24 April 2010
9th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
United Nations Headquarters, New York
April 19-30, 2010
Agenda Item: 4 – Human Rights: Implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Statement by Ida Nicolaisen
Co-chair of the international Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission
Thank you Mr. Chair for allowing me this opportunity to address the Permanent Forum.
I would like to start by acknowledging the declared intentions and important steps taken by the current Government in Bangladesh to implement the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997 since it resumed office after the 2008 Parliamentary election. It gave clear assurances to the Human Rights Council in the context of the Universal Periodic Review that it would promote and respect the rights of its indigenous peoples. Although Bangladesh abstained when the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, it is also highly encouraging that the Prime Minister publicly stated the government’s support of the UNDRIP during the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People in 2009.
However, the progress in implementing the CHT Accord is painfully slow and recent arson attacks and killings in Baghaichhari and Khagrachari highlight the fact that the human rights situation facing indigenous peoples in the CHT continues to be deeply distressing. In February this year, more than 400 houses belonging to indigenous peoples were burned down by Bengali settlers and at least two indigenous persons killed. The violence was alleged to have taken place with the army and police as either silent observers or active supporters. No independent investigation of the attacks and killings as well as the role of army and police personnel has to date been initiated by the Government.
This incident is by no means an isolated event and should be seen in light of a broader situation in which indigenous peoples’ rights as enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, have been systematically and blatantly violated for decades.
As representatives of indigenous peoples from the CHT have reported to this Forum in earlier sessions, the dispossession of indigenous peoples’ land, which has continued since the 1970s and 1980s where the Government sponsored transmigration of Bengali peasants from the lowland districts led to massive loss of traditional lands and the displacement of tens of thousands of indigenous peoples, remains one of the biggest impediments to peace in the CHT. Although a Chairman of the Land Commission, the mandate of which is to settle land-related disputes in the CHT, was appointed in 2009, disagreement with indigenous members of the Land Commission over the legal basis of the functioning of the Commission as laid down in the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act 2001 has largely left it non-functioning.
In a similar manner as with the indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands, the gross violations of the fundamental human rights of indigenous peoples in the CHT continue to be a cause of great concern. In clear violation of several articles of the UNDRIP, and of ILO Convention No. 107 as well as other international human rights standards which Bangladesh has ratified, indigenous peoples in the CHT continue to face human rights violations including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, torture, rape, attacks, harassment, religious persecution, political harrassment, and lack of access to socio-economic rights or to freedom of expression including with respect to cultural activities. A vast majority of cases remain without proper investigation, prosecution and punishment. This culture of inaction and impunity pervades the issue of justice in the CHT.
In accordance with the CHT Accord, the Government announced in July 2009 the withdrawal of one brigade of troops consisting of 3 infantry battalions and 35 temporary security camps from the CHT. The withdrawal of army camps is, however, merely redeployment of troops to battalion headquarters and more than 300 camps will remain in the CHT. Furthermore, the heavily criticised executive order “Operation Uttoron” (or Operation Upliftment), which confers on the military rights to intervene in civil matters beyond their proper jurisdiction, has not been revoked, leaving the CHT under de facto military rule, which is in clear violation of Article 30 of the UNDRIP.
The CHT Commission respectfully proposes that in order to help resolve the ongoing human rights violations in the CHT, the Permanent Forum should:
- Carry out a study on the implementation of the CHT Accord 1997.
- Call on the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to reiterate the recommendation to the Government of Bangladesh made by the UN Human Rights Council in connection with the Universal Periodic Review of Bangladesh in February 2009 to fully implement the CHT Accord as a matter of priority and develop a timeframe for its full implementation. The plan for the full implementation of the CHT Accord should be made in consultation with indigenous representatives.
- Recommend the OHCHR to urge the Government of Bangladesh to carry out a prompt, impartial and independent inquiry into the killings and arson attacks in Baghaichhari and Khagrachari, make publicly available the findings of the inquiry and take appropriate action against those found responsible for the killings and attacks.
- Further propose that the OHCHR calls on the Government of Bangladesh to address the issue of impunity for human rights violations in the CHT by holding independent and impartial investigations into such reports, and where sufficient evidence exists, bringing those responsible to trial, and providing reparations to victims as well as enhancing access to justice within the CHT, including the activation of legal aid committees.
- Join us in urging the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people to make an official visit to Bangladesh to assess the situation in the CHT and clarify the concept of indigenous peoples to the Government of Bangladesh.
- Call on the ILO and UNDP to discuss with the Government of Bangladesh to immediately take appropriate actions to solve land related problems of the indigenous peoples of the CHT which requires strengthening of the Land Commission, including by amending the undemocratic and equivocal provisions of the concerned law.
Thank you for your time Mr. Chair.