Rights denied in the hills
Denying indigenous people their land rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) or adequate compensation for the land taken away from them is a clear violation of international human rights law.
The rights organisation Amnesty International says this in a report released today on its website. The report, titled 'Pushed to the Edge', documents how indigenous people are put in a cycle of conflict with the majority Bangalees in the CHT.
The Bangladesh government has failed to ensure land rights to indigenous people in 15 years since the signing of the CHT peace accord, Amnesty said, calling on the government to take concrete steps to return their land.
Deprivation of land has left indigenous people in chronic poverty. The poverty level in their villages in the CHT region is higher than that in other parts of the country, the report says, citing a survey conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2009.
The average annual income of indigenous people is 74 percent of the national average. Sixty-five percent of them live below the poverty line while 44 percent are described as "hardcore poor," according to the report.
Clashes between indigenous people and Bangalee settlers over the use of land have led to the eviction of 90,000 indigenous families from their areas and the conflict will continue as long as land disputes remain unresolved, it says.
"The current situation, with violent clashes being fuelled by disputes over land, continues to cause immense insecurity and suffering for the indigenous people," Andrew Erueti, a researcher at Amnesty International on indigenous people's rights, said in a statement attached to the report.
The government still has time to fulfil its promises before the upcoming general elections, he added.
When asked about the government's position regarding the report, Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura, secretary of the CHT affairs ministry, said the present government was on the right track toward implementing it.
The ruling Awami League was not in power for seven years out of 15 since the signing of the accord, Tripura said. Out of 72 clauses of the CHT Peace Accord of 1997, 48 have been fully implemented, 15 partially and nine others are in the process of implementation.
According to a study by the Committee for the Protection of Forests and Land Rights, 218,000 acres of land in the CHT were acquired by the forest department as reserve forest between 1990 and 1998.
Amnesty also revealed that Bangalee settlers had dislodged indigenous people by torching their houses in 2008, 2010 and 2011 in Sajek and Longodu areas. Having been displaced, many have taken shelter in the reserve forest and are now at constant risk of being evicted by the government.
"Our home has become an insecure and unsafe place to live in," the report quoted an indigenous woman.
Z Amnesty International calls on Bangladesh to respect its obligations under the international human rights laws, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the ILO Convention on Indigenous and Tribal People.