Jummas subjected to atrocities of army and intelligence agencies, says US State Dept

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Hill Voice, 22 March 2023, International Desk: The indigenous Jumma people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are victims of atrocities committed by the army and intelligence agencies, the United States State Department said.

This opinion was highlighted in the annual report titled “2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Bangladesh” published on Monday (March 20) by the US State Department. It is stated in the “Indigenous Peoples” section of the report that-

The Indigenous community of the CHT experienced widespread discrimination and abuse despite nationwide government quotas for participation of Indigenous CHT residents in the civil service and higher education.

These conditions also persisted despite provisions for local governance in the 1997 CHT Peace Accord, which has not been fully implemented, specifically the portions of the accord empowering a CHT-specific special administrative system consisting of the three Hill District Councils and the Regional Council.

Indigenous persons from the CHT were unable to participate effectively in decisions affecting their lands due to disagreements regarding land dispute resolution procedures under the Land Commission Act.

Local organizations claimed the army and intelligence forces carried out extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests; beat, harassed, threatened, and jailed Indigenous people on false charges; and labeled rights activists as terrorists and extortionists.

In July the government ordered media not to use the word “indigenous” in shows organized for the August 9 International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous activists claimed ethnic minorities were drastically undercounted by the census, impacting land rights and the development budget of the CHT. The official census reported 1.65 million minority persons, while the Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples’ Forum estimated there were around three million ethnic minority persons.

While the country had a 20 percent poverty rate, poverty in the plains, where some Indigenous persons lived, was more than 80 percent and more than 65 percent in the CHT. Organizations corroborated health care available to Indigenous persons was well below the standard available to non-Indigenous persons in the country.

Throughout the pandemic, multiple NGOs reported severe food insecurity due to the abrupt job loss by Indigenous persons outside the CHT. Since many Indigenous persons most in need of assistance lived in remote areas difficult to access by vehicles, many Indigenous communities reported receiving no government assistance.

Human rights organizations continued to allege evictions and communal attacks occurred against local populations in the CHT, often at the direction of the government, army, and intelligence agencies. In September reports emerged that a rubber plantation had poisoned the water source of several villages to displace the local Indigenous population from its land.

In August the UN special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples; the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions; and the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression wrote to the government with concerns regarding the alleged torture and subsequent death of Nabayan Chakma Milon, an Indigenous political activist, in military custody. They called for an immediate investigation into Milon’s death.

The United Nations noted “it has been brought to our attention that the Indigenous peoples and Indigenous rights activists, as well as Indigenous political activists have repeatedly been subjected to alleged arbitrary arrest, torture, arbitrary deprivation of life and enforced disappearance in CHT. Moreover, almost every time a raid took place in CHT area by the military personnel, the legal requirements such as obtaining warrants for search, arrest, or both were not being followed.”

Indigenous communities in areas other than the CHT reported the loss of land to Bengali Muslims, and Indigenous peoples’ advocacy groups reported deforestation to support Rohingya refugee camps and other commercial pursuits caused severe environmental degradation in their land, adversely affecting their livelihoods.

The central government retained authority over land use. In what local rights groups deemed a blatant land grab, Lama Rubber Industries Limited filed a case in August in the Senior Judicial Magistrate Court of Bandarban against 11 villagers who demanded protection of 400 acres of their farmland and rural forest.

Reports of sexual assaults on Indigenous women and children by Bengali neighbors or security personnel remained unresolved.

The report also stated that Indigenous communities, organized under different political groups, engaged in violence within the Indigenous community. Meanwhile, the deaths and violence remained unresolved. NGOs and Indigenous persons familiar with the situation warned intraparty violence in the CHT had risen sharply, US Department of State said.