Report by the Anti-Slavery Society on the Chittagong Hill Tracts to the UNWGIP 3rd Session - 1984
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DOCUMENT: CHT_UN84.TXT


                         ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY
                                FOR THE
                      PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

                        REPORT FOR 1984 TO THE
              UNITED NATIONS WORKING GROUP ON INDIGENOUS 
                              POPULATIONS

                              BANGLADESH

          At last year's session of the Working Group on 
     Indigenous Populations the Anti-Slavery Society drew the 
     attention of the experts to the situation of the tribal 
     minority peoples living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of 
     Bangladesh. In that submission we stated that numerous human 
     rights violations were being perpetrated by the armed forces 
     against the tribal peoples including murder, torture and 
     sacrilegious attacks on Buddhist monks and temples. A full 
     report has now been completed and presented to the Human 
     Rights Centre.  
     
          This year the Society wishes to address itself to the 
     two matters under discussion during this session: the 
     question of definition and of land. In the working 
     definition proposed by the Special Rapporteur, Mr Martinez 
     Cobo, indigenous populations are described as "the existing 
     descendants of the people who inhabited the present 
     territory of a country at the time when persons of a 
     different culture or ethnic origin arrived." In various 
     submissions by indigenous peoples organizations, in 
     Convention 107 of the International Labour Organisation, and 
     implicitly in various United Nations instruments, it has 
     been stated that these people have a right to their own 
     land. 

          The distinguished representative of Bangladesh stated 
     last year that Bangladesh had no indigenous peoples. He also 
     stated that the Bengali-speaking majority had been settled 
     in the area from prehistoric times. He maintained that the 
     Working Group should be addressing itself to those 
     situations such as Australia where, and I quote, "a 
     colonising and racially distinct people coming from overseas 
     established settlement and entered into conflict with the 
     autochton population."  
     
          The Chittagong Hill Tracts have been inhabited since 
     time immemorial by hill tribes different in race, religion 
     and culture from the Muslim Bengali majority of Bangladesh. 
     They retained their autonomy during Mughal and British 
     occupation of the region. Until the 1950s more than 90 per 
     cent of the population was tribal. Bengalis from the plains 
     have only begun to settle in the hill tracts in the last two 
     decades.  
     
          When Bengalis came in small numbers they were always 
     welcomed by the tribespeople but in recent years they have 
     come in thousands; they arrive poor and unfamiliar with 
     their new environment and completely unaware of the culture 
     and traditions of the inhabitants of the region. They have 
     no knowledge of the communal land base of the tribal 
     communities, they have no skills in living in the forests 
     and hills as shifting cultivators and they regard with 
     suspicion and derision the clothing, way of life and customs 
     of the tribespeople.  
     
          In the last decade the clashes between these two 
     distinct cultures have led to at least two serious massacres 
     of tribespeople: in 1980 at Kaokhali and in 1981 at 
     Matiranga. The inhabitants of the hill tracts fear for their 
     lives. Tribal villagers hide themselves when soldiers of the 
     Bangladeshi army are reported in the vicinity such is the 
     terror now prevalent in the tracts. 
     
          The Anti-Slavery Society is quite willing to take the 
     situation in Australia as the paradigm for the work of these 
     sessions, as the distinguished representative of Bangladesh 
     urges. We know as well as any what happened to the 
     Aboriginal population of Australia in the first century of 
     occupation. A population of 300,000 was reduced by 4/5ths 
     and the Aborigines were excluded from all but the most 
     inhospitable areas of the country. The European settlers 
     there did not acknowledge land held communally, just as in 
     the hill tracts today land that is untitled is claimed as 
     government land and disposed of accordingly. In the last two 
     decades the indigenous peoples of the region have faced 
     persistent land alienation.  
     
          More than 100,000 tribespeople were displaced in the 
     1960s as the result of a hydro-electric power project on the 
     Karnaphuli River. The reservoir inundated 250 square miles 
     and 40 per cent of the cultivable land of the Chittagong 
     Hill Tracts. At no time was there consultation with the 
     hillpeople. Indeed, a study undertaken in 1979 discovered 
     that 93 per cent of those affected believe that their 
     economic condition has deteriorated as a consequence of that 
     development.  
     
          Since the independence of Bangladesh in 1972 there has 
     been a rapid growth of new settlements by non-tribal 
     Bengalis from the plains, By 1981 it is estimated that 
     nearly 200,000 had been settled. In July 1982 a new 
     settlement programme was authorised by the Bangladeshi 
     government by which a further quarter of a million Bengalis 
     would be transferred to the district. This massive programme 
     of settlement will make the indigenous peoples of the 
     Chittagong Hill Tracts a minority in their own land. 

          The people of the hill tracts are not seeking 
     independence, nor the creation of a separate state apart 
     from Bangladesh, but the recognition that they have the 
     right to their traditional way of life, their own land and 
     some measure of control over their own development. The 
     present situation of terror and violence cannot be allowed 
     to continue. A new policy from the Bangladeshi government 
     aimed at providing some tribal autonomy and guaranteeing 
     rights is a necessity. The Anti-Slavery Society recommends 
     most earnestly that the Government of Bangladesh:  
     
        1) enter into discussion with all sectors of tribal 
           society in the Chittagong Hill Tracts with a view to 
           reaching a political settlement which would respect 
           the land rights, future and identity of indigenous 
           peoples;  
     
        2) bring an immediate halt to the influx of settlers into 
           the tracts;  
     
        3) Investigate human rights violations against tribal 
           peoples in the hill tracts.  
     
          Finally, the Anti-Slavery Society urges the Government 
     of Bangladesh to allow free access to the troubled region to 
     international observers and journalists. This measure alone 
     would do much to reduce the level of fear and suspicion felt 
     by the tribespeople of the hill tracts.  


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