|Prepared upon UN Press Statement||
May 27, 2011
A UN Special Rapporteur has suggested that the United Nations closely monitor the human rights records of the army before letting countries take part in the peacekeeping operations.
Lars-Anders Baer, a former member of the UNPFII, during the 12th and 13th meeting on CHT of the ongoing UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in New York described how Bangladesh Army was abusing power in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, according to the official UN website.
“The region is still heavily militarised and there are reports that the military is carrying out gross violations of indigenous human rights,” he said while presenting his study report on the implementation of the CHT Peace Accord 1997.
The former UNPFII member said impunity prevailed in the area and stressed that the violators be brought to justice.
Baer prepared the report, ‘Status of Implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997′ after visiting places and talking to inhabitants in the region and senior ministers and top government officials in September last year.
He was charged by the forum’s ninth session with visiting Bangladesh to carry out the study.
Baer recommended that the UN peacekeeping operations body adopt a mechanism “to strictly monitor and screen the human rights records of national army personnel prior to allowing them to participate in peacekeeping operations under the auspices of the United Nations”.
Released on Feb 18 this year, the study recommends that the Permanent Forum dedicate the special theme of its 12th session, or a technical seminar, to conflict-prevention initiatives in the territories of indigenous peoples.
The hill tracts in the south-eastern Bangladesh are home to 11 indigenous groups.
The peace accord between the then Awami League government and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS) ended the decade-long bush war between the indigenous people and the army.
Of some 500 temporary army camps, 200 have so far been withdrawn by the governments in phases until 2007 while 34 in august and September last year. The six permanent cantonments are still there.
Baer, however, disagreed with the Bangladesh government on the number, terming it contradictory to other reports and demanded a time-limit for the total pullout to be fixed.
PCJSS estimates that the number of military camps withdrawn to date is around 74.
Baer said the forum had addressed the issue many times, “but the pressure on the Chittagong indigenous people and use of violence against them have escalated.”
He also urged the UN to play a greater role in pushing for the execution of the peace accord, saying that the government, who had signed the deal, was lagging due to the lack of political motivation to execute its major provisions.
This year’s session has a significant representation of the indigenous people of Bangladesh. Chakma Raja Devasish Roy, an expert member of the UNPFII for 2011-13, is leading the indigenous groups in the 12-day session that began on May 16.
The high-level delegation from Bangladesh, led by state minister of CHT affairs Dipankar Talukdar, cancelled their trip to New York “at the last minute”.
Urging the government for effective measures to execute the peace accord, Raja Devasish said: “Demilitarisation was crucial, as it had implications for the stability of the entire country and its journey to democracy”.
Rukka Sombolinggi, representative from Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, demanded immediate withdrawal of all military camps.
She wondered a third of the Bangladeshi army is alleged to be deployed in the region “even though the country is not at war” and there is no insurgency there as well.
Mangal Kumar Chakma of the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti said the peace accord aimed at resolving the problems through political and peaceful means. But “only a little” of that accord had been implemented between 1996 and 2001.
Steen Hansen from Denmark, one of the major development partners of Bangladesh, said they were committed to the promotion of indigenous peoples’ rights, which was a priority of their foreign policy.
“Failure to implement the peace accord could cause renewed instability in the region,” she feared.
Niko Valkeapaa representing the Sami Council in the session said his organisation was worried about the recent spate of attacks that had been taking place in the region in the last few years.
Celest Mckay, from the North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus, demanded that the Bangladesh government fully implement the CHT peace deal, in particular regarding demilitarisation of Bangladeshi indigenous people’s homelands.
Mackay also asked Bangladeshi authorities to address impunity of human rights violations, halt violence and human rights violations.
The Bangladesh first secretary to the UN denied all the allegations of dilly-dallying in execution and also binned the report saying that the forum had no standing to discuss about the peace accord since there were no “indigenous” people in the country.
Iqbal Ahmed labelled them “minorities”.
He rejected the study labelling it to be a sadly “lopsided” opinion on a non-indigenous issue.
But, he did not defend the gross allegations of human rights violation by army in the region, but gave the account of army pullout.
Saul Vincente Vasquez, a member of the Permanent Forum from Mexico, in the discussion after Iqbal’s speech asked: “If indigenous peoples did not, in fact, exist in Bangladesh, should Bengali Permanent Forum member Devashish Roy give up his membership to the Forum?”
Former UNPFII chairman Victoria Tauli Corpuz, from a protest rally outside the session on Wednesday, shared her experience about the villages she had visited in 2003 which were “burnt down in the presence of the army.”
“Bangladesh Army needs to stop these human rights violations, and there should be investigations into the attacks, which are happening very systematically,” she warned.
The protest rally was organised by International Jumma Organisation and Friends of CHT Bangladesh, rights groups of the indigenous people living in the USA.
Kirti Ranjan Chakma, a retired army officer, said the army had been given an “absolute authority to control the affairs in the CHT” and the governments were “practically powerless to decide anything related to CHT”.
He pointed at “continued heavy presence of the army” which contributed to human rights violations in the entire region. “We also hear of the involvement of the army in backing Bangalee settlers in their attempts to grab indigenous peoples’ land,” according to a statement by IJO.
Saami Council president Mattias Ahren shared his experience: “A few years ago I visited CHT. It was beautiful but also sad to see how heavily militarised the area was.”