The Tenth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has been underway for the past week. One conference development relevant to the Buddhist world was a study on the status of the implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts are a part of Bangladesh’s Chittagong division. The CHT indigenous population—collectively referred to as Jumma, of whom a plurality are Buddhist—has been subject to forced displacement by government-sponsored Bengali settlers, military occupation, systematic rape, killings and torture. Buddhist temples have been desecrated, set on fire and destroyed. Furthermore, this ongoing intimidation occurs with complete judicial impunity; Bangladesh’s courts have failed to take the initiative in support of the CHT indigenous groups, while Jumma are routinely excluded from joining the police forces.
In the words of Elsa Stamatopoulou, Chief of the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the CHT situation is “one of the most underreported human rights and humanitarian crises in the world.”
A peace accord was signed between indigenous representatives and the Bangladeshi Government 14 years ago, but many of its central provisions have failed to be implemented by the government.
As described in the press conference on the implementation of the CHT Peace Accord, the intimidation of indigenous peoples continues. Systematic rape of indigenous women and girls has worsened in the past five years, while the police and judiciary have continued to turn a blind eye to the burning of villages, killings and torture—all amid the presence of the Bangladeshi army, ironically so as the army is the top or second top contributor of forces to UN peace keeping missions.
In response to the report and press conference, the Bangladeshi mission to the UN has attempted to divert any criticism of its policies by denying the Jumma’s indigenous status. “Bangladesh does not have any ‘indigenous population’,” stated Iqbal Ahmed, the first secretary of the Bangladesh mission to the United Nations. “The Accord has nothing to do with ‘indigenous issues’ and therefore, the government of Bangladesh reiterates its position that the forum, which is mandated to deal with ‘indigenous issues’, does not have any locus standi in discussing the issues related to the CHT Peace Accord.”
Raja Debasish Roy, a UNPFII member representing the indigenous peoples of the Asia region and also the traditional Chief of the Chakma people of CHT, was quoted by the Indpendent about the government’s reaction within the larger framework of international conflict resolution, “It is important to bear in mind the asymmetry in the status of the two parties to an accord—the state party and the non-state party. If the state reneges on its promises, what can the non-state party do but approach the United Nations? The Permanent Forum is mandated to deal with issues of indigenous peoples, irrespective of what term the governments use to refer to their indigenous peoples—‘tribes’ or ‘ethnic minorities’ or otherwise.”
If you wish to stay informed on the status of the CHT situation, I encourage you to follow the CHT news update blog.