Before taking up big "development" projects such as establishing a medical college in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the government should discuss the matter with the CHT regional council as per the 1997 Peace Accord. It is necessary to assess public opinion on whether a project in the name of "development" in the region would actually benefit the locals.
The CHT commission said this yesterday afternoon at a press conference in the capital's Jatiya Press Club.
Titled "Violence in Rangamati and the human rights situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts", the conference was organised following the January 10 and 11 attacks on indigenous people after Hill Students Council protested the inauguration of a medical college in the district.
Difference of opinion between pro-ruling student body Chhatra League and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity's student wing Hill Students Council turned into a communal conflict between hill people and Bangalees, read the press statement which was presented by CHTC member Swapan Adnan.
The statement also pointed out that there were only a few instances of fair and effective investigation into these attacks, which explained why communal attacks on indigenous people continued.
Rights activist Sultana Kamal, also co-chairperson of the commission, said the conference was organised so that the mainstream population could know and understand the real condition of the indigenous community in CHT.
The commission cited instances of at least 10 communal attacks on hills people over the last five years and 34 instances of violence against indigenous women, which include murder, rape, attempt to rape, abduction and attempt to abduct.
In almost all the 34 cases, the perpetrators were Bangalee settlers and in two cases, violence was committed by members of security forces, said Kamal.
Barrister Sara Hossain, member of the commission, said freedom of speech is a basic right which was curbed in the Rangamati incident as the peaceful protest by the hill students was attacked by the ruling party's student wing.
"When indigenous people ask for justice referring to the country's law, they are denied the opportunity and false cases are filed against them instead," she said.
"Even those who speak for the indigenous people are attacked," she said, adding how investigation into the attack on CHTC member secretary in last year's July saw no headway.
TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman, another member of the commission, said, "The whole situation of the country is moving towards a trend where denying rights of hills people by misusing power and using force has become a political, economical and social culture."
The CHT Commission comprises civil society members from home and abroad who look into the civil, political and land rights of the indigenous communities of the three hill districts. It has also been working to implement the 1997 CHT Peace Accord.