The Chittagong Hill Tracts International Commission has expressed grave concern over the home ministry order banning any unsupervised meeting or talking with the adivasis and restricting foreigners' access to the hill districts.
Terming it unconstitutional, discriminatory and contradictory to the CHT Peace Accord, the commission demanded an immediate cancellation of the ministry order.
Based on the decisions taken at a home ministry meeting on January 7, the fourth and fifth directives of the 11-point order state if anyone with a foreign passport wants to visit Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban, s/he will have to submit an application to the home ministry at least a month before the intended visit.
Besides, any interaction between the adivasis and local or foreign individual or organisation has to be supervised by members of the armed forces and local administration.
“The rule -- which requires ministry approval and the BGB-army supervision for any meeting with the adivasis in the hill tracts but doesn't apply to the rest of the country -- is undoubtedly racist, discriminatory and unconstitutional and amounts to stripping individual freedom,” read a statement issued by commission yesterday.
While infringing the basic rights of national or foreign citizens, “the racist” directive will “seriously impact the implementation of the CHT Peace Accord”, said the statement, signed by Sultana Kamal, Lord Eric Avebury and Elsa Stamatopoulou, co-chairs of the commission.
It demanded a specific timeline for the full implementation of the peace treaty.
The commission also slammed the ninth directive stipulating that BGB sector/battalion/border outposts (BOP) can operate on acquired land.
In line with a condition set in the accord, the amended CHT District Council Act 1998 states that no land, except for reserved forests, can be acquired in the CHT without the district council nod, it said.
“It is notable that the land for establishing BGB sector/battalion/BOP was acquired only with the approval of district administration bypassing the district council,” it added.
Moreover, the land acquired for BGB establishments was shown as reserved forests. But it was adivasi people's common land, grabbed after evicting many families.
In this context, the ninth directive worries the commission.
Commenting on the 10th directive of the ministry order for setting up checkposts at the entry to the hill tracts, the commission said there was no such provision for any other district. Why would the CHT be an exception?
The statement also read that checkposts failed to prevent incidents of rape and oppression of adivasi women as well as communal attacks in the past.
For instance, recent arson attacks and looting in indigenous villages of Bogachhori under Naniachar of Rangamati took place despite the presence of nearby check-posts, it read.
The 11th directive of the order stated that former Shanti Bahini members in police and ansar would be removed from the CHT.
“Given that the importance of mixed policing has repeatedly been emphasised in order to implement the Peace Accord and maintain law and order in the region, this decision, which clearly contradicts the Peace Accord, has undoubtedly increased a sense of insecurity among the people of CHT,” the statement said.
The third directive of the order asked the CHT Commission to remove the word 'Commission' from its name without explaining which law dictates that there could be no non-governmental initiative with the word attached to its name, said the statement.
Commenting on the first directive asking the UNDP to submit a report on the implementation and outcomes of its $160 million development projects in the CHT in the last 10 years, the statement said, “The question remains why the projects of CHT need to be singled out and monitored separately.”
Stressing that the decisions were taken unilaterally without consultation with the Regional Council, it said, “This order is also an attack on the freedom of expression of not just adivasis but every citizen of Bangladesh.”