Civil society statement protesting undue conduct of Attorney General in CHT Regulation cases

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Photo : Attorney General AM Amin Uddin

Hill Voice, 17 May 2024, Special Correspondent: 8 personalities of Indigenous civil society of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) issued a statement protesting against undue conduct of Attorney General in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh leading tp dilution of special safeguard of indigenous peoples as contained in the CHT Regulations, 1900.

On May 12, 2024, the eminent citizens issued this statement urging Bangladesh Government Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, MP, Chairman of CHT Accord Implementation Committee Abul Hasnat Abdullah, MP and Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Anisul Haque, MP.

In the statement, it was cited that on 26 July, 2023, 32 prominent indigenous civil society leaders from the CHT region of Bangladesh, including Chakma Chief, Raja Devasish Roy and former District Council Chairman, Goutam Dewan, petitioned the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, asking her to instruct the Attorney General of Bangladesh to support the robust and continued application of the British-promulgated CHT Regulation 1900, including laws, customs and usages, in ongoing Review cases in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, Bangladesh’s apex court.

Their ire was aimed at what they claimed was the stand of the Attorney General, A M Amin Uddin, which was contrary to the provisions of the CHT Accord of 1997, as also constitutional provisions concerning multiculturalism, secularism and non-fundamentalism.

The Attorney General asked in writing for the deletion of certain words, phrases and sentences that the indigenous peoples claim will “weaken the multicultural setting and secular orientation of the CHT region … [whereby] the basis of the multicultural moorings of the entire country… in Articles 2A, 12 and 23A of the Constitution will be compromised”.

The Attorney General sought the deletion of the terms “Raja” (king in the vernacular languages), “Indigenous Peoples”, and at least ten paragraphs containing extensive elaborations on customary law. The indigenous peoples feel that this is supportive of the anti- CHT Accord cause of the petitioners, rather than the declared pro-Accord policy of the government.

Two ethnic Bengali settlers from Rangamati and Khagrachari districts of the CHT, namely Abdul Aziz Akhend and Abdur Malek, respectively, filed two review petitions before the apex court (being Civil Petitions No. 54/2018 and 192/2018, respectively), although they were not parties in the original cases. Their senior legal counsel is former Attorney General from the BNP period, A F Hassan Ariff.

In 2003, on the basis of the pleadings of then Attorney General A F Hassan Ariff, the a High Court Divisional Bench declared the CHT Regulation 1900 to be a “dead law” (Rangamati Food Products Ltd. v. Commissioner of Customs and Others). However, when the Attorney General of the subsequent Awami League-led government, Mahbubey Alam appealed against this verdict, the apex court overruled the High Court judgment, declaring that the CHT was a fully valid law and not a “dead law” [Government of Bangladesh v. Rangamati Food Products and Others 69 DLR(AD) (2017)].

The aforesaid review cases seek to overrule the verdict of the aforesaid Rangamati Foods case along with that of another case in the apex court [Wagachara Tea Estate Ltd. v. Muhammad Abu Taher & Others, 16 BLD (AD), 36] that upheld the validity of the CHT Regulation and related safeguards on the identity, rights and welfare of the indigenous peoples, including the region’s special administrative status with the existence of Circle Chiefs, Mauza Headmen and Village Karbaries and the application of customary law.

On 9 May 2024, as the cases reached the top of the Causes List, the Attorney General (AG) addressed the court and repeated his earlier request to have the concerned sentences, words and phrases deleted. Unless instructions are issued to the AG from the concerned authorities, so that the AG takes a position in favor of the CHT Regulation, including laws, customs, usages and practices that safeguard the rights of the indigenous peoples, it is feared that on 16 May 2024, the next date of hearing, the apex court might lay down a decision that leads to a severe weakening of the aforesaid verdicts in the Wagachara Tea Estate and Rangamati Food Products cases.

The 8 eminent citizens appealled to the Sheikh Hasina, MP, Prime Minister of the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Abul Hasnat Abdullah, Chair of CHT Accord Implementation Committee and Anisul Huq, MP, Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, to provide appropriate instructions and advice to the Learned Attorney General, A M Amin Uddin, to defend the CHT Regulation, 1900, in order to take forward the peace process of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997 and to protect the multicultural heritage of the CHT and the entire country.

The 8 eminent citizens of civil society of the CHT are-

1. Raja Devasish Roy, Chaief of Chakma Circle;
2. Goutam Dewan, President of CHT Citizens; Committee;
3. Kongjari Chowdhury, Member of National Human Rights Commission and President of CHT Headmen Network;
4. U K Jein, Retired Additional Secretary of Prime Minister’s office;
5. Zuam Lian Anali, President of Citizens’ Committee, Bandarban Chapter;
6. Hla THowairi, President of Bandraban Bohmong Circle Heamen Karbary Kallyan Parishad;
7. Shanti Bejoy Chakma, Secretary of CHT Headmen Network;
8. Adv. Nicolan Chakma, Advocate, High Court.