Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bangladesh: Ethnic Jumma people living in fear after attacks year ago


Photos by Saleem Samad: They are now widows (left). Their husbands Lakkhi Bijoy Chakma (40) and Buddhapati Chakma (36) were brutally killed during the strife by Bangalee settlers with machetes in Baghaihat, Sajek. Below the Marma resident in Khagrachari lost everything. His mud-built house along with food grain stock was burnt to ashes in broad day-light by settlers. However, his family escaped unhurt. The perpetrators enjoy impunity and remain illusive.

THIS WEEKEND marks the first anniversary of a vicious attack on Jumma tribal people by settlers and soldiers in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. Two Jummas, a man and a woman, were killed, 450 houses were burnt down and more than 25 Jummas were injured in the violence last year.

Before the attacks, tensions had been mounting between Jummas and Bengali settlers, who with the support of the army had been expanding their settlements onto Jumma land. Hundreds of thousands of settlers have been moved to the Hill Tracts by the Bangladesh government over the last sixty years. The settlers have displaced many of the Jumma tribal people who have also been subjected to violent repression by the army.

Despite an international outcry about the attacks, which were condemned by the UN and the EU, there has been no formal investigation into the violence and no settlers or soldiers have been prosecuted. Four Jumma youths were arrested and tortured by the army, and have been released on bail.

The Jummas who lost their homes in the attacks are living in makeshift houses, despite government promises of rehabilitation and compensation.

Aid agencies, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), have been prevented from working in the area. There are reports that army and intelligence activities have dramatically increased.

One Jumma told Survival, ‘Military forces frequently conduct patrolling and searching operations throughout the Baghaihat area. Searching of houses, arrest and torturing of Jumma peoples by military forces is continuing.’

In 1997 the government and the Jummas signed a peace accord that committed the government to removing military camps from the region and to ending the theft of Jumma land by settlers and the army. The accord offered hope, but military camps remain in the Hill Tracts and violence and land grabbing continue.

Survival’s director Stephen Corry said, ‘It is scandalous that killings, torture, land grabbing and arson are still going on in the Chittagong Hill Tracts 14 years after the peace accord was signed. The Jumma tribal people deserve to be able to live in peace on their own land.’ #

First published in the Survival International, February 17, 2011