HRFB condemns new restrictions on citizens at Chittagong Hill Tracts

HRFB condemns new restrictions on citizens at Chittagong Hill Tracts

February 11, 2015

Human Rights Forum Bangladesh (HRFB) condemns new restrictions on fundamental rights of
citizens relating to the CHT
Calls upon the Government to withdraw the restrictive order

[Dhaka, 11 February 2015] Human Rights Forum, Bangladesh (HRFB) protests in the strongest term the recent decision by the Ministry of Home Affairs to restrict foreigners’ access to the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), putting restriction on indigenous people to meet with visiting foreigners and locals and blatant assurance of Government support in favour of land acquisition. The Forum calls upon the government to immediately withdraw these unconstitutional and discriminatory restrictions.

A meeting held on 7 January 2015, presided over by the State Minister for Home Affairs decided to impose restriction on foreigners, expatriates, as well as local people to travel to CHT and to meet with the indigenous people. This decision has been conveyed to the district administration of the three CHT districts as an order from the Ministry. The order states that any foreigner interested to visit the CHT will need prior permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs one month ahead, and foreign diplomats based in Dhaka will require prior approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The decision also states that the presence of local administration, Army or BGB personnel shall be ensured where any local or foreign visitor meets any indigenous (‘tribal’) person in the CHT.

In the meeting, the CHT Ministry has assured to extend its support if BGB needs lands from the forest department to establish Border OutPosts (BOPs). This raises serious concern in the context that land disputes remain at the heart of the CHT conflict, local residents are severely affected by land acquisitions and those seeking to investigate allegations of rights violation are facing continuous harassment and threats.

HRFB considers that these decisions by the Ministry of Home Affairs are discriminatory in nature and contrary to the Constitution of Bangladesh. Article 28(1) of the Constitution states, “The state shall not discriminate against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.” The requirement for the presence of the local administration, army or BGB personnel during meetings by individuals- that could be their spouses, relatives or friends (foreigner or local) or organizations with indigenous people (‘tribals’) is clearly discriminatory, and will also severely impede the right to freedom of speech guaranteed in Article 39 of the Constitution. The decisions are blatant contrary to the government’s commitment to ensuring the full implementation of the CHT accord.

As an active stakeholder of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, we note that in response to the recommendations of several countries during the last UPR session in 2013, the Government of Bangladesh strongly claimed that ‘almost all the provisions of the CHT accord have been implemented’ which HRFB members couldn’t consider consistent with the ground reality. The current decisions appear to reflect determination of a section of the Government, particularly law enforcement and intelligence agencies as well as the army, to consistently restrict the right to property, freedom of speech, free movement and freedom of association of indigenous people in the CHT, as well as of other individuals including Bangladeshi citizens. The Home Ministry initiative and assurance to extend all out support to BGB for land acquisition for setting up BOPs are blatant examples of deficit in the Government’s commitment to implement the CHT accord.

We urge the government to immediately withdraw the decisions by a public statement, to regain the trust which has been battered. We also call upon the members of the parliament, civil society, media and other stakeholders to raise their voices against such denial of basic rights of people in Bangladesh, in particular indigenous people.