'Life Is not Ours' - Land and Human Rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh
The Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission is an independent body established to investigate allegations of human rights violations in the hill region of southeast Bangladesh. In November 1990, the Commission received permission from the governments of India and Bangladesh to visit the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and the camps in Tripura where people forced to flee their homes in the Hill Tracts now live as refugees.
For over 20 years non-governmental organisations have reported disturbing accounts of killing, torture, rape, arson, forced relocation and the cultural oppression of the hill peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. Since 1983, these accounts have increased considerably with reports published by Amnesty International, Anti-Slavery International, the Organising Committee Chittagong Hill Tracts Campaign (Netherlands), Gesellschaft fur Bedrohte Volker (Germany), International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (Denmark), Parliamentary Human Rights Group and Survival International (UK), among others.
International fora such as the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have regularly received statements on the human rights situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Indeed, it was an unsatisfactory visit by the ILO in 1985 that marked the beginnings of access to the CHT by international missions. However, whereas the reports from the ILO are not publicly available, a 1988 mission of Amnesty International did publish its findings. The mandate of the mission was limited:
"to seek information from the authorities about measures taken to protect the fundamental rights to life and security of the person for the tribal people living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts... It was neither the intention nor possible for Amnesty International, during such a short visit (two days in the Hill Tracts) to conduct factfinding on all aspects of the current situation of human rights observance in the Chittagong Hill Tracts".
There has therefore never before been such an open fact-finding mission to the CHT as the visit of the Commission in 1990-1. Data for the reports written on the Hill Tracts have been gathered either by the victims and smuggled out of the country or by journalists and enquiring missions who have had restricted access to the hill peoples. The CHT Commission was established to bridge the gap between these two sources of data by talking to the victims in relief camps in Tripura and conducting a fact-finding investigation in the Hill Tracts itself.
The idea for a Commission arose during December 1985 when the then Bangladesh Minister of Finance announced to a meeting at the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen that the Bangladesh government would be delighted to welcome a mission to the CHT. Ten months later, at an international conference on the CHT in Amsterdam, after suggestions from NGOs and indigenous peoples, the meeting passed a resolution to form an International Commission of investigation into the situation in the Hill Tracts.