Indigenous peoples of CHT face militarization and heavy repression, says MRG representative at EMRIP

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Hill Voice, 18 July 2023, International Desk: Jennifer Castello, representative of Minority Rights Group International (MRGI), said at the 16th session of the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) in Geneva that the indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) have been demanding constitutional recognition of their distinct indigenous identity, land, heritage and culture, but one government after another has failed to do so. Instead, they faced militarization and heavy repression, leading to a massive military conflict.

Yesterday, July 17, 2023, the MRG representative said this opinion while presenting a statement on Agenda Item 3: Study and Advice on the Impact of Militarization on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the 16th session of EMRIP held in Geneva in the afternoon. The full text of her statement is given below-

Statement before the expert mechanism on the rights of indigenous peoples, 16th session, Geneva, Monday 17th July Item 3:

Good afternoon, members of the expert mechanism and colleagues from civil society. I am Jennifer Castello from Minority Rights Group. Thank you for the opportunity to make this statement about the indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, not able to appear here themselves because of security risks.

The indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts have been demanding constitutional recognition of their distinct indigenous identity, land, tradition and culture but successive governments have failed to do so. Instead, they have been met with militarization and violent suppression, resulting in an extended armed conflict. A Peace Accord was signed in 97 on the demilitarization and recognition of indigenous customary land rights. However, more than 25 years after, the government have totally disregarded both and is pursuing an aggressive policy of non-recognition and marginalization of indigenous peoples.

Far from the military being demobilised, the CHT now has one third of the country’s army stationed in an area containing only one percent of the country’s population. The military has aggressively taken control of the economy and resources of the land, and the non-elected civilian government is directly under their control. Indigenous Peoples are forcefully expropriated, not only for the establishment of 400 military bases but also for corrupt and unethical commercial investment, development of tourism and for the settlement of Bengali nationals all being done in total violation of Indigenous’ rights to free prior and informed consent, increasingly forcing the displacement and migration of thousands of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands leading as well to the destruction of forests and other natural resources resulting in a huge ecological and indigenous knowledge loss.

This situation has created a climate of fear and insecurity with enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killing and torture of activists by law enforcement agencies. Human rights defenders who have bravely resisted the injustices have been subjected to violence at the hands of the military. Indigenous women have been targeted, many of them report sexual assaults, rapes and other forms of sexual violence committed by members of the military.

It is imperative that the Government of Bangladesh recognise Indigenous Peoples and their rights and take immediate steps to address the human rights abuses in the CHT and allow human rights defenders and organizations access to promote independent investigations and accountability. Faced with such serious facts, we invite EMRIP to engage in country collaboration on this situation. We are at your disposal for this.

Thank you.