Kapaeeng Foundation organizes launching and dissemination programme of “Human Rights Report 2014on Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh”

Land Grabbers and Bengali settlers carried out at least 7 communal attacks on indigenous peoples, and destroyed and looted their houses and properties. At least 15 indigenous peoples including 7 indigenous women were killed and at least 126 indigenous people were physically tortured and assaulted in 2014. Around 3,911 acres of lands in the CHT were taken over by state and non-state actors while 84,647 acres of lands are currently under the process of occupation and acquisition. And about 102 families including two from the plains were evicted from their ancestral homesteads, while 886 families including 300 families in the plains are currently facing eviction.A stunning figure of 122 indigenous women and girls were subjected to sexual and physical violence in 2014. All these information related to indigenous peoples were disclose on 27 February 2015 through Kapaeeng Foundation’s (KF) ‘Human Rights Reports 2014 on indigenous peoples in Bangladesh.’ The launching event and the publication of the report was supported by Oxfam and European Union.

For unveiling the report the rights organization KF organize a launching and dissemination programme at Towfiq Aziz Khan Seminar Hall of the Daily Star Bhaban in Dhaka. Pallab Chakma, executive director of Kapaeeng Foundation presented the report in the programme.

The event was presided over by KF chairperson Rabindranath Soren while former Advisor of Caretaker Government of Bangladesh and Executive Director of Ain O Salish Kendra noted human rights activist Advocate Sultana Kamal was present in the programme as chief guest. Ms.Hazera Sultana MP, Member of Parliamentary Caucus on Indigenous Peoples; Mr.Sanjeeb Drong, General Secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum addressed the launching programme. Ms. Chaitali Tripura, Vice Chairperson of Kapaeeng Foundation gave welcome speech and Mr. Hiran Mitra Chakma of Kapaeeng Foundation conduct the programme.

In her speech, Sultana Kamal said that she has visited many places in the CHT and the Plains to investigate the incidents of human rights violations upon indigenous peoples and found all the incidents factual. However, she doubt whether the state would ensure justice for the incidents of human rights abuses.

Addressing as chief guest she also said, “the fight for justice and the fight for rights is not only an issue for indigenous peoples but it is an issue for all the people of the country.” If we all stand together against the violation one day the number of violation will be decreased, she added.

She urged to the government to take initiative for proper implementation of CHT accord and establish a separate land commission for plain land indigenous peoples.

Hazera Sultana MP said, ‘land is life for indigenous peoples, therefore, if they lost their land, they will not survive in this country.’  However, it is unfortunate that, the land grabbers are very aggressively to grab the land of indigenous peoples. The government has to establish the land rights of indigenous peoples, if they truly wants to development of indigenous peoples. She demanded to the government to protect the human rights of indigenous peoples in Bangladesh.

Rights activist Sanjeeb Drong said, indigenous peoples’ and marginalized community are facing lots of problems in present political instability situation across the country. He urged the government to take the issues of the human rights report positively and take action accordingly.

Rabindranath  Soren said, indigenous freedom fighters are leaving the country. We need to think, in which situation the Freedom Fighters are leaving the country for which they have fought in 1971? He also urged to the government to ensure the punishment of perpetrators, who are involved in land grabbing, rape and any kind of violation on indigenous peoples.

It is notable that the human rights report is a result of Kapaeeng Foundation’s documentation and research work of the human rights situations of the indigenous peoples in Bangladesh throughout the year. Kapaeeng Foundation has been publishing its annual human rights report on indigenous peoples in Bangladesh since 2007. This year the Human Rights Report 2014 was edited by Professor Mong Shanoo Chowdhury and PallabChakma and contributed by Binota Moy Dhamai, Assistant General Secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum; Parboti Roy, Member of Bangladesh Indigenous Women Network; BabluChakma: Project Coordinator of Kapaeeng; SayonDewan, Member of Indigenous Peoples’ Human Rights Defenders’ Network; Manik Soren, Information and Research Secretary of JatiyaAdivasiParishad; Silvia Khyang, Member of Bangladesh Indigenous Women Network;  and Mangal Kumar Chakma, Advisor of  Kapaeeng Foundation.

The Executive Summary of “Human Rights Report 2014 on Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh” are as follows:

Executive Summary

As many as 54 indigenous communities, apart from the Bengalis, are found to be living in different parts of Bangladesh, whose ancestry in this country is rooted deep in the past thousands of years. . The Constitution of Bangladesh does not recognise the ethnic, linguistic and cultural minorities in the country as ‘indigenous peoples.’ Through the 15th Amendment to the Constitution in 2011, the government termed indigenous peoples as “tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities”, while also calling all the people of Bangladesh, irrespective of their ethnic, linguistic and cultural backgrounds, as “Bangalee”. In addition, unlike in 2008’s general election, ruling Awami League in its 2014 election manifest for the 10th General Elections used the terms ‘small ethnic group’ and ‘tribal’ to refer to indigenous peoples of the country.

In the 4th Upazila Elections held in 2014, indigenous candidates in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) bagged 18 positions of chairman, and 20 positions of female vice chairman both in the CHT & in the plains.  In addition, 17 indigenous candidates in the CHT were also elected as vice chairmen in the genera/male category. On the other hand, in the 10th National Parliamentary Election 2014, four indigenous candidates including one from the plains land got elected as Member of Parliament (MP). However, election and violence has become indissoluble in Bangladesh for long and the 10th National Parliamentary Election was no exception as it witnessed one person killed and 10 others abducted, 4 people tortured while 1 person was threatened with death in the CHT. In the plains land, 10 houses belonging to indigenous people were burnt to ashes and 5 houses were vandalised in Naogaon district.

As a member-State of UN, Bangladesh is a signatory to a number of international human rights covenants and conventions and has been elected a member to the UN Human Rights Council for 2015-2017. Bangladesh has the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of indigenous peoples. However, different government agencies are often found to interfere with the human rights of indigenous peoples enshrined in the international law. It has also been noted many a time and with concern that the state authority is reluctant to prevent violations of these rights by state agencies and other non-state actors. Such reluctance and failure of the state authority to bear its obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of indigenous peoples, encourages perpetrators to commit human rights violations with impunity.

Situation of Civil and Political Rights

The frequencies of violation of civil and political rights against indigenous peoples in Bangladesh have further intensified during the year under review. Bengali settlers and Land Grabber carried out at least 7 communal attacks on indigenous peoples, and destroyed and looted their houses and properties. At least 8 indigenous people were killed (apart from killing of 7 indigenous women) and 5 indigenous people from the CHT were arrested and detained either arbitrarily or on fabricated charges. At the same time, at least 126 indigenous people were physically tortured and assaulted. While most of the physical assaults were carried out by non-state actors such as influential Bengalis or Bengali miscreants, in many cases, the state actors such as members of security forces and law enforcement agencies played either supportive or passive roles at the time of committing  such crimes. As many as 58 indigenous houses in the CHT were set on fire and burnt to ashes by Bengali settlers in the presence of law enforcing agencies and security forces. What is, therefore, extremely pitiful is that the perpetrators involved in most of the crimes are seldom arrested, let alone facing exemplary punishment.

About 150 families numbering about 500 souls from the hills of Alikadam-Thanchi under Bandarban district migrated to Myanmar in the face of mounting insecurity, while at least 300 indigenous people belonging to 60 families in the plains land were forced to leave for neighboring India due to communal attack and fear of further persecution from Bengali land grabbers.

At least 4 (four) Buddhist temples in the CHT and 1 (one) Hindu temple belonging to the indigenous people in the plains were ransacked and defiled. Building of two Buddha statues/temples was intimidated and later on was ordered to stop building them by the local administration and the security forces deployed in the area of occurrence. It was also reported that a so-called Laden Group took away 20 Mro and Tripura children from Lama Upazila to Dhaka in the name of education. These children were later converted to Islam.

Situation of the Rights of Land and Natural Resources

The government continues to ignore the fact that indigenous peoples, under international human rights laws, have the right to their ancestral lands. This is tantamount to denying not only of  indigenous peoples’ access to their ancestral lands but it leads  to frequent violent clashes as well, between indigenous and mainstream Bengali land grabbers.

In 2014, around 3,911 acres of lands in the CHT were taken over by state and non-state actors while 84,647 acres of lands are currently under the process of occupation and acquisition. Forest Department intensified its process to acquire more than 84,542 acres of lands declaring them as reserved and protected forest, while BGB acquired lands violating customary land rights of indigenous peoples and provisions of the Hill District Councils Act 1998.

Throughout the reporting period, about 102 families including two from the plains land were evicted from their ancestral homesteads, while 886 families including 300 families in the plains are currently facing eviction. A total of 153 families, 89 from the plains and 64 from the CHT, over the year, came under attack by the land grabbers who organized these assaults to grab lands belonging to indigenous peoples. 10 people from indigenous communities were arrested by the police in connection with land related cases, which were of course fabricated ones, while 150 indigenous persons, 106 in the CHT and 44 in the plains, were implicated in the false and fabricated cases.

What is plainly discernible from the observation of situations obtaining at the ground level is that the land grabbers have turned more aggressive in their mission in 2014 than they were ever before. Cases are filed against indigenous families with the motive to harass them. Litigation in Bangladesh takes unusually longer time for resolution. Indigenous people, largely poor and illiterate, find it hard to hang on to the court case for long. Land grabbers seize the opportunity to put pressure on the helpless victims to sell their property. When the land grabbers fail in their techniques, they eventually go for harming (to the extent of killing even if necessary) their opponents.

It has been seen that state actors are also not lagging behind non-state actors in seizing lands belonging to indigenous peoples. For instance, general secretary of Awami-league of Chowgram Union unit in Natore is involved in the attack on Oraon families, while an advisor to Awami League, who is also a prosecutor of the International War Crimes Tribunal and a seating MP too, in addition to being the chairman of JatiyaMohilaSangstha, is found in occupation of indigenous peoples’ lands in Bandarban hill district.

Situation of the Rights of Indigenous Women and Girls

Although the Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees equality for all citizens, the minority population in the country confronts severe discrimination and indigenous peoples are no exception to this. A stunning figure of 122 indigenous women and girls were subjected to sexual and physical violence in 2014. A total of 75 cases on violence against indigenous women and girls were documented in 2014. Of the 75 cases, 51 and 24 cases were reported from the CHT and the plains respectively. There were 75 such cases in 2014, up from 48 the previous year. The increased number of sexual and physical violence against indigenous women and girls is an indication  of  serious deterioration of human rights situation of indigenous population in the country.

In 2014 a total of 7 women and girls were killed after rape while a total number of 21 cases on rape and gang rape were reported from across the country with 12 of them took place in the CHT, while  9 of such crimes were committed in the plains. The severe forms of human rights violation against indigenous women and girls were physical assaults/molestation/sexual harassment with a total number of 62 in the year 2014. Rape attempts were made on 22 indigenous women and girls, and 10 women and girls were kidnapped and attempted to kidnap during the reporting period.

The majority of the victims/survivors are children (60%) in the age group of 4-18 years, and 40% were adults above 18 years of age. The striking feature of this crime against indigenous women and girls was that the dominant perpetrators were Bengali settlers in the CHT and Bengalis in the plains (91% in both the cases). In addition, 4% of the members of the security forces are reported to have committed such offence in contrast to a nominal number of indigenous men perpetrator.

In comparison to 50 indigenous women and girls who were victims of rape, attempted rape and gang rape as reported by KF against the 615 victims of mainstream Bengali women and girls reported by ASK in 2014. It is worth mentioning that 7.52% of these victims/survivors were from indigenous communities, who are merely 1.8% of country’s total population, while the remaining 92.48% victims were from the Bengali community, who are the majority in the country with 98.2% of the total population. From the statistical data given above, it is clear that the propensity of committing sexual and physical violence against indigenous women is more than violence against the mainstream Bengali women. Such incidents occur massively due to ethnic and cultural differences. Violence against women and girls is one of the weapons used widely to evict ethnic, cultural and religious minorities from their ancestral lands. Hegemonic chauvinism to dominate over and subdue minorities also acts as an inducement to exploit indigenous women sexually and physically.

 Out of 75 cases 42 cases were filed on physical and sexual violence against indigenous women and girls and six cases were resolved through local arbitration. Although a few of the perpetrators were put in the jail following the cases filed against them, but soon most of them got released. A culture of impunity along with patriarchy, hegemonic masculinities and gender disparities towards indigenous women bar limited or no access to justice.

Situation of the Rights of Youth, Child and Education

The situation of the children and that of education rights in the country have also remained far from satisfactory over the years. The issues of human rights of indigenous youths and children are often overlooked and not much discussed about. Bangladesh recently enacted the Children Act 2013 in line with the CRC with a view to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of children in Bangladesh. However, this law remained largely on paper, the provisions of this act are yet to be properly complied with by the government. Besides, this law does not have any specific provisions for indigenous children and no mention of indigenous children could be found in the law. In consequence, the situation of human rights of indigenous children in 2014 remains vulnerable.

The state of education in 2014 witnessed similar trends despite having some mixed developments. Although a number of positive developments could be observed throughout the year, some of the initiatives taken by the government resulted instead, in the violation of the rights to education.  The educational life of over a hundred indigenous children in Dighinalaupazila has been threatened with uncertainty allegedly due to setting up of a battalion headquarters by the BGB on the lands belonging to indigenous peoples. Government’s decision to set up the Science and Technology University and a Medical College in Rangamati, despite mass opposition, has generated fear of losing lands among indigenous peoples of Rangamati. Government’s plan to kick off mother tongue based Multilingual Education (MLE) for indigenous children have failed to make any headway even after the end of nearly two years. Government claims that this stalemate is due to lack of budget to implement the plan.

On the contrary, 280 indigenous candidates of 34th batch of BCS, who were left out in the revised results of preliminary test published in 2013, won the right to sit for written exams after a High Court directive in February 2014. The Transfer of secondary education to the three Hill District Councils, (HDC) in May 2014, generated a new hope for positive change in secondary education of underprivileged indigenous communities in the CHT. The government has taken an initiative to conduct a survey on the languages of indigenous peoples in Bangladesh with the intent to revitalize and preserve the indigenous languages at risk. Ministry of Education through International Mother Language Institute has started to implement this project since early 2014.

CHT Accord of 1997: Present State and Challenges of Its Implementation

This year marks the conclusion of 17 years since the signing of the CHT Accord in 1997 between the Government of Bangladesh and the PCJSS. Since Awami League-led grand alliance took over  power in 2009,  the 6th year of its continuation in power if taken into account the previous five years of its office at the center,  it has not taken any step towards implementation of the core issues of the Accord which could have been a milestone for the government .

The government keeps on claiming that altogether 48 out of 72 sections of the CHT Accord have been implemented and 15 sections out of the rest have been partially implemented, while the remaining 9 sections are under the process of implementation. In fact, the said statement of the government is not true on the  whole. As per the observation of the PCJSS, only 25  out of 72 sections of the CHT Accord were  implemented so far.  34 sections of the Accord still remain totally unimplemented, while 13 sections had been partially implemented. It means that two-third of the sections of the CHT Accord still await implementation .

After forming new government on 12 January 2014, the government took few initiatives for implementation of the CHT Accord, such as, (1) transfer of 5 subjects/department to the HDCs; (2) enactment of CHT Development Board Act 2014 despite reservation of the CHT Regional Council; passage of three Hill District Council (Amendment) Acts 2014 ignoring the advice of the CHT Regional Council and amid popular protest against these amendment bills; (3) Holding of a meeting of Task Force on Rehabilitation of Returnee Refugees and Internally Displaced Families; and (4) Holding of two meetings for amendment of the CHT Land Disputes Resolution Commission Act 2001. These initiatives failed to bring any substantial progress in resolving the core issues of the Accord.

On the contrary, government as well undertook few initiatives which created controversy. This includes (1) plan to set up a Science and Technology University and a Medical College in Rangamati in the face of strong popular protest from the CHT people and the civic rights groups as it would lead to land alienation  of indigenous peoples who already faced evictions for a number of times during the last 55 years;  and (2) land acquisition in the name of establishing camps, magnificent and grand looking tourist complexes  by the army and the BGB, declaration of extensive areas into reserved & protected forests by the forest department and leasing out of thousand of acres of lands under customary ownership of indigenous peoples to non-residents for rubber plantation.

Recently in a press conference held on 29 November 2014 in Dhaka, the PCJSS threatened to wage a non-cooperation movement from May 1 next year if the government does not take effective measures to implement the CHT Accord by 30 April 2015. This has sparked off quite a bit of uneasiness among the people in the CHT.


  • To take effective measures to fully implement the CHT Accord of 1997 based on a road map with time frame and priorities set, and to amend the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act on the basis of the 13-point amendment proposals finalised by the CHT Regional Council and the CHT Affairs Ministry and agreed at the Inter Ministerial Meeting.
  • To form a separate land commission for indigenous peoples in the plains to facilitate restoration of their dispossessed lands.
  • To stop communal violence and physical abuse against indigenous women and girls and to conduct judicial inquiries into the communal violence and abuses against indigenous women.
  • To provide constitutional recognition to the indigenous peoples as per international human rights instruments ratified by the Government of Bangladesh.
  • To conduct investigation into the human rights violations against indigenous peoples by the National Human Rights Commission regularly.
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