The present government of Bangladesh, likewise the preceding authoritarian rulers, has escalated military measures as the way of solution to the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) crisis, even in the year 2022, instead of political and peaceful means through implementation of the CHT Accord of 1997. Despite being in the power for the last 14 years at a stretch, the present government that constitutes one of the signees of the Accord, in contrary, has been stepping up one after another measures that stand counter to the Accord and interest of the Jumma people. Due to non-implementation of the Accord, the human rights situation along with the national existence of the Jumma people has taken an alarming shape. Consequently, this year of 2022, the human rights violation indicator of CHT reads: 235 incidents of human rights violation perpetrated by the state and non-state actors including security and the law & order forces, the army-backed armed terrorist groups, communal and fundamentalist quarters, Muslim Bengali settlers, land grabbers, etc. and in these incidents, 1,935 people were victims of human rights violations.
Out of 235 incidents of human rights violations, 779 people in 110 incidents were victims of human rights violations by security forces and law enforcement agencies, 708 people in 85 incidents by army-backed armed terrorist groups, 448 people in 40 criminal incidents by communal and fundamentalist groups, Muslim Bengali settlers and land grabbers. At least 294 people of the Bawm community from Ruma upazila were forced to seek refuge in Mizoram as a result of threats and harassment by the KNF known as the Bawm Party and the army. At present they are forced to live a dehumanized life on the Mizoram border. Moreover, armed terrorists of KNF have been imparting military training to Jamatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya militants at a KNF camp called Kuki-Chin Training Center (KTC) in the remote hilly area of Ruma, which is not only dangerous for the existence national entity and homeland of the Jumma people of CHT, but also more threatening for the national security of Bangladesh.
On the other end, the development engineering has claimed destruction of houses, homesteads and grove lands belonging to 500 Jumma families of three hill districts including 188 families in Baghaichari and thereby who have been landed in the face of eviction from their ancestral lands while leaving the biodiversity and environment of the localities in grave danger. The picture of tantalizing human rights situation of CHT has vividly appeared in the statement contributed by Francisco Cali Tzay, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, on the occasion of 25th Anniversary of CHT Accord on 2 December 2022.
During the visit of Rangamati and Khagrachari on 12-17 November 2022, the meeting of the diplomatic delegation with the Chairman of the CHT Regional Council was not held as a result of the racist and controversial 10 instructions given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the 11-member diplomatic delegation led by the United Nations Resident Coordinator. One of the 10 conditions is the directive to have the MP of the ruling party of Rangamati constituency and Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Rangamati district present in the meeting of the diplomatic delegation with the Chairman of the Regional Council in Rangamati and the DC of Rangamati district in the meeting with the Chakma Circle Chief for surveillance of the meeting.
Activities counter-productive to CHT Accord and interest of the Jumma people
The historic CHT Accord has passed 25 years of its coming into existence. As though, the Silver Jubilee of the Accord is over, the desired political and peaceful solution to the CHT crisis has not yet been achieved. It is to be noted that within 25 years of signing of the Accord, Awami League-led government, the signatory party of the Accord, has remained in the power for 18 years. Despite being so, the government did not take any initiative directing to implementation of the unimplemented core issues of the Accord. It can be said for a certain that the government did not undertake any initiative for implementation of the Accord, as also in 2022. Rather, instead of ensuring political and peaceful solution, the government has geared up its suppressive policy to abolish the national existence of Jumma people with undemocratic, violent and colonial manner in 2022. Consequently, the situation in CHT has become more conflicting and violent.
In line with the Accord, as though the CHT Accord Implementation and Monitoring Committee, CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission and the Task Force on Rehabilitation of India-returnee refugees and internally displaced Persons have been re-organized, but no effective measures have been taken to implement the decisions adopted by these committees. The 6th meeting of CHT Accord Implementation and Monitoring Committee was held on 3 December 2022, one year after its 5th meeting. But it has been seen that none of the decisions of the 5th meeting including the decisions of the previous meetings have been implemented in the last one year.
On the contrary, the government continues to step up and execute the programs designed to anti-Accord and counter-productive to interest of the Jumma people. One of the examples of which is that in the 5th meeting of the Accord Implementation and Monitoring Committee, it was decided to hand over the subjects of the law and order and police to the Hill District Councils through executive order and to form district police force according to the law of the Council, but instead of implementing them, the government has decided to set up an APBN camp in the site of the withdrawn army camp in April 2022, which was a direct breach of the Accord.
In August 2022, during her visit to Bangladesh in response to the continued allegations of human rights violations, linked with land disputes and the need for demilitarization, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for full implementation of the CHT Accord and unrestricted access for independent actors to visit the area. But no sign of pacing forward in implementing the Accord is being noticed in response to the call.
Harassment and Atrocities of Administration and Security Forces
Likewise, the earlier military and dictatorial rulers, as a part of military means to solve the CHT crisis, the present government is continuing to establish camps one after another while engaging the army in conducting operations upon the Jumma people in nook and corner of CHT region. Along with, the government is spreading wide-scale ill-propagation and carrying out conspiring activities to criminalize the individuals and organizations including the PCJSS activists and supporters engaged in the movement demanding for implementation of the Accord, as ‘terrorists,’ ‘extortionists’ and ‘armed miscreants.’ At present, the government has paced its best foot forward to destroy PCJSS, the counter part of signing the Accord. Escalation of atrocities include: searching of Jumma houses, taking arrest, extra-judicial killing in the name of cross-fire, filing up conspiring cases, violence against women, infiltration, illegal land occupation, ant-Accord propagation, etc.
Alone in 2022, 110 incidents of human rights violations and anti-Accord misdeeds have been perpetrated by the security forces and law & order personnel. At least 433 persons have fallen prey to the 110 incidents of human rights violations. Of them, 58 persons taken arrested, 28 persons detained, 5 persons killed, 54 persons beaten up, 21 persons undergone threat and harassment, 45 houses searched, projected cases filed against 22, initiative to establish 6 camps, more than 500 families damaged in construction of border roads, physical and sexual assault upon 2 women, among others.
The initiative of establishing fresh camps in the already withdrawn sites of the temporary camps while violating the terms of the Accord has been as usual also in 2022. Initiative has been undertaken to re-build 6 such camps in last June to September 2022. Through a circulation dated 13 April 2022, served from the headquarters of Armed Police Battalion (APBN), initiative has been taken to build new APBN camps in the already withdrawn sites of the temporary camps. On 26 May 2022, during inauguration of APBN Regional Office in Rangamati, while bringing fictitious allegation of extortion and armed activities, the GOC of 24 Infantry Division Major General Saiful Abedin called upon the Jumma people already engaged in the movement of Accord implementation for a front-to-front war and threatened with defeating them within 30 minutes.
One of the brazen interfering illustrations set forth by the army is: at the eve of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, a directive from Directorate of Defense Intelligence was issued on 4 July 2022 imposing restriction on usage of the term ‘Adivasi’ or ‘indigenous people’ on the plea of being constitutional obligation, which landed in a vehement protest for being against the basic right and right to speech conferred by the constitution and sounds to be racist and conspiring.
Towards the end of August 2022, the army were out in the Jurachhari Upazila under Rangamati Hill District and kept on collecting personal information from the Jumma villagers visiting house to house. This gave rise to extreme concern among the people and such act was questioned as to whether collection of personal information fell under army jurisdiction or what could have the purpose been behind.
One of the illustrations that reveals religious desecration and obstruction offered by the army is: in October 2022, during the occasion of ‘Kathina Cibara Dana’ (Offering of robes) at Gyanodoy Buddhist Temple in Baghachhola of Subalong Union under Barkal Upazila, a 120-member army contingent commanded by Lt. Col. Atikur Rahman of Rangamati Army Zone and Captain Awal of Subalong Sub-Zone Commander encircled the temple with devotees and conducted a search inside and outside the temple. The devotees engaged in their offering became panic-stricken at the outrageous manner of the army.
The state forces, administration and local leadership of ruling Awami League in association with some of the opportunists and power-hungers from among the Jumma people have been giving birth and supporting to one after another pro-army armed terrorist groups and having them deployed at various strategic locations, have been being incited against the PCJSS, as to thwart the Accord Implementation Process and to null the movement led by PCJSS, the movement of Jumma people for their right to self-determination. As a part of the mechanism, which began with creation of Prosit-led UPDF, and followed by JSS Reformist Group, UPDF (Democratic), MNP known as Mog Party, etc. after which for the last, there has been created the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF), known as Bawm Party.
From among these terrorist groups, the Reformist JSS and UPDF (Democratic) armed terrorists have been deployed in Mahalchari, Panchari and Dighinala under Khagrachari district, Subalong of Barkal, Jibtoli of Rangamati Sadar and Nanyachar under Rangamati district and in Balahata and municipality area of Bandarban; the Mog Party terrorists at Powaitu Para of Rajasthali while the Bawm Party terrorists at Sippi Hill of Rowangchhari and at Remakri Prancha of Ruma where they stay with arms and carrying out free-hand terrorist activities with the support of the army in broad day light.
The year 2022 has witnessed misdeeds of 85 incidents of human rights violations perpetrated by terrorist groups in CHT, such as, MNP known as Mog Party, KNF known as Bawm Party, UPDF (Democratic), Reformist JSS and Prosit-led UPDF, etc. In these 85 incidents, at least 708 people were victims of human rights violations. From among the victims, 24 persons killed, 47 persons kidnapped, 15 persons threatened and beaten up, 2 persons from among the kidnapped were handed over to the police allegedly entangling in the false case, around 300 people of 100 families evicted from their villages and 295 people compelled to take shelter in Mizoram as refugees.
The most inhuman and heinous of these crimes were: spraying fire elsewhere and killing of 3 villagers and injuring 2 children by Bawm-Party-known KNF terrorists in a Tripura village at Bortholi under Bilaichari and later on, forcible eviction of around 300 people of 100 Jum cultivating families of Tanchangya and Tripura communities from remote area of Bortholi of Bilaichari and Alekhyong Union under Rowangchari. About both the barbaric incidents were though brought to the knowledge of the administration and sought help, no effective measures were undertaken on part pf the administration. Even more, the security forces strived to slip the incidents under the carpet. After reporting the incidents in details by the victim villagers to the Ruma Army Zone, the army authority set aside the matter terming it to be ‘unbelievable.’ On the other hand, 295 innocent people mainly children and women of Bawm community from the remote village of Ruma have been forced to take shelter in Indian state of Mizoram as refugees due to threats and harassment by KNF and army.
The army, extended not only support and sponsorship to the Bawm-Party-known KNF but also pretended to have been innocence of sheltering ‘Jamatul Ansar Fil Hundal Sharqiya’, the internationally known Islamic militant group, by KNF and was covertly and tactfully extending help to them. So much so, in October 2022, even the army tactfully managed an opening to let the KNF and Islamic militants escape out from the encirclement operation conducted in Sippi Hill against the Islamic militant group and KNF, the shelter provider of the militants. Armed terrorists of KNF have been imparting military training to Jamatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya militants at a KNF camp called Kuki-Chin Training Center (KTC) in the remote hilly area of Ruma. On 28 December 2022, in a press conference, the representatives of the Mro, Lusai, Khumi, Khiyang and Pangkho communities clearly said that terrorist activities of the KNF and harboring international Islamic terrorist groups have not been supported by the people of 5 communities, out of 6 ethnic groups of which the KNF is made up, that Bawm Party leaders have been claiming.
One of the events that exposes nakedness of providing support and sheltering the Mog Party by the army is: on 18 September 2022, 3 army intelligence personnel arranged night-stay for a group of 25 number of armed terrorists of Mog Party openly at Ujani Para Primary School building of Bandarban town and the next morning, they escorted the terrorists to Tombru area via Barua Tek.
In fact, in one hand, thus as the vested quarter sitting inside the state machinery has been creating formidable environment by providing support and shelter to the armed terrorist groups while meting out suppressive and oppressive measures upon the Jumma people including the PCJSS and imposing the responsibility for the terrorist activities upon the PCJSS. Not only up to this extend, anti-Accord activities and the programs counter-productive to interest of the Jumma people are being carried out involving the Jumma opportunists and power-hungry individuals who are accommodated in various national political parties including the ruling party Awami League.
Anti-Accord activities, land occupation and violence upon women of settlers
The army and DGFI have been extending patronization and support to the Muslim settlers and fundamentalist quarters against the implementation of the CHT Accord and the movement of right to self-determination of Jumma people with an intention to organize the settlers to carry out illegal land occupation, attack upon the Jumma people and setting their house in fire and organizing them in expanding the settlers’ cluster villages. In 2022, 40 violent incidents have taken place involving illegal occupation of lands, communal and arson attacks, filing of false cases and violence against women by the communal and fundamentalist quarters, Muslim Bengali settlers and land grabbers. In these 40 incidents, at least 448 people were victims of human rights violations. Of them, killed 2 persons, 12 cases of physical and sexual assault against women, 2 separate false cases filed against 25 villagers, arson upon 48 houses of Jumma people, illegal occupation of 350 acres lands of 39 families under 3 villages and injuring of 5 persons and carried out 4 communal attacks in Lama Upazila of Bandarban Hill District.
One of the state-sponsored incidents that occurred on 7 September 2022 – a day-long strike of the Muslim settlers’organization Parbatya Chattagram Nagorik Parishad to resist the meeting of the CHT Land Commission. During the strike, the law & order forces, security forces and intelligence personnel were noticed to have stood by them and providing support and other patronage.
In January-February 2022, two Buddhist monks of CHT fell prey to communal attacks. Of the two, one Bishuddhananda Mahathero (52) was brutally killed at Gugrachari under Khagrachari Sadar Upazila on 30 January 2022. The next day, on 31 January 2022, some miscreants wearing black masks attacked the Jumma Chadigang Buddhist Temple with a motive to kill Gyana Jyoti Bhikkhu. It is estimated that the attack was conducted by the Muslim Bengali settlers and Islamic militants.
In January and February 2022, allegations were received on various harassment and torture meted out to the Jumma inhabitants by the Rohingya Muslim militants namely, ARSA, RSO and Alikan active in Gundhum Union along Myanmar-Bangladesh border of Naikhyongchari Upazila of Bandarban hill district. Consequently, it has given rise to extreme panic and concern among the Jumma inhabitants living along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border lines.
Of the incidents designed to illegal land occupation and eviction of the Jumma people, the communal attack by a group of 200 settlers upon the Jumma people living in Maischari of Mahalchari under Khagrachari hill district on 5 July 2022 is note-worthy to the most as the attack claimed arson on 37 houses, looting, vandalization and leaving 2 persons wounded. As a result, more than 150 people became homeless. Though the security forces and police were present during the attack, no effective measure was taken against the attackers.
The much-talked-about conflict arising out of giving the traditional Jum-farming lands and Mouza lands in leases to the non-residents took place on 26 April 2022, the incident of setting fire by the Lama Rubber Industries in 350 acres of Jum-farming lands, fruit groves and village forests of the Jumma people living in Soroi Union of Lama Upazila under Bandarban hill district. As a result, 200 villagers of 39 families have landed in severe crisis of livelihood, food and drinking water. Despite country-wide protest, the outsider lease company has been continuing to grab the traditional lands of the Jumma people unabatedly.
Government Development Engineering for ethnic cleansing
Although there are provisions in the CHT Accord and laws eancted as per the Accord that the Hill District Councils shall be competent to prepare, undertake and implement development projects in respect of the matters transferred to it and all development programs at national level shall be implemented through the Hill District Councils, but the development programs of the three Hill District Councils are being implemented as per the decisions from above by the CHT Affairs Ministry, at which the right to decision making role as well as jurisdiction of self-rule of Hill District Councils gets weakened thereby. On the other end, it is due to getting most projects implemented through CHT Development Board at the approval of Ministry of CHT Affairs while by-passing the CHT Regional Council and Hill District Councils, the special governance system of CHT has been getting crippled and that the process is contributing to creation of complexity in the administration and the development as well.
The government has been executing the blue-print of ethnic cleansing of the Jumma people through encirclement maneuver while making use of all possible sectors. As part of the game, by using the development as weapon, the government has been executing its conspiring design to evict the Jumma people from their ancestral lands, break up the economic backbone and the biodiversity and environment of the region. From among such development engineering mechanism, the effective ones that may be mentioned are: declaration of reserved forests, giving the traditional Jum-farming land and Mouza lands in leases to the non-residents, establishment of luxurious tourist centers, construction of border roads and link roads, establishment and expansion of security forces camps, exploration of gas and oil in CHT, etc.
One of such destructive projects is construction of border roads and link roads titled “Border Road (Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban districts) Construction Project.” Under this project, the border road measuring 317 kilometers touching the Myanmar and Indian borders is being constructed by the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridge and Bangladesh Army. As a result of constructing this road connected by link-roads, houses of 500 families of Jumma people including 188 families in Baghaichari, their grove lands, plantation, schools, temple, etc. are being evicted and damaged. But so far, in most cases no compensation has been made to meet the damage.
The 188 families who have suffered damage, have staged rally on 25 September 2022 against the coercive construction of such roads by the 20 Engineering Construction Battalion of the army through destruction of houses, plantations, groves and various establishments of the Jumma people and submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister demanding proper compensation for their damage. Besides, plantations, groves and various establishments of the Jumma people in Panchari and Matiranga upalizas are being destroyed in the name of border road construction. The Bir 32 Regiment of the army posted at Farua union of Bilaichari Upazila prevented the villagers from doing timber and bamboo business and practicing Jum cultivation in the traditional lands.
It is worthy to be mentioned that wherever roads have been constructed, the outsider Bengali Muslims have been infiltrating and settling down there. Consequently, at this, the preservation of tribal-dominated feature as it has been envisaged in the CHT Accord has landed in a threat. In such cases, the Muslim settlers, with the assistance extended by the state force and administration, have evicted the Jumma people by forcible occupation of their lands. Whereas, the provision that ensures return of the dispossessed lands to the Jumma people through Land Commission has been enshrined in the Accord and as per the agreement based on mutual understanding, the Bengali Muslim settlers are to be rehabilitated outside CHT. But instead of execution of these aspects of the Accord, the Muslim settlers are being settled down with mosques and madrasas wherever roads are constructed. Thus, the way how the development engineering mechanism has been being used as a weapon to turn the tribal-dominated CHT region into a Muslim Bengali-dominated paradise.