost been implemented, but on the other hand, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, restrictions on publishing news on human rights violations have been strictly controlled due to which the region has turned into choked areas. For example, in April, an online news portal named Hill Voice on the CHT, indigenous peoples and minority affairs was blocked in Bangladesh. Many such news portals had been blocked in the country in 2020. As a result, in 2020, the news of oppression and torture committed by the military and paramilitary forces in the CHT remained completely unknown to the mass-media and the people of the country.
The army collected family information of Jumma villagers in many villages in three hill districts for the purpose of harassment. For example, in the midst of misery and stagnation in public life due to the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the army harassed the Jumma people and collected unreasonable information from them in the villages of Rowangchari in May. From November till today, the army has been conducting harassment operations in villages in Farua Union area of Bilaichari upazila to collect harassing information from Jumma families.
Land grabbing and eviction from land:
Earlier it is stated that there had been 47 incidents of Bengali settlers, land grabbers, Rohingyas and security forces in 2020 centering occupation of lands belonging to Jumma people and land disputes. In these incidents, 17 Jumma people were injured, 3 communal attacks took place, 839 families were affected due to land grabbing, 3,036 acres of lands were occupied. For example, in February, 60-70 Bengali settlers in Bagachari 17 Mile area of Nanyachar upazila tried to build houses on the land of Indigenous Jumma people for occupation of land, but when the Jumma villagers obstructed them, the Bengali settlers started attacking them. In March, Bengali settlers in the Jalliapara area of Guimara upazila carried out a communal attack on the Indigenous Jumma people, accusing them of murder after abducting a Bengali motorcycle driver. In April, six Jumma people were injured in a communal attack by the Bengali settlers in Longadu upazila. In March, a group of settlers from a nearby village set fire on a Buddhist temple near Aungya Para in Tintahuri union of Manikchari upazila.
The process of eviction of Jumma people in the name of development had increased tremendously in 2020. In July, the BGB seized at least 33 acres of land that belonged to 23 Jumma villagers and the army seized grave land that too belonged to 10 Jumma villagers including a fishery pond. In September, construction of a luxury tourist complex with a five-star hotel had been planned by the army on the land at the Nilgiri of Chimbuk Hills of Bandarban. The construction of this hotel and amusement park will damage four villages of Mro people directly and 70-116 villages indirectly, putting about 10,000 Jum farmers at risk of becoming displaced persons. The government has been playing a passive role in this regard, despite widespread demands at home and abroad including local Mro people, to scrap the plan. On the other hand, despite strong public opposition, the armies have been continuing to build the hotel and the park.
In Bandarban district, there had been incidents of burning 5,000 trees of rubber plantation that belonged to Jumma villagers who were threatened to leave the village by leaders of ruling Awami League and land grabbers from outside. Even during the Corona crisis, the already started illegal activities of systematic occupation of around 5,000 acres of socially-owned Jum land by the Jummas was intensified. Besides, the president of Naikhyongchari Upazila Awami League and Upazila Chairman Md. Shafiullah had already illegally occupied around 1,000 acres of land in the name of tourism.
Meridian Company had illegally occupied 3,000 acres of land in Lama upazila. In April, police arrested two Mro villagers namely Langkum Mro (48), a Karbari (village head) and Ring Rong Mro (50) from Dhenkichara Noapara in Sorai union of the upazila, in connection with a fabricated case filed by Meridian Company in Lama upazila so that the company could grab the land easily.
The villagers of Saingya Marma Para of Bandarban Sadar Upazila were already evicted due to the violence carried out against them by Sylvan Wye Resort and Spa Limited which took the advantage of the ruling party’s power of GK Shamim. The company had occupied at least 250 acres of lands of Jumma villages. Around 170 families of indigenous Jumma community are under threat of eviction in Saingya Tripura Para, Laimi Para and Hatibhanga Para.
After a meeting at the office of Khagrachari Deputy Commission in May, the army had intensified work to build a dam at Sijokchara of Sajek in the interest of their tourism business. Like the forcible occupation of thousands of acres of lands of Jumma people by the army in Bandarban had evicted and affected the livelihood of the Jumma people, the construction of the Dam at Sajek will also damage 500 acres of land of around 250 Jumma families, the forests and biodiversity of the area.
As a result of setting up at least 60 brickfields in Lama, Alikadam, Thanchi, Naikkhyongchari and Sadar upazilas of Bandarban district in violation of environmental laws, the natural environment of the area is being severely polluted and the fertility of the land around the brickfields is declining. The villagers are in dire water crisis as the brick kilns have destroyed the water sources of all the adjacent villages.
Continuous extraction and smuggling of stones and sand in different upazilas of Bandarban district by a vested interest group under the shelter of the administration and the ruling party, the streams, springs and natural reservoirs of the area are drying up. This has caused a crisis of drinking and usable water for the people of the area, as well as is causing massive damage to biodiversity and the environment.
Similarly, the Sajek-Kamalak link road and the Rajasthali-Thega (Barkal) link road under construction at the initiative of the army will also evict and damage hundreds of Jumma families, destroy forests and biodiversity, and accelerate the influx of Muslims from other districts. Thus, through development engineering, the army has been implementing a blueprint for the ethnic cleansing of the Jumma people.
Violence against women:
In 2020, 16 Jumma women and children were subjected to violence by Bengali settlers including an army member. Among them, the incidents of the gang-gape of a Tripura widow (25) by 6 outsider Bengali settlers in Lama in August and another gang-rape of a mentally challenge Chakma woman and looting of her house by 9 Bengali settlers in the Khagrachhari Sadar area in September were the most tragic and brutal incidents.
A pregnant Jumma woman named Ronika Chakma (22) died tragically before reaching the hospital while taking her to Rangamati District Hospital from Jurachari Upazila in April, as a result of being detained for about an hour without any reason by the army at Subalong camp in the name of search. A Jumma woman named Shantilata Tanchangya (30) was killed and her 5-year-old son Arjun Tanchangya Suken was injured in the indiscriminate firing by the army in the name of drive against the terrorists in Aungyapara village of Rowangchari upazila Sadar in July.
Intensifying the suppression in the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic:
In 2020, like other regions of the country, the deadly COVID-19 pandemic also hit the CHT. The lockdown to prevent coronavirus infection had led to food shortages in the CHT, as in other parts of the country. At the risk of their lives, the Jumma youths returned to their homes in Khagrachari, Rangamati and Bandarban districts from mid-April onwards. In the midst of such catastrophes and crises, the operations of the army, BGB and law enforcement agencies in the CHT did not stop, land grabbing and eviction of the Jumma villagers by the state and non-state actors also did not stop.
In August, Baghaihat army zone of 12 Bir Bengal, Baghaihat BGB zone of 54 battalion and Marishya BGB zone of 27 battalion in Baghaichari stopped the rice distribution program of UNDP allotted for the Corona pandemic. In August, a member of the Panchhari BGB zone in Panchhari upazila raided a temporary market in the Taraban Church area of Chengi Union and destroyed 15-20 shops belonging to Jumma vegetable sellers.
Conversions to Islam and communal activities by the fanatic groups:
At the end of 2019, a single organization called ‘Parbatya Chattagram Nagorik Parishad’ (CHT Citizen’s Council) was formed by dissolving all the organizations of Muslim settlers, extreme nationalists and ultra-communal groups at the initiative of the army and intelligence forces. Under the leadership of this organization, the Muslim settlers are being incited to engage in anti-CHT activities, land grabbing, communal attacks, violence against women, infiltration and settlement of outsider Muslims, expansion of cluster villages, etc. Shortly after its formation, the organization blockaded the meeting of the CHT Land Commission in Rangamati in December 2019 and in Bandarban in February 2020.
In 2020, Rohingyas entered Bandarban district freely fleeing from Cox’s Bazar after breaking the lockdown declared to prevent coronavirus infection. They penetrated sometimes through river, sometimes by crossing the hills. For example, in June, many Rohingyas settled in Paingsi Ghona in Bandarban Municipality. In September, Rohingyas were found to have infiltrated into the CHT in large numbers and obtained national identity cards. Evidences are available that some local self-interested quarters cooperated in this process.
In the CHT, a conspiracy is being carried out by some fanatic and anti-Jumma Islamist groups to convert the Indigenous Jumma people to Islam. Especially after the outbreak of COVID-19, there had been reports of such large-scale activities of conversion of Indigenous people in different areas including Alikadam upazila of Bandarban district. It has been acknowledged by the concerned fanatic groups that the Bangladesh army had the consent and cooperation in this activity. Conversion is still going on in Bandarban district especially by showing the temptation of financial facilities, education, healthcare, house construction, cattle and goat rearing, interest free loan etc. In February-March, 27 members of 5 Marma families were converted to Islam in Chailawa Para (Shilbandha Para) of Alekshyong union in Rowangchari upazila.
Even in the year 2020, there had been cases of Indigenous children being taken away from their parents and admitted to madrasas in different parts of the country including Dhaka and Gazipur and converted to Islam without the knowledge of their parents. There had also been many reports of Jumma women being lured into marriage or converted to Islam out of love. The latest victim was a 15-year-old girl of 7th grade from Ukhiya upazila named Lakingme Chakma. The adolescent girl was abducted in January and converted to Islam and married, and then killed in December. No action has been taken so far by the police against the culprits.
It is to be noted that settlements of tribal neo-Muslims have also been set up in Bandarban district under the names of ‘Tribal Muslim Adarsha Sangha’, ‘Tribal Muslim Welfare Organization’ and ‘Tribal Adarsha Sangha Bangladesh’ etc. and through these organizations, work is being carried out to convert Jumma people to Islam. At present, there are 30 families of converted Tripura and Khyang people living in the bus station of Bandarban municipal area, 15 families of neo-Tripura Muslims in Tangki Para, more than 17 families in Lama Linejhiri, 45 families of Tripura Muslim in Goyalmara, 16 families of Tripura Muslim in Alikadam-Thanchi road Kraudong (Dim Pahar) and more 45 families of neo-Muslim living at 11 km area of Alikadam-Thanchi road.
In September, at the initiative of Longadu army zone of Durbedya Ekush (21 Bir), a heinous plan had been taken to rehabilitate at least 500 families of Muslim Bengali settlers at Baghaihat and Charkilo of Marishya in Baghaichari upazila. In the meantime, a list of 200/250 families from different areas including Batyapara, Jharnatila, Headman Tila, Bhaibonchara, Sonai, Hazachara was prepared. Each rehabilitated settler family would be given 3.0 acres of hilly land and Tk. 10,000 in cash. On the other hand, the Bengali settlers are claiming to have around 500 acres of land in their names in the areas from Dakghor Mon (big hill) to Bame Longadu under Longadu upazila with an aim to occupy traditional land of Jumma people forcibly.
Military support and indulgence to armed terrorist groups:
To thwart the movement for the implementation of the CHT Accord, to divert the situation in the CHT into other direction, and above all, to realise the ethnic cleansing of the Jumma people, the army and the ruling party have been sheltering the JSS (MN Larma) known as Reformist, the UPDF (Democratic) and the Mog Party, an offshoot id ALP. As stated in the beginning that there had been 100 incidents of human rights violations in 2020 committed by these armed groups and in these incidents, 21 people had been killed, 50 had been abducted, 17 had been beaten and harassed, 6 had been threatened with death, and fabricated cases had been filed against 72 members and supporters of PCJSS. Besides, 12 houses had been set on fire by the Mog Party.
The deployed Reformist and UPDF (Democratic) armed terrorist groups by the army in various places of three hill districts including Subalong Bazar of Barkal, Tintila of Longadu, Babuchara of Dighinala, Kaptai and Rajasthali upazilas had been terrorising the CHT throughout the year. Besides, these terrorist groups had been extorting millions of takas in the nose of the administration and security forces. Even, in September, the Longadu army zone of the 21 Bir (Durbedya Ekush) reportedly provided 25 sets of military uniforms to Reformist armed terrorists. In December, the Reformists undertook initiative to evict 28 families of PCJSS members and supporters from Longadu.
The army was seen conducting joint patrols and searching operations with these armed terrorist groups. For example, since the end of December, the army and the ‘Mog Party’ have been patrolling the villages in Rajasthali. In December, Major Manzur, Commander of the Rajasthali army sub-zone, ordered the Mog Party by saying, “We want dead bodies, show us corpses. We don’t know where you will get the dead bodies from.” Thus, the armies have established a reign of terror in the CHT by providing support and shelter to these armed terrorist groups in carrying out killing, kidnapping and terrorist activities.