Hill Voice, 26 April 2023, International Desk: Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) delegate, Augustina Chakma, said that as Indigenous peoples, we are not against development. Our demand is for development that aligns with our culture, protects our environment, and upholds the CHT Accord.
This opinion was made by the PCJSS representative, Augustina Chakma, while delivering statement on agenda “Item 4: Discussion on the six mandated areas of the Permanent Forum (economic and social development, culture, environment, education, health and human rights), with reference to the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples and 2030 agenda of sustainable development” on 25 April 2023 in the evening meeting at the 22nd session of United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII).
Representative of the Government of Bangladesh, Secretary of the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs, Mosammat Hamida Begum, also delivered a speech on agenda item 4 on 25 April. In her speech, she extensively highlighted the development of indigenous peoples (ethnic minorities as per her term) in CHT and plains.
The full text of PCJSS representative Augustina Chakma’s statement is as follows:
As we gather to discuss the six mandated areas, I would like to emphasize the crucial importance of land ownership for Indigenous communities. The right to self-determination is closely linked to land rights, and without it, sustainable socio-economic development is impossible.
I want to draw your attention to the situation of the Indigenous Jumma peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh. The lands, forests, hills, ponds, streams, and small rivers are essential for their survival. Unfortunately, most of the Indigenous lands in the area have been grabbed or occupied by Bengali outsiders or settlers who were brought into the CHT by the government, numbering about 500,000.
The Land Commission was established in 1999 under the Accord reached in 1997 to resolve land disputes with Indigenous Jumma peoples, but the government’s insincerity prevented it from functioning despite the appointment of six chairmen at different times.
Despite amending some contradictory clauses in the 2001 Act in 2016 after 15 years of negotiation and pressure by the PCJSS, the Commission has yet to formulate Rules to apply the Act to resolve land disputes, despite the CHT Regional Council submitting drafted Rules in 2017.
The 2016 amendment to the 2001 Land Commission Act failed to establish land dispute resolution rules, leaving Indigenous peoples vulnerable to land grabbing, eviction, and intimidation. A recent example is a Lama Rubber company burned 400 acres of traditional Jum-farming land and village forest, yet the government did not protect Indigenous land rights and instead aided the company’s land occupation. This injustice highlights the ongoing struggle of Indigenous communities to protect their heritage and the urgent need for action to address their land rights.
It is worth noting that although the honorable delegate of Bangladesh claimed in this forum last week that 1555 development projects have been approved for the development of CHT this year, Indigenous peoples are continually losing their land and being displaced from their traditional lands. No matter how many development projects are undertaken, these development programs cannot benefit Indigenous peoples without ensuring their land rights.
As Indigenous peoples, we are not against development. Our demand is for development that aligns with our culture, protects our environment, and upholds the CHT Accord.
Therefore, ‘Implement the CHT Accord’ is not just a slogan, it is our call to action. We must pave the way for a sustainable and equitable future for the Indigenous Jumma peoples by 2030. Let us unite our efforts towards this goal, and together, create a better future for all.