[The weekly commentary and analysis of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on human rights and governance issues]

Embargoed for: 5 April 2006
Review: 119/06

UN Human Rights Council Elections:
Why should Bangladesh not be elected?

Bangladesh is the only second country apart from Pakistan to submit candidacy from the Asian region to the newly created United Nations Human Rights Council which is scheduled to hold elections on 9 May 2006. The Human Rights Council is expected to address the ills of discredited UN Human Rights Commission. The election of the members “directly and individually by secret ballots by the majority of the members of the General Assembly”, which requires the candidates to have an absolute majority i.e. at least 96 positive votes in the General Assembly, is being touted as the main improvement.

Peer review by the Human Rights Council should not be a task only to be taken up during the sessions of the Human Rights Council but it should start with the election process itself. Those with deplorable human rights record should not be nominated as members of the Human Rights Council.

Asian Centre for Human Rights urges that Bangladesh should not be elected as a member of the Human Rights Council for its dismal record of (1) systematic human rights violations against the indigenous peoples; (2) identifying the minority Hindus as enemies and encouraging mob violence by them with impunity; and (3) destroying the cardinal principles of the rule of law through legalizing extrajudicial executions by the Rapid Action Battalion.

In this weekly ACHR REVIEW, Asian Centre for Human Rights examines the violations of the rights of indigenous Jumma peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

a. Latest Attack at Maischari:

In the morning of 3 April 2006, hundreds of indigenous Jumma peoples at Nua Para and Joysenpara villages in Maischari in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs) came under the attack of the illegal plain settlers and security forces. At least 50 Jummas were reportedly injured, many of them seriously, and admitted at Khagrachari hospital. Four indigenous Marma women were raped by the armed attackers allegedly led by Ahad Mian, member of the local Union Council and Mohammad Abu, ex- Union Parishad member. Two of the rape victims were identified as Thoai Prajai Marma (16 years), daughter of Momong Marma and Abeng Kroi Marma (20 years), daughter of Saila Pru Marma. Asian Centre for Human Rights is still waiting for further details.

Like many other previous attacks, this attack too was carried out with a view to capture the lands of the Bouddha Shishu Ghar, an orphanage run by a Buddhist monk in the area. Earlier on 2 April 2006, indigenous Jumma peoples protested against planting of jackfruit samplings by the illegal settlers inside the premises of the orphanage. The illegal plain settlers went back only to return next morning, fully backed by the security forces.

The security forces surrounded the villages before the attack and banned entry to the villages following the attack. Not a single culprit has been arrested. The indigenous Jumma villagers have not been able to return because of prevailing fear. 

b. Arbitrary arrest and detention

The government of Bangladesh has also intensified the arrest and detention to suppress the movement of the indigenous Jumma peoples for autonomy and land rights. Asian Centre for Human Rights is in possession of a list of 63 political prisoners belonging to the United Peoples Democratic Front, a political organisation of indigenous Jumma peoples, who are being detained under false charges at Khagrachari Jail (17), Rangamati (9) and Chittagong Jail (37). The security forces reportedly arrest innocent people and charge them as "hardcore militants" in order to earn quick promotions and to project the Chittagong Hills Tract as a terrorist-infested region, thereby justifying heaviest military presence.

On 12 January 2006, 35 Jummas were arrested from Ghilachari bazaar and taken to the Ghilachari Army camp under Naniachar Thana in Rangamati district. They were released after intense interrogation.

On 26 February 2006, the army detained Hill Women's Federation activists Jubolika Chakma, Juthika Chakma and Hill Students Council activist Dibakor Chakma for two hours in Kawkhali Army camp for collecting donations for their 8th March International Women's Day Programme.

On 5 March 2006, security forces led by Captain Zahid entered into Khagrachari court without permission from the sitting judge, took two Jummas Shuchil Kanti Chakma and Kamala Ranjan Chakma, who were arrested from Mahalchari the previous day, out of court custody by force and photographed them after putting weapons in their hands. Khagrachari District Bar Association condemned the incident, but no action has been taken against the delinquent soldiers.

On 21 March 2006, two Jumma villagers identified as Hindu Kumar Chakma, alias Mejangya (40), son of Bhorotya Chakma of village Duddya and Nisai Prue Marma (40), son of (s/o) Pying Paw Marma from Olodya Para village in Lakshmichari were arbitrarily arrested by the army in Lakshmichari under Khagrachari District. Hindu Kumar Chakma was arrested when he was going to the village tea shop, while Nisai Prue Marma was arrested on his way to his farm. But when handed over to the police, the police charged them under section 54 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which gives police the power to arrest on mere suspicion. They were transferred to Khagrachari district jail.

On 27 March 2006, Hill Students' Council Lakshmichari unit President, Shushil Chakma was arrested by the army from his house at Beltoli Para in Lakshmichari under Khagrachari District. Two false cases of murder and anti-state activities were filed against Shushil Chakma but the security forces did not produce any arrest warrant against him at the time of arrest. He is detained at Khagrachari district jail.

c. Torture

Torture is routinely practiced by the security forces. The Lakshmichari army zone in particular is notorious for conducting house searches and torturing innocent villagers. In January and February 2006 alone, as many as 25 Jumma people were physically tortured here. For brevity, ACHR only highlights the cases of 2006.

On 21 February 2006, five Jummas, including a woman, were tortured by the army during a raid at Bandarkaba village in Dullyatoli Union under Lakshmichari. One of the soldiers reportedly fired after resting the barrel of his gun on the solders of Bindu Lal Chakma. The deafening sound of the fire has caused hearing problem to him. The army also beat up his wife Kalekkya Sona Chakma. The other torture victims were identified as Rabi Sunder Chakma (25) s/o Pulin Bihari Chakma, Joti Lal Chakma (15) s/o Ningira Chakma and Battya Chakma (25) s/o Chokkua Chakma.

On 12 February 2006, Nilokanto Chakma alias Alpeda, 35, s/o late Soichya Chakma of village Simana Adam was detained and tortured by the army personnel from Lakshmichari zone. The victim was picked up when he was going to Lakshmichari bazaar, blindfolded and beaten up.

On 4 February 2006, the army raided the village of Badi Para, half kilometer from Lakshmichari town and beat up two Jumma women – Adarani Chakma (14) and Sukko Chakma.

On 4 February 2006, Buddha Chakma and Suresh Chakma, member of Lakshmichari Union (Ward No. 8) were summoned by the Lakshmichari Zone Adjutant Mustafizur Rahman. He beat Buddha Chakma senseless after he denied having fed any terrorist. When Buddha Chakma regained his senses, Mustafizur Rahman again asked him the same question. Due to fear of further torture, Buddha Chakma was forced to confess.

On 2 February 2006, soldiers from Lakshmichari zone camp raided and searched the house of Sneha Chakma alias Rabi Dhan, Son of Chandra Kumar Chakma and brutally beat him up on the charges of being a member of the United People's Democratic Front.

On 2 February 2006, army personnel detained Buddha Chakma and Longo Chakma and took them to Lakshmichari zone camp. They were interrogated about the “terrorists” and beaten up mercilessly before being released.

On 31 January 2006, Pylhaproo Marma of village Shilachari Para (age 22), son of Ulha Proo Marma was taken to the Lakshmichari Zone camp following a raid by army personnel led by Lakshmichari Zone Adjutant Mustafizur Rahman and brutally tortured for allegedly supporting the UPDF.

On 26 January 2006, Bindu Kumar Chakma (age 25 s/o late Daya Mohan Chakma) was summoned to the Lakshmichari Zonal camp and brutally beaten up when he failed to name UPDF activist Paban's parents.

On the night of 25 January 2006, army personnel led by Adjutant Mustafizur Rahman from Lakshmichari zone beat up several Jumma villagers, ransacked houses and looted valuables during a search operation at Hazachari Para (Badi Adam) village. Among others, the soldiers broke into the house of Pulindra Chakma while the family was sleeping and beat up Pulindra Chakma and many others including 16-year-old Babu Chakma son of Mizi Chakma and Budikkya Chakma. The soldiers forcibly photographed Budikkya Chakma with a gun and took him to the army camp where he was beaten up again.

d. Land grabbing

While the government of Bangladesh has failed to restore the lands to the Jumma peoples in accordance with the CHTs Peace Accord of 1997, the security forces and the illegal Bengali settlers have continued to seize more land belonging to the Jummas by use of force. The Headman of Nunchari village of Khagarchari, Mr Khettra Mohan Roaza stated that the illegal settlers from Maischari Cluster village had burnt down Jummas' houses on 23 and 24 March 2006 and were forcibly clearing jungles for a new Bengali settlement with the help of the Bangladesh army. In another incident, the commander of Mandir Chara Army camp under Baghaichari Zone in Rangamati district forcibly constructed a passenger shed on lands belonging to a Buddhist temple Milon Para Buddha Vihara recently.

In 2005, the government acquired 9,650 acres of land in Bandarban, affecting about 1,000 indigenous families; 11,446.24 acres of land in Sualok Union of Bandarban, uprooting 400 indigenous families; and 450 acres of land in Pujgang under Panchari Thana of Khagrachari district, among others, for military purposes. The government had also issued notices for acquisition of 45 acres of land in Babuchara under Dighinala Thana in Khagrachari district, affecting at least 74 Jumma families in three villages; about 183 acres of land in Balaghata in Bandarban district; 19,000 acres of land in Bandarban; 26,000 acres of land in Bandarban for military purposes. The government reportedly acquired a total of 5,600 acres of land in Chimbuk of Bandarban for construction of an Eco Park. The government also started a process to acquire 5,500 acres of land in Sangu Mouza of Bandarban district for animal sanctuary; and 40,071 acres of land in Lama, Nikkyong Chari, Alikadam and Bandarban Sadar for rubber and tea plantation by private individuals.

There have been no efforts to restore the land rights of the indigenous Jumma people. The Peace Accord provided for a Land Commission to ''resolve the disputes in consonance with the law, custom and practice in force in the Chittagong Hill Tracts''. But the CHT Land Commission, formed on 3 June 1999, remained ineffective. It even failed to conduct any formal meeting until on 8 June 2005.

e. Why Bangladesh should not be elected to the Human Rights Council

The government of Bangladesh has systematically silenced all forms discussion and protests on the land rights issue. On 15 March 2006, the police attacked the peaceful democratic protest rally of the Democratic Youth Forum at Khagrachari against military repression and land aggression in CHT. Two Democratic Youth activists were arrested from the rally. False cases were also filed against 120 DYF activists in connection with the incident.

Earlier on 23 November 2005, 68 indigenous Jumma NGOs were forced to abandon their two day meeting on land rights issues at Rangamati following a 'directive' from the Prime Minister's Office. The Deputy Commissioner of Rangamati informed the Superintendent of Police, who immediately intervened to stop the meeting.

A country which does not allow a workshop on land rights of the indigenous peoples should not be elected as a member of the UN Human Rights Council.

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