Urgent Action - Culture, environment and biodiversity endangered in Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh

Urgent Action - Culture, environment and biodiversity endangered in Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh

The Bangladesh government is planning to settle many more thousands of plains people on the ancestral lands of indigenous peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts against the will of affected communities. This culturally and ecologically destructive proposal threatens to violate the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples and destroy valuable forest ecosystems, including the Kassalong forests.

Please take action to support the region's indigenous peoples and help protect their forests by expressing your concerns to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Please call on the government to cancel these unjust and destructive plans.

Background information and a model letter are included below.

 

Threats to indigenous peoples and biodiversity in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

XXXXX [name of organisation] is writing to you to express its deep concern after receiving reports that your government plans to settle large numbers of non-indigenous families in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

According to the information available to us at this time, we understand that the government of Bangladesh is planning to settle somewhere between 28,000 and 65,000 non-indigenous families in the Hill Tracts region of the country. Such plans threaten to undermine the cultural integrity of the indigenous peoples that inhabit the area and make them a minority in their own region. The same top-down plans risk causing serious adverse impacts on the upland forest ecosystems that sustain local traditional livelihoods and harbour a rich biodiversity e.g., the Kassalong forests.

We urge your government to cancel this controversial settlement plan indefinitely. This request is made because the plan is opposed by the indigenous communities in the region and is contrary to the 1997 CHT Peace Accord, which acknowledges the need to protect the special cultural and ecological character of the upland zone that constitutes an indigenous-tribal area. The plan also contravenes Article 52 of the Chittagong Hill Tracts 1900 Regulation.

Mr. Prime Minister, we call on you personally to take immediate steps to ensure that the aforementioned settlement programme is annulled. Such cancellation will demonstrate the commitment of your government to implement the CHT Accord and relevant national and international obligations, such as those under ratified by the Government of Bangladesh under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

We look forward to learning of your positive response to the issues we have raised in this letter.

Yours sincerely,

XXXXXXX

cc: Deputy Minister, Ministry of CHT Affairs 

Send your letters to:

Begum Khaleda ZiaHonorable Prime MinisterGovernment of the People's Republic of BangladeshOffice of the Prime MinisterOld Airport RoadTejgaonDhaka-1000Bangladesh

Fax: + 880-2-811 3244, 811 3243Email: pm@pmobd.org                pstopsecy@pmobd.org                psecretary@pmobd.org

Copy the letter to:Mr. Mani Swapan Dewan,Honorable Deputy Minister,Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs,Building No. 4, 6th Floor, Bangladesh Secretariat,Dhaka-1000, Bangladesh

Tel: + 880-2-861 3214Fax: + 880-2-956 5300E-mail: mochtadh@bttb.net

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Thanking you in advance for your solidarity,

Tom GriffithsForest Peoples Programme

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Background information:

Culture, Environment and Biodiversity endangered In Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh

1.       Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) situating on southeastern parts of Bangladesh and bordering India on the northwest, north and northeast and Arakan State of Myanmar on the south and southeast is an indigenous populated region. The Indigenous peoples, namely, Chakma, Marma, Tripura, Murung, Khiyang,Bawm, Pankho, Lusai, Khumi and Chak and few others are collectively known as Jumma People (People of Highland).

2.      CHT  covers 13, 274 sq. kms. area, which is mostly one-tenth of the total area of the country. It has only 3% agricultural cultivable land area. 78% of its area is mountains and hills covered with forest and bushes. 5% is water area including the Kaptai lake created by an embankment in Kaptai. 14% area is suitable for horticulture only. That is why compared to the cultivable land area population density in CHT is too high. Yet the government authorities, with a view to encourage migration of population from other area propagates that CHT is having vast area with fertile lands.

3.      CHT was an Excluded area with special administrative status in British India. During the partition in 1947 ratio of indigenous and non-indigenous population was 98.5% and 2.5% respectively. Presently it is 55% and 45% and total population is 1.4 million.

4.      Bangladesh emerged as an independent state in 1971 and the government denied the rights of the indigenous peoples of CHT. On the contrary, the government adopted a policy of annihilation of the Jumma peoples. Consequently, since mid 1975 there occurred armed conflicts, which ended with an Agreement signed in 1997 between the government and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti, the only political party of the Indigenous Jumma people.

5.      The main features of the Agreement were as follows:

(1)   To settle land disputes created owing to settlement of half a million non-indigenous peoples (political migrants) on the lands owned by indigenous peoples either individually or collectively,

(2)   To constitute Special administrative set up in CHT,

(3)   To make separate electoral rolls Rules,

(4)   To rehabilitate the displaced indigenous peoples,

(5)   To close all army, ansar and VDP (Village Defense Party) camps except 6 permanent army installations, and

(6)   To provide some other facilities to the Indigenous peoples of CHT.

6.      CHT Affairs ministry at the national level, CHT Regional Council at the regional level and three Hill District Councils at the district level have been constituted. However, the government has not yet delegated powers because of political hostile policy. Other provisions remained unimplemented. Military rule imposed during the armed conflict period still prevails under the name 'Operation Uttoran'. Affected Indigenous peoples has neither been rehabilitated nor been given back their land grabbed by non-indigenous peoples (i.e. political migrants). On the contrary, supply of free ration, housing and other facilities to the political migrants continues since 1978-79 as well as fresh resettlement of non-indigenous population and forcible land grabbing in CHT continues unabated.

7.      Recently the government has taken up further programme for settlement of 28,000 non-indigenous families (each family with average 5 members) to CHT particularly in the Kassalong Reserve Forests, the main natural forests of CHT, which is still having good numbers of wild animals and plants. The government has taken up this programme with an aim to outnumber the indigenous peoples in CHT. [Note: other sources suggest the number of families to be moved to the uplands may be as high as 65,000]

8.      The population of wild life was seriously affected due to population pressure and destruction of environment for livelihood of the newly migrated population and the displaced indigenous peoples as well as massive illegal logging. In the same way, the present programme shall effect the environment and biodiversity in CHT very badly. It is very much urgent to urge the Government of Bangladesh to cancel this programme.

9.      Therefore, I, on behalf of the indigenous peoples of CHT, would like to appeal to the world community to take up the matter with the Government of Bangladesh urgently to cancel the programme for fresh settlement of non-indigenous population from other parts to Kassalong Reserve Forests in CHT.

Goutam kumar Chakma, June, 2005

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Model letter

Begum Khaleda ZiaHonorable Prime MinisterGovernment of the People's Republic of BangladeshOffice of the Prime MinisterOld Airport RoadTejgaonDhaka-1000,Bangladesh

Fax: + 880-2-811 3244, 811 3243

Dear Prime Minister: