Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy of 155 million citizens. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed leads the Awami League (AL) alliance, a 14-party coalition with a large majority of parliamentary seats. International and domestic observers considered the 2008 elections to be free and fair, with isolated irregularities and sporadic violence. There were instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently of civilian control.
Security forces committed extrajudicial killings and were responsible for custodial deaths, torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention. The failure to investigate fully extrajudicial killings by security forces, including several deaths in custody of alleged criminals detained by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), remained a matter of serious concern. Some members of the security forces acted with impunity. Prison conditions at times were life-threatening, lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem, and authorities infringed on citizens' privacy rights. An increasingly politicized judiciary exacerbated problems in an already overwhelmed judicial system and constrained access to justice for members of opposition parties. The government limited freedom of speech and of the press, self-censorship continued, and security forces harassed journalists. The government curbed freedom of assembly, and politically motivated violence remained a problem. Official corruption and related impunity continued. Discrimination against women, and violence against women and children remained serious problems, as did discrimination against persons with disabilities and against persons based on their sexual orientation. Trafficking in persons remained a serious problem. Violence against religious and ethnic minorities still occurred, although many government and civil society leaders stated that these acts often had political or economic motivations and could not be attributed only to religious belief or affiliation. Limits on worker rights and child labor remained problems.
According to the International Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) Web site, armed conflict broke out in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in 1973 as the government opposed the demands of the indigenous Jumma people for greater autonomy. During the conflict throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the government relocated landless Bengalis from the plains, ensuring that the Jumma became a minority in the CHT. During this period, clashes with army-backed settlers displaced tens of thousands of Jumma within the country.
The number of IDPs in the region is disputed. In 2000 a government task force estimated the number to be 500,000 but included nonindigenous persons in its estimate. During the same year, Amnesty International reported that there were approximately 60,000 IDPs, not counting the nonindigenous population. In 2008 the government pledged assistance and reparation to those who lost their land during the conflict and set up a commission and task for rehabilitation of returnee Jumma IDPs and the elimination of military camps. According to IDMC, however, "as of December 2009 there were still approximately 300 military camps in the region, and the work of the land commission and task force was hindered by lack of funding and human resources."
The IDMC also reports that there is "possibly a much larger number of members of religious minorities" across the country who may have been "forcibly displaced" as a result of discriminatory legislation. The Hindu community in particular lost much of its land under the 1974 Vested Property Act, which authorized government confiscation of property from individuals it deemed "enemies of the state." According to IDMC, "almost 750,000 Hindu families were dispossessed of agricultural land." Although the act was appealed in 2001, by year's end, the government had not taken measures to provide restitution or compensation to those disposed of their property. There is no systematic reporting on the treatment of these widely scattered IDPs.
IDPs in the CHT have limited physical security. IDMC reported that "the army still holds authority over the general CHT administration, through an administrative order," and there are many reported cases of IDPs being subjected to arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, torture, rape, killings, and religious persecution. According to IDMC, "several reports indicate that these violations of the rights of indigenous people by settlers, sometimes with the involvement of security forces, have been systematic."
IDPs in the CHT also lack access to courts and legal aid. According to the IDC, "the CHT Commission, composed of experts from inside and outside Bangladesh seeking to promote respect for human rights, democracy, participatory development, and land rights in the Hill Tracts, found that the lack of information and available lawyers to assist the indigenous people additionally hinder their access to justice.
On February 19, Bengali settlers in the Baghaihat area of Sajek Union in Rangamati reportedly carried out arson attacks on more than 200 homes of indigenous IDPs. Several shops, a church, a Buddhist temple and a village center also were burned. At least two indigenous people were killed, allegedly by army personnel, and dozens were injured. On October 5, the CHT Commission issued a press release in which it recommended that the government institute a high level independent inquiry into the arson attacks and killings, amend the 2001 CHT Land Dispute Settlement Commission Act in accordance with the articles of the CHT Accord, and "ensure that all future decisions of the Land Commission are made with the agreement of Pahari leaders who are members of the Commission." The commission also recommended the "phased withdrawal of temporary military camps in the region in accordance with the CHT Accord" and the full implementation of the CHT Accord.
Indigenous populations had marginal ability to influence decisions concerning the use of their lands. There was some progress in the implementation of the 1997 CHT Peace Accord. The government reconstituted the CHT Land Commission, which announced its decision to conduct a land survey beginning in October 2009; however, indigenous rights groups have criticized this decision since they believe Bengali settlers will be able to obtain false documents detailing ownership of traditionally indigenous lands. The National Committee for Implementation of the CHT Peace Accord also was reconstituted, with Deputy Leader of Parliament Sajeda Chowdhury as chairman, on December 27, the National Committee for the Implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accords, suspended the activities of the land commission pending further review, the government ceded some key functions, such as primary education, to local authorities, but it did not cede responsibility for other key functions, such as land use and natural resources as the accord specified. Law and order problems and alleged human rights violations continued, as did dissatisfaction with the implementation of the peace accord.
The government allowed some cell phone and Internet coverage to the three Hill Tract districts in 2008. Although the government cited security concerns as the reason for limiting coverage, human rights groups and local officials claimed lack of coverage was also aimed at stunting the development of the region. The land commission dealing with land disputes between ethnically indigenous individuals and Bengali settlers did not function effectively in addressing critical land disputes after the signing of the peace accord. Indigenous leaders remained disappointed with the lack of assistance to those who left the area during the insurgency.
In 2007 the government withdrew 16 temporary camps of security forces in the Rangamati area of the Hill Tracts. Since the signing of the 1997 Peace Agreement, the government had withdrawn 212 camps, leaving approximately 235 camps. During the year indigenous leaders continued to protest the army's presence and called publicly called for its removal.
The conflict continued between the Parbattya Chattagram Jono Sanghati Samity, which signed the 1997 Peace Agreement with the government, and the United Peoples' Democratic Front , which opposed the peace agreement.
On February 19 and 20, according to NGO and press reports, there were a number of skirmishes between Bengali settlers and the indigenous community in Baghaihat in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. During the incidents, parties set fire to several homes and attacked the residents with sticks and firearms, resulting in the deaths of two indigenous persons. A report by the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission alleged that army personnel were present during the attacks but did not attempt to restore peace. The government immediately responded by moving several senior officers from of the area; however, there were no arrests.
Indigenous communities in other areas continued to report loss of land to Bengali Muslims. The government neither cancelled work on national park projects on land traditionally owned by indigenous communities in the Moulvibazar and Modhupur forest areas, nor did it undertake any new activities. In addition indigenous communities, local human rights organizations, and churches in the area continued to claim the government had yet to withdraw thousands of false charges the Forestry Department filed against indigenous residents.