PCJSS representative urges to study on land as future work at EMRIP in Geneva

Photo: PCJSS representative Augustina Chakma

Hill Voice, 5 July 2022, International Desk: Representative of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), Augustina Chakma, urges the Expert Mechanism for conducting fresh study on land problems of indigenous peoples as follow-up efforts.

She made this call while participating in the discussion on “Agenda Item 5: Intersessional activities and follow-up to thematic studies and advice” at the 15th session of Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) of Human Rights Council of United Nations in Geneva today Tuesday (5 July).

In her statement, Augustina Chakma said that the United Nations’ initiative to safeguard the Indigenous peoples around the glove is very appreciated and as a result, many nations or countries recognized rights to self-determination of the Indigenous peoples. But in case of Bangladesh, though the government made an agreement with the PCJSS in 1997 to introduce self-governance system with the Regional Council and three Hill District Councils of the Indigenous Jumma peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), but it still remains far from realization.

She added that Indigenous peoples have an inseparable link between self-government and their rights over land, forests and hills. The rights to self-determination cannot be ensured until and unless the rights of the indigenous peoples over land and territory are ensured. Therefore, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord signed in 1997, provisions have been made for resolving the land problem of the CHT as well as also for the return of the dispossessed land of the indigenous Jumma peoples.

Between 1978 and 1982, the Bangladesh Government brought about half million Bengali settlers from plain districts into the hilly areas where the Indigenous Jumma peoples have been living for centuries and these settlers have been occupying vast lands of Indigenous peoples illegally. As a result, the land problem in the CHT became more complex.

She further said that as per the CHT Accord with a view to resolving the land disputes, the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission was formed in 1999. This Land Commission could not function till this 2022 because the Sheikh Hasina Government’s indifference with particularly keeping pending the formulation of the Rules of the Commission since 2016.

Ms. Chakma mentioned that the Commission Chairman’s position has been taken by three retired judges till to date and none of them acted anything that could relieve the CHT Indigenous peoples’ agony. In fact, it is a dilly-delaying tactic by the Sheikh Hasina Government so that the lands grabbed by Muslim settlers are not given back to the real owners of Indigenous peoples. Due to lack of necessary manpower, funds and resources, at present, the Land Commission remains in a dysfunctional condition. As a result, instead of resolving the land issue in the CHT, attacks on Jumma people, arson in villages, land grabbing and eviction from ancestral land have been taking place.

PCJSS representative cited that in Chimbuk Hills in Bandarban district, the Bangladesh military is constructing a five-star hotel and an amusement park and in this surrounding area. This project will directly affect four villages and indirectly 70-116 villages of Mro people, putting about 10,000 Jum farmers at risk of becoming refugees. Many international organizations like UN human rights experts, IWGIA, Amnesty International, National NGOs, Intellectuals and local communities protested and urged to not construct such hotel and amusement park, but they paid no heed to it. Even the government is completely silence in this regard.

The militaries are constructing roads wherever they like and it destroys the forest which is nothing, but a destruction to the environment and culture of indigenous Jumma peoples. In fact, it is the militaries’ tactic for easy movement and to suppress the Indigenous peoples easily.

Land grabbing from the Indigenous people either by settlers or the militaries is a common phenomenon in the CHT, she noted with outrages.

Augustina Chakma urged the Expert Mechanism to consider for conducting fresh study on land problems of indigenous peoples as follow-up efforts.

PCJSS representative finally mentioned that in addition to conduct study on land, the UN along with the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights should adopt a resolution that whenever an agreement takes place between the government and the Indigenous peoples, the UN must get involved in supervising the dispute solution to land so that the Indigenous peoples are justified in their claim of lands.

The 15th session of the EMRIP has started from Monday, July 4, 2022 at the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland and the session on various agendas will continue till July 8. Apart from the representatives of PCJSS, representative of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum, Nitol Chakma, is also participating in the session.

Binotamoy Dhamai from Bangladesh is elected as the Chair of the 15th session of EMRIP. Besides, Sheryl LIGHTFOOT (Canada) and Ms. Valmaine TOKI (New Zealand) were elected as the Co-Chair in the 15th session of this year. Earlier, Binotamoy Dhamai was elected Asia Expert Member of EMRIP for 3 years in 2020. In the 14th session of the EMRIP last year, he served as the Co-Chair.