Press Conference of HRFB condemning the massive Arson attacks in Longadu, Rangamati

Human Rights Forum Bangladesh (HRBF), a coalition of 19 rights organizations, demands punishment for the perpetrators responsible for the attack on indigenous people in Longadu, Rangamati and proper rehabilitation of the victims.

On 14 June 2017 the Forum has organized a press conference at National Press Club to protest the arson attack on the indigenous community in Longadu of Rangamati district. Sheepa Hafiza, Convener of HRBF and Executive Director of Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) has moderated the conference. Among other HRFB representatives, Executive Director of Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) Shaheen Anam, Executive Director of Steps Towards Development Ranjan Karmokar, General Secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum Sanjib Drong and Executive Director of Kapeeng Foundation Pallab Chakma were present as speakers.

The Forum demanded impartial and proper investigation into the incident and punishment for the perpetrators. It also urged the government to scrutinize the role of local administration, law enforcement agency and the army during the incident. HRFB also demanded full implementation of Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord, and withdrawal of all temporary camps from Chittagong hill tracts region.

The conference began with expressing deep condolences and one minute silence at the death of 143 people during recent landslides. The discussants also mentioned that hill cutting and deforestation are responsible for mass landslides in hill areas.  Sheepa Hafiza opined that the disaster of recent landslides is not only natural, it is largely mad made. Shaheen Anam also added that deforestation and unplanned construction of roads are responsible for such incidents.  The lands of indigenous people are being grabbed and forests are being destroyed mindlessly, causing the landslide. The speakers warned that more casualties would take place in future if proper steps are not taken. They held the government accountable for its failure to stop recurrence of such incidents by taking necessary measures.

Forum Secretariat, Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), sent a fact finding team in Longadu after the attacks and the team prepared a fact finding report on their observation and discussion with different relevant parties. A written statement was presented at the press conference based on that report. Besides, the Forum presented some specific demands on the issue.

Following the presentation Forum members gave speech and participated in the discussion.

Executive Director of Kapeeng Foundation Pallab Chakma said that this is not the first time Longadu people suffered such attack. In 1989, death of a Bengali settler named Abdur Rashid resulted in arson attack against indigenous communities, this time Langadu incidence took place at death of another Bengali settler Nayan. 35 people were killed in 1989 but there was no inquiry and no punishment to the perpetrators. He mentioned that according to Kapeeng Foundation’s Report, almost 20 such incidences took place since the Peace Accord and none of these were addressed.

He also condemned the death of his childhood friend Nayan and demanded punishment of the perpetrators. But, he doubted about justice since the family of one of the arrestee on this murder case claimed the law enforcers obtained their confession forcefully.

He opined that changes in administration is must to stop recurrence of incidences like Langadu and insisted on the need of police body combined of hill people and Bengali. The conditions of peace accord also include provisions to include member of Shanti Bahini to the police force but it has never been attempted. He emphasized that delayed action, lack of effective measures to identify real perpetrators and lack of justice fuels such exploitation of the indigenous communities.

Executive Director of Steps Towards Development Ranjan Karmaker said that Longadu incident is not isolated rather a part of the continuous process to make the country destitute of all the ethnic and religious minority. Unfortunately State is in the role of patronizing such process either directly or indirectly. Moreover, State is upholding double standard in dealing with fundamental forces. He opined violence against any community cannot be stopped if the state continues to be indifferent.

Shaheen Anam, Executive Director of Manuser Jonno Foundation said that incident like Longadu refers ‘Right to Equality’ is enshrined only on papers in the constitution of the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh, it has no real implication. State-administration has always adopted discriminatory attitudes. But State needs to assure right to life of its people.

General Secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum Sanjib Drong said that there is a saying that how much civilized and democratic a country is depends on how the country treats its own minorities. But indigenous people of Bangladesh are often denied of their rights. The peace accord remains in paper only. Even then we want to trust on State. He wished that State will take initiative to improve the relations between hill people and Bengali settler. Civil Society, NGOs and Media should continue their efforts to make government accountable for implementation the Peace Accord and ensure justice of all sorts of violence against humanity.

Sheepa Hafiza concluded the press conference by stating that it is state’s duty to ensure proper justice on such incidences and ensure equal rights.  State should be proactive to uphold harmony so that no recurrence of incidences like Longadu takes place. She also emphasized that State should urgently discuss with the victims and take proper initiatives to rehabilitate them.