COVID-19 not only a calamitous, also worst fears, AIPP says

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Hill Voice, 28 May 2020, International Desk: The COVID-19 pandemic is not only a calamitous global event, but it is revealing the worst fears, especially, human rights, conflict, racism, and starvation, says Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) in its report titled “COVID-19 and Humanity: Human Rights in Peril” published on 27 May 2020 from Chiang Mai, Thailand.

AIPP says, while thousands of migrant workers belonging to Indigenous communities have lost jobs and are stranded in several places across Asia−especially in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Thailand−and are struggling to survive, governments are using the situation as a cover for conducting military campaigns, land grabbing, rolling back protective rights, weakening environmental laws and safeguards, etc.

“The democratic fabric of many countries is eroding during this pandemic. When people are in lockdown and prevented from going out and protest or go to the court, governments are rolling back constitutional rights of Indigenous Peoples, and evicting people from forestlands and military campaigns are being carried out”, said Gam A. Shimray, Secretary General, AIPP.

In the Human Rights, Militarization and Criminalization, AIPP cited that the efforts to combat COVID-19 have not halted military operations in Indigenous areas despite the call by the UN Secretary General for an immediate global ceasefire and focus on the fight against the spread of pandemic.

In Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), Bangladesh, human rights violations by the military and law-enforcement forces continue unabated with full impunity due to non-implementation of the CHT Accord. Indigenous rights advocates for the implementation of the CHT Accord have become the main target of the government and military forces. They are being labelled as armed criminals, extortionists, separatists and so on creating fear psychosis among the communities.

Members of a Mro family in remote Langkom Mro Para eating rice with only wild spinach due to food shortage. Photo: Daily Star

From February to April 2020, several cases of human rights violations have been reported from CHT. Under the pretext of countering terrorism, the following cases of human rights violations were reported:

  • In the name of searching for terrorists, about 29 houses were thoroughly searched without any search warrants.
  • Three 3 innocent Jumma civilians were kidnapped by security forces and government-backed armed groups.
  • 17 persons, including two union council members were arrested and kept under detention in military camps in CHT.
  • 17 persons were tortured by the security forces and the government aided armed group.
  • One person was kidnapped killed and was dubbed as killed in a crossfire in CHT by the security forces.
  • Further, two Jummas were reportedly shot dead by an armed group in the Dighinala area of ​​the Khagrachhari Hill District on 28 April 2020.

Living under the shadow of militarization and COVID-19, women are seriously impacted with the disruption of their free movement, livelihood practices and as primary provider of food to their families.

A Jumma pregnant woman in critical condition was detained by security forces at the Subalong Camp under Barkal upazila of Rangamati hill district for almost an hour while on her way (by boat) to the hospital. She lost precious time and died before she could reach the hospital.

A Mahali Adivasi old man passing his days with acute food shortage in Fulbari upazila of Dinajpur district. Photo: amarpranerbangladesh.com

Further, five indigenous women, including a 16-year-old girl, sustained injuries on 16 April 2020 while they were returning home after losing their jobs. This incident occurred when police incepted and beat up the indigenous workers returning home in Khagrachhari. Furthermore, in March 2020, two indigenous girls from CHT were reportedly raped by the Bengali settlers.

Regarding Human rights, livelihood, and land rights, AIPP are of the opinion that in Bangladesh, thousands of Indigenous Peoples are jobless and facing food shortage due to the countrywide lockdown and returning migrant workers causing severe food insecurity concerns.

AIPP reported that land grabbing and mining operations are continuing without the consent of the affected communities. Reports have come in from AIPP member-organizations that around 5,000 acres of rubber plantations of the indigenous people were burnt down in different areas in Bandarban Hill District of CHT to drive out the indigenous Jumma villagers from their villages and grab their lands. The confrontations have led to the arrest of innocent villagers as the land grabbers are powerful companies and influential persons belonging to political parties or are political party leaders themselves.

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