This demand was raised by the civic rights group organized at a press conference held on 19 June 2013 at Liberation War Museum in Dhaka to express their opinion on recent fact finding mission on eviction of indigenous Chak and Mro community from their ancestral lands by the land grabbers in Naikhyongchari and Lama upazila under Bandarban district.
It is noteworthy that a civic rights team comprising of 14 persons of human rights defenders, indigenous rights activists, media activists and development workers led by eminent human rights defender Pankaj Bahttacharya conducted an on-site inquiry of eviction of indigenous Chak and Mro villagers from their ancestral villages by the land grabbers in Naikhyongchari and Lama upazila under Bandarban district.
Eminent writer and researcher Syed Abul Maksud, eminent human rights defender Pankaj Bahttacharya, President of College-University Teachers' Association Prof. Dr. Noor Mohammad, Information and Publicity Secretary of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) Mr. Mangal Kumar Chakma, Executive Director of IED Mr. Numan Ahmed Khan, Associate Professor of mass communication and journalism department of Jagannath University Mr. Rajib Mir, Deputy Director of Association for Land Reforms and Development (ALRD) Ms. Rowshan Jahan Moni were present at the press conference.
The program was presided over by Pankaj Bahttacharya and conducted by member of Kapaeeng Foundation Mr. Dipayon Khisa. Associate Professor of mass communication and journalism department of Jagannath University Mr. Rajib Mir read out a written statement on behalf of site inquiry team.
Mr. Rajib Mir stated that on 14 June 2013 a civic rights group visited the incident spot in Bandarban to observe and assess the real situation when they came to know about 21 families of indigenous Chak community were evicted by land grabbers from ancestral homes at Chak Para of Naikhangchhari upazila in Bandarban. The following day, on the 15th of June 2013, the team also visited the Baishiri area where victims took shelter in the nearing area and living like refugees in inhuman conditions. During the visit, the team had a detailed discussion with the local leaders, accused group, police, general people at local level. On 16 June, Also the team had appointments about its visit with the Chairman of the Hill District Council, District Commissioner of Bandarban district, Bohmang circle chief and Chakma circle Chief in Bandarban.
Mr. Rajib Mir said that the recent plot to evict 21 families from their ancestral home Badojhiri shows a clear image of land grabbing in public that the land acquisition process is still going on in CHT, which basically started from 1970 by the state, security forces and all major political parties along with private and real estate companies directly or indirectly, openly or silently occupied a vast tract of land owned by the indigenous people. The total 210 Mro families at Lulaing area of Soroi union of Lama are now living under threat of existence while the Chak families from Badoljhiri took shelter under Baishari union and trying to eke out a living as day laborers. Before eviction, most of the evicted indigenous Chak families were Jum cultivators, and looting and robbery was taking place regularly in that area by Bengali settlers to snatch the earnings and benefits of indigenous peoples from market. On 1 March 2013, Bengali settlers have been attacked and looted all valuables from indigenous community houses. Finally they had no choice except leaving their places as the land grabbers kept on pressurizing them either to leave the place or face communal attack.
Some remarkable recommendations were made in the written statement by fact findings team is as follows:
1. Indigenous people have been facing forced evictions regularly in CHT, but the perpetrators’ are protected by local administrations. The protection should ensure to indigenous peoples too to pass their lives in freedom by state laws and regulations. The accused land grabbers should be arrested as soon as possible.
2. Return indigenous peoples land and rehabilitate the displaced families to their own place soon.
3. Leasing to business companies in a democratic state without public concern is an attitude of non-democratic and being the historical dominant political system. So, illegal land leasing should be cancelled.
4. At least five acres lands should be allocated for each evicted family which could be mere handover internally.
5. Provide vocational training to evicted community using their skills and expertise in modern time.
6. Amendment of contradictory provisions of CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act 2001 as per decisions of CHT Accord Implementation Committee and Inter-ministerial meeting held on 30 July 2012 with Law Minister in the chair.
Eminent writer and researcher Syed Abul Maqsud said, government should concentrate to indigenous peoples to ensure their rights. The values and culture of all minorities in Bangladesh should get highest priority. Eviction to indigenous peoples is a human rights violation. Government is responsible for human rights violations. Even if any citizen living conditions in the face of the threat of violence and crime in a state, government is responsible for that.
Human rights defender Pankaj Bahttacharya said, Bangladesh was controlled over by the British rule in British period long time ago. Bangladeshi Government is repeating same violations with indigenous peoples what British people did with Bangladeshi during British rule in Bangladesh. Particularly, the government is applying some laws on CHT ignoring international laws and without having discussion and consultation with the CHT Regional Council. The continuous discrimination and human rights violation, land grabbing and settlers displacement in the CHT in the name of development have proved that government has a secret intention to social assimilation as well as ethnic cleaning in Bangladesh. He also added, different companies, politicians, cinema actors, civil and military officers, businessmen have been grabbing indigenous peoples land.
Mr. Bhattacharya expressed his opinion on this that this situation is pulling back into past history. It proved that Bangladesh still upholds the same situation of brutality of 1972 period of Bangladesh. However, local administration has been playing passive role which encourages the outsiders to occupy more land freely. He was wondered and asked to government – isn’t this type of situation leading once again taking up armsagainst the government by indigenous people?
Mr. Bhattacharya said more, we should not allow anymore eviction in indigenous peoples land. Government is still displacing settlers in the CHT with having indigenous people’s eviction thereby drastically changing the demographics of the region. Finally he demanded to implement the above mentioned recommendation in the statement.
Dr. Mohammad Nur Talukder said, the land grabbers are occupying lands with the intention of tobacco and rubber plantation. They are grabbing lands from innocents’ indigenous farmers showing financial interest and threat of extreme. He requested to government to stop tobacco cultivation in CHT.
Mr. Mangal Kumar Chakma said Bangladesh Government already ratified the ILO convention 107 in 1972, but neither indigenous people’s lands nor rights are protected following by this international treaty. As implication, indigenous peoples have been evicted with a silent socio demographic change of land grabbing in CHT. He requested to government to implement ILO convention 107, and CHT Accord 1997 in the CHT immediately. Besides, he demanded to amend the CHT Land Disputes Resolution Commission Act as per decision of the CHT Accord Implementation Committee and inter-ministerial meeting held on 30th June 2012 and as per recommendations of CHT Regional Council and CHT Affairs Ministry.
The members of fact finding mission team include Pankaj Bhattacharya, vice president of Sammilito Samajik Andolon; Prof. Dr.Noor Mohammad, President of College-University Teachers' Association; Mr. Numan Ahmed Khan, Executive Director of IED; Rajib Mir Associate Professor of mass communication and journalism department of Jagannath University; Dipayon Khisa, Member, Kapaeeng Foundation; Ms. Yasmin Piu, Reporter, The Daily Ittefaq; Ms. Jhorna Moni, Senior Reporter, The Daily Bhorer Kagoj; Rashed Alam, Staff Reporter, The Daily Sangbad; Ujjal Tanchangya, The Daily Samakal; Buddha Jyoti Chakma, The Daily Prothom Alo; Tanvir Ahmed, Senior Reporter, Bangla Mail 24.com; Ripan Banai, Member of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum; Tofael Ahmed, Cox’s Bazar and Arun Bikash Dey, Reporter, The Daily Star.
Please find few media reports (in English and Bangla) on this press conference.