Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bangladesh visit last week

Chittagong Hill Tracts International Commission
Bangladesh Secretariat: 10/11, Iqbal Road, Mohammadpur, Dhaka 1207

Embargoed until: 12pm, 22 February 2009

February 16-22, 2009

The CHT Commission, re-constituted in 2008, has today concluded its second mission in Bangladesh. This mission has focused on engaging the Government to include concrete and time-bound actions for the full implementation of the CHT Accord of 1997 in its work programme, and to address ongoing human rights concerns in the CHT.
Accordingly the Mission held high-level meetings with the Prime Minister and concerned Ministers, the Attorney General, the Army Chief and the National Human Rights Commission. It also met Members of Parliament, political party and civil society representatives and interviewed victims of human rights violations among the Hill peoples.
The Commission is putting forward preliminary recommendations to the Government for immediate consideration, focused upon enhancing the powers of the civil administration in the CHT, protecting human rights and ensuring access to justice in the CHT, activating the Land Commission and addressing the issue of voluntary relocation of settlers from the CHT. More detailed reports and recommendations will be issued as the Commission continues with its work.
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 was then re-constituted with twelve members from Bangladesh and abroad, and is co-chaired by Lord Eric Avebury (United Kingdom), Ms. Sultana Kamal (Bangladesh) and Dr. Ida Nicolaisen (Denmark).
The re-constituted Commission held its first visit to Bangladesh from 6–14 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. It also directly receivedcomplaints on land and human rights violations in the CHT.
The Commission carried out its second visit from 16-22 February, 2009, following the holding of parliamentary elections in December 2008, and a pledge made by the new Government, led by the Awami League, to fully implement the CHT Accord.[1] The objective of this mission was first and foremost to inform the newly elected government about the Commission’s concerns and urge it to take concrete and time-bound measures for the full implementation of the Accord, and to address ongoing human rights violations in the CHT on an urgent basis.
Commission members attended meetings with the Prime Minister and newly appointed Ministers (Foreign Affairs, Law Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Food and Disaster Management, Local Government and Rural Development, Industries, CHT Affairs), the Chief of Army Staff, the Attorney General, the National Human Rights Commission, representatives of political parties, UN Agencies, and civil society members including journalists, lawyers and academics. They also conducted field visits to Khagrachari and Rangamati distiicts interviewing and holding discussions with both Paharis and Bengalis, including victims of human rights violations and forcible land grabbing. [For the full list, see Annex 1.]
Enhancing powers of the civil administration
The CHT Commission agrees with the Government that the problems of the CHT are primarily political in nature and therefore demand political rather than military solutions.
Functions now undertaken, exceptionally, by the miliary, which are normally performed by civilian agencies such as development projects and any other activities not requiring specific military skills, should be transferred to the civil administration and to institutions set up by the Peace Accord.
The Commission is concerned about the scope and ambit of Operation Uttoron, currently ongoing in the CHT, not being publicly available or known. The executive order authorising this Operation reportedly confers on the military rights to intervene in civil matters beyond their proper jurisdiction. We therefore cal on the Government to publicise the text of the order for public scrutiny and review the executive order judiociously in the public interest.
While some reduction in the military forces stationed in the CHT occured immediately after the signing of the Accord, the Commission would like to see the phased withdrawal of troops as mentioned in the Accord to be completed within a declared timeframe, as soon as is logistically feasible.
The Commission notes the Government's call to end impunity and assert due process and recommends that in the same spirit the issue of impunity for human rights violations in the CHT should be addressed by holding investigations into these incidents, and where sufficient evidence exists, bringing those responsible to trial.
Human Rights and Access to Justice
Considering the prevalence of violence against women in the CHT, as in the rest of the country, the Commission recommends that priority be given to activating the Nari o Shishu Nirjaton Domon (Suppression of Violence against Women and Children) Tribunals in every district of the CHT. There also need to be steps taken to activate government legal services in the region, and to develop an effective public information and education program so that victims and witnesses of human rights and crimes, in particular violence against women, areable to access legal remedies.
In view of the announcement that the Government will review vexatious cases, the Commission would urge that such review is conducted by an impartial and accountable body, and further that effective redress and reparations are made available to the affected persons.
Participation in Decision Making and Elections
In order to promote participation of indigenous peoples in decision making,measures need to be taken so that institutions such as HDCs effectively represent them. Measures therefore need to be takento ensure that HDC elections are held as soon as possible.Once the process described in the above paragraph on land has been completed, elections to the Hill District Councils should be held immediately. In the meanwhile, the representative character of the Hill District Councils couldbe improved by co-opting members of the smaller ethnic minorities in the area.
Compatibility of Legislation and Accord
The Government should review the compatibility of existing laws and procedures with the Accord
The Land Commission
There is a backlog of land related problems in the CHT such as the failure to record titles to land allotted to indigenous peoples, implement the provisions for resettlement and rehabilitation of repatriated Pahari refugees, cancel illegally occupied lands and unnecessary land acquistions involving forcible eviction of the Hill peoples. The Land Commission was proposed by the Peace Accord to resolve these disputes and its functioning is a critical precondition for the implementation of other aspects of the peace treaty such as the survey and updating of land records and proper compilation of the Hill District Councils' voter lists, all of which would contribute to the attainment of peace and stability in the region.
The Government of Bangladesh should activate the Land Disputes Resolution Commission and provide it with the necessary means to resolve land disputes with effectiveness and justice, as stipulated in the 1997 Accord.
It should also commission an immmediate pilot study by independent consultants, in one Upazila of each of the three Hill Districts, to determine the nature and extent of disputed titles, and the resources of logistics and manpower needed for the full-scale operation.

Voluntary Relocation of Bengali Settlers to the Plains
During the field visit of the CHT Commission, many Bengali settlers expressed their desire to leave their miserable living conditions and return to the plains districts, particularly if given conducive assistance by the government. The voluntary withdrawal of a section of the settlers would simultaneously reduce population pressure in the CHT and release the occupied lands of the Hill peoples, contributing critically to the peace and stability of the region.
The Commission therefore urges the government to undertake a viable process of voluntary relocation of Bengali settlers from the CHT to the plains, which protects their dignity and facilitates their proper rehabilitation, making use of a judicious blend of incentives and disincentives. The extent to which settlers would be receptive to such an approach should be pilot tested, as part of the pilot survey in three Upazilas mentioned above.
The settlers willing to undertake voluntary relocation should be provided with free rations for three years at their new location, with additional support in terms of cash grants, employment and training opportunities and transportation. This offer of assistance should be initially made available for a limited period such as one year, with the possibility of further extension. In parallel, the unduly prolonged provision of free rations to Bengali settlers in the CHT should be phased out with due notice, within a year or two. No new facilities and material incentives should be provided to Bengali settlers or new migrants in the CHT by the Government and all such existing arrangements should be discontinued for those not taking up the offer of voluntary relocation and deciding to stay on in the CHT. Restitution of illegally occupied lands of the Hill peoples by Land Commission would provide immense encouragement to the process of voluntary relocation, while releasing resources for their resettlement activities.
The post of Minister for the CHT should be upgraded to full Miniserial status.
The Government of Bangladesh is urged to withdraw its reservations against internationally agreed treaties and conventions for public welfare including ICCPR, ICESCR, CERD, CEDAW, CAT and CRC.

Annex 1:
CHT Commission's Second Visit: 16-22 February 2009
• Sheikh Hasina Wazed, Prime Minister
• Dr. Dipu Moni, Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
• Dr. Abdur Razzaque, Minister, Ministry of Food and Disaster Management
• Mr. Rezaul Karim Hira, Minister, Ministry of Land
• Mr. Dipankar Talukdar, State Minister, Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs
• Barrister Shafiq Ahmed, Minister, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs
• Mr. Syed Ashraful Islam, Minister, Ministry of LGRD
• Mr. Dilip Barua , Minister, Ministry of Industry
• General Moyeen U. Ahmed, Chief of the Bangladesh Army
• Mr. Mahbubey Alam, Attorney General
• National Human Rights Commission
• Members of Parliament
• Political parties
o Bangladesh Nationalist Party
o Parbotto Chottogram Jono Shonghoti Shomiti (PCJSS)
o United Peoples' Democratic Front(UPDF)
o Workers' Party
• Journalists
• Civil Society
• Donor Agencies
• European Commission

[1] The Delegation of the Commission on the Second Mission, comprised Lord Eric Avebury and Ms. Sultana Kamal (Co-Chairs); Dr. Shapan Adnan, Ms Sara Hossain and Professor Hideaki Uemura (Members); Dr. Meghna Guhathakurta (Advisor); Ms Yuko Shiba (Ressource Person); Ms. Christina Nilsson, Coordinator, Ms. Shirin Lira, and Ms. Midori Matsuda (Secretariat).

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