Govt capitalizes pandemic to further deprive indigenous peoples: says PCJSS representative at PFII

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Hill Voice, 5 May 2022, International Desk: Participating in the Asia Dialogue (online) at the 21st session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) on 5 May 2022, representative of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), Augustina Chakma, says, “The government of Bangladesh capitalized the Covid-19 pandemic to even further deprive the indigenous peoples’ rights as they are already leading miserable lives at the face of food shortages, loss of livelihoods, unemployment, being unable to sell their commodities in the market, limited access to healthcare services, little or no government relief, militarization, criminalization of indigenous rights activists, land grabbing, and enacting violence against women.

Expert member of the Permanent Forum from (Nepal), Phoolman Choudhury presided over in the Regional Dialogue for Asia on the Agenda Item 5(e): “Indigenous peoples and pandemic recovery” while another member of the Forum from China, Ms. Zhang Xiaoan participated in the discussion.

Besides, Pallab Chakma of Kapaeeng Foundation, Sanjeeb Drong of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum, Santoshita Chakma Bakul of CHT Returee Jumma Refurgee Welfare Association, Binota Moy Dhamai of the EMRIP also spoke in the Asia dialogue.

In her discussion, Augustina Chakma says, “We felt grief, we felt pain, we felt hopeless, and we felt fear as the world gathered together enduring the Covid-19 pandemic when many of us have lost our lives, our jobs, and even our livelihoods. The suffering from the pandemic that the world has been experiencing is a preview of the traumatic experiences that the indigenous peoples have been living with their whole lives. Not only do indigenous peoples deal with the Covid-19 virus, they encounter with land loss, suppression, oppression and human rights violations.”

Ms. Chakma further added that as per the CHT Accord of 1997, the Land Commission was formed to resolve the land disputes. Despite the Accord, the government continues to encroach the Indigenous people’s lands. In Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), land grabbing is a normalize phenomenon.

During the pandemic, individual land grabbers, private companies, and security forces continued to occupy territories of indigenous communities. Moreover, the Bangladesh armies operate corporate businesses in CHT and forcibly take away thousands of acres of traditional and shifting cultivation land without Prior and Informed Consent. As an example, they are setting up a luxury hotel and an amusement park, which will affect about 10,000 Jum cultivators of the Mro people in Bandarban.

She cited Kapaeeng Foundation report stating that at least 6,500 acres of land belonging to indigenous peoples were either occupied or undergoing the process of occupation between March and June 2020.

Besides the militaries’ continuous operation, there were allegations of human rights violations against indigenous leaders, activists and prisoners in CHT targeted by the police and vigilant groups. According to the CHT Commission’s report, these groups had picked up at least 29 indigenous people between January to May 2020.

The Covid-19 effects may pass for certain parts of the world and for certain groups, but the indigenous Jumma people will continually to live their lives with hopelessness, fear, grief, and pain as the government does not come forward to ensue rights of the indigenous peoples.

Finally, Augustina urged the Permanent Forum to encourage the government of Bangladesh to follow the UN declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples by ensuring that the socio-economic, political, cultural, and land rights are with the Jumma people.

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