Friday, July 08, 2011

Outside the chamber

It tends to be overlooked, that much of the work of Members in both Houses takes place in other parts of the building such as the 21 committee rooms upstairs, to say nothing of the dozens more in Portcullis House and elsewhere on the Parliamentary estate.

This week I chaired two important meetings: on Monday, with the Jumma People's Network to discuss the failure of the Bangladesh government to implement the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace accord of 1997, promised in the Awami League's election manifesto and reiterated by the Prime Minister to the CHT Commission, of which I am a co-chair, at a face to face meeting we had with her after the election. She went further, and said it was her intention to complete the process during the lifetime of this Parliament; but it has got bogged down, and has gone backwards in one vital reespect - the refusal now to recognise the Jumma peoples as indigenous, and therefore to deny that they have rights in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, of which Bangladesh is a signatory.

The Land Commission hasn't resolved a single case of the thousands of disputes between the claimants to land under the original system of communal ownership, and the arbitrary and haphazard award of titles to the same plots by District Commissioners. Leaders of the indigenous people are demanding the removal of the chairman of the Land Commission, who wants to conduct a survey before starting on the conflicting claims. Amnesty International are reported to be working on a report on the Land Commission's pathetic record.

The army is still present as an occupation force in the CHT, contrary to the Accord, and far from maintaining security, their ostensible purpose, they protect the settlers who attack the indigenous people, burn their houses, rape the women and demolish Buddhist temples.

The UN Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, has asked the Bangladesh government repeatedly for an invitation to visit the CHT, but has never had a reply.

Speakers at the event were Julie de Blaauw of Global Rights Defence, Netherlands; Sophie Grig, Survival International; the Rev Nagashena Bhante; Rusona Hashem, University of East London; Lal Amlai; Bhumitra Chakma, and Manjurul Karim Khan Chodhury, representing the Bangladesh High Commission

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