Monday, August 18, 2008

Bangladesh etc

Since the last entry I travelled to Bangladesh August 5, arriving the following morning, and returning August 15, see press release.

Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission
Bangladesh Secretariat: 10/11, Iqbal Road, Mohammadpur, Dhaka 1207
Embargo: 3pm, 14th August 2008



On 31 May and 1 June, 2008, at a meeting of experts in Copenhagen, Denmark, it was decided to re-establish the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission (CHTC) in view of the situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh with the following mandate:

“To promote respect for human rights, democracy and restoration of civil and judicial rights in the CHT in Bangladesh, including examination of the implementation of the CHT Accord of 1997. The CHT Commission will build on the work by the first CHT Commission. (1990-2001).”

The Commission has been re-constituted with twelve members from Bangladesh and abroad, and is co-chaired by Lord Eric Avebury, Ms. Sultana Kamal and Dr. Ida Nicolaisen.

The re-constituted Commission held its first visit to Bangladesh from 6th August to 14th August 2008, with the aim of becoming familiar with the situation in the CHT, holding initial meetings with concerned parties and seeking their input into possible actions to be taken and recommendations to be made by the Commission.

During its visit to Dhaka and the CHT, the Commission met a cross-section of society, including government officials, members of the armed forces and local government representatives, political parties, representatives of concerned organisations and affected persons. At meetings with senior leaders of several political parties, the Commission gathered more information on their views on the CHT Accord and their policies for indigenous peoples in the CHT. Civil society representatives in Dhaka and in the CHT shared their concerns regarding lack of implementation of the Accord. High-level officials of the diplomatic community also met with the Commission to listen to their initial impressions on the visits and dialogues held and to exchange views on ways forward.

During its visit to the CHT, the Commission was welcomed by individuals from different communities in the CHT, and received extensive submissions. Uncertainties about land, livelihood and security were constant refrains. There was a common view about the urgent need for peace in the region and for implementation of the Peace Accord, although there were diverse views on the possible means available. The Commission received many reports about ethnic tensions and disharmony, particularly on questions of land occupation and ownership.

The Commission is still at an initial stage of its operations. In the coming months, it will gather and establish a database on information received during and after the first mission. In the light of this evidence, it will then frame recommendations to the Government of Bangladesh and all parties concerned in establishing peace in the CHT. To this end, the Commission takes this opportunity to call for submissions from all concerned persons to its Secretariat by 30th November 2008.

In the meantime, the Commission requests the Government to take steps to ensure that those seeking to communicate with the Commission are able to do so safely and securely. It also asks for early measures to be taken to activate the Land Commission, subject to any necessary amendments, to activate the Refugee Rehabilitation Task Force and also to accelerate dialogue and action for the implementation of the Peace Accord. Finally, it would urge all concerned, in the course of preparation for elections, to emphasise the protection of the civil liberties and democratic rights of all persons throughout the CHT, without discrimination, and with due respect for the protection of rights of disadvantaged communities.


Schedule of Meetings during CHT Commission Visit 6-14 August 2008

The Commission held meetings with persons, groups and parties considered to be important stakeholders on the CHT issue, including:

Adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury
Adviser to the Ministries of Food, Health and Disaster Management, Dr. A.M.M. Shawkat Ali
Advisor to the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs, Barrister Raja Devasish Ray
Chief of the Bangladesh Army, General Moeen U. Ahmed
Chairman, CHT Regional Council, Mr. Jyotindriyo Bodhipriyo Larma
Chairman and Members of the Hill District Council, Bandarban and Khagrachari
Deputy Commissioners, Bandarban, Khagrachari, Rangamati
Bohmong Circle Chief, Bandarban
Brigade Commanders and other officers, Bandarban, Khagrachari and Rangamati Cantonments
Chairman of the Repatriated Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons Rehabilitation Task Force
Editors and journalists of national newspapers
Political parties and organisations, including the Awami League, Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Communist Party of Bangladesh, Jamaat-e-Islami, Jatio Samajtantrik Dal (JSD), Sammyabadi Dal, Parbotto Chottogram Jono Shonghoti Shomiti (PCJSS), United Peoples’ Democratic Front, Workers’ Party
Civil Society Representatives, including human rights, women’s rights and land and forest rights activists, academics, lawyers and journalists in Dhaka and Bandarban, Khagrachari and Rangamati
Members of the Shomo Odhikar Andolon, Bandarban, Khagrachari, Rangamati
Members of the Adi o Sthayi Bangali Porishod, Khagrachari and Rangamati
UNDP/UNDP CHT Development Facility

The Commission also conducted on site visits to:
Korollarchari, Khagrachari (a site of a dispute over land for a Buddhist Khyiang)
Baghaihat, Sajek Union, Rangamati (site of a recent arson incident on 20th April) and
Dui Tila and Char-Kilo area (site of a land dispute)
Boragram, Dighinala (meeting with refugees rehabilitated post-Emergency)

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