I have previously mentioned in my blog that as part of my fellowship at International Accountability Project (IAP), I am exposed with the projects that had gone wrong so to speak that are financed by multilateral development banks. IAP is a human rights organization that works for a world in which all people can shape the decisions that affect their homes, environment and the communities. Furthermore, IAP believes that development should be a process that enables all people to uphold and claim their human rights, live with dignity and thrive on the land they love. Another project that IAP and the Coalition for Human Rights in Development also supported involves a feasibility study of possible transport routes along the conflict inflicted Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh.

In February 2014, the World Bank approved the financing of US$ 5 million for the Bangladesh Trade and Transport Facilitation Studies. According to project documents, the Project is aimed to support analysis of institutional and management constraints related to trade and transport facilitation, and preparation of potential investments to facilitate national and regional trade and transport for Government and Development Partner Support. This is a Category A Project. A complaint has been filed by indigenous peoples who had requested anonymity to the Inspection Panel last September 2016.

Project Components

The scope of the Project includes the studies on the following: 1) dredging of inland waterways including in the Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT); 2) improvement of sea ports; 3) development of Thegamukh Land Customs Station; 4) Chittagong Hill Tracts Connectivity; 5) environmental and social safeguards studies and; 6) project management unity capacity support.

The component in question is the Chittagong Hill Tracts Connectivity. Accordingly, this includes a feasibility study of route options to connect Thegamukh and Chittagong Port, including environmental and social screening and alternative analysis method. Further, project documents indicate that this component is the most sensitive from the safeguards perspective considering the social and environmental context of the Chittagong Hill Tract.


             Indigenous Peoples at the Chittagong Hill Tract Photo Credit: AIPP

The Chittagong Hill Tract is recognized as a “tribal inhabited region”. According to the complaint filed, this area includes settlements of indigenous communities along with their privately titled lands, and customarily owned and used lands. In addition, a few non – indigenous communities who are largely Bengali people will also be affected.

Issues raised in the complaint:

  1. Absence of meaningful engagement with indigenous peoples. Indigenous leaders in the project area from the village to the regional levels were not consulted. These leaders include chairpersons and members of the concerned local government bodies and the traditions of Circle Chief, Headman and Karbari. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council (CHTRC), the apex administrative body of the CHT and the members of Parliament from Rangamati were also not consulted. This presupposes a clear contravention of the requirement for “free, prior and informed consultation” with the legitimate representatives of the concerns communities.
  1. Land issues. The proposed routes particularly the Land Route includes numerous settlements of families that were displaced during the armed conflict in 1970s – 1990s and who remain not to be rehabilitated. The area also includes several communities who were affected by the earlier Kaptai Hydro Electric Project (1960s). Furthermore land disputes and rehabilitation of former international refugees and internally displaced persons among the indigenous population continue to be problem for the CHT peoples.
  1. Forest, Environment and Cultural Sites. The areas along the proposed routes include several critical watersheds and fragile eco zones. This includes states reserved forests, community managed mauza reserves and other customarily managed community forest of varied growth and vulnerability.
  1. Method of receiving feedback on feasibility study. Meaningful and adequate consultations were not ensured with the indigenous peoples’ communities. The draft feasibility study report was not public. This resulted to a failure to provide any constructive feedback to the organizers of the single consultation held in Rangamati.
  1. Ethnic and cultural dimensions. The complaint also emphasized the alarming rate at which the in – migration of outsiders has taken place over the last decades. It had approximately reduced the indigenous percentage of the regions’ population from over 91% in 1951 to around 53% in 2011. The proposed connectivity project will even accelerate these demographic changes.

According to Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact,

  1. The World Bank should revoke or defer its decision on support the Chittagong-Thegamukh Project until and unless fully open, transparent, inclusive and context-appropriate studies are done in the project area, in accordance with the Bank’s relevant Safeguard Policies and the laws and policies of Bangladesh, including the laws, policies, customs, practices and usages of the CHT and international human rights standards;
  1. The World Bank should fulfill its fiduciary and other duties properly and adequately, in supervising the activities of the Government of Bangladesh, including its relevant ministries, departments, agencies, and consultants commissioned by it, in relation to feasibility and other studies being done, or to be done, in the context of the Bangladesh Trade and Transport Facilitation Studies RETF Project. In particular, the Bank should provide necessary guidance and support to the Government of Bangladesh, to take special care where indigenous peoples are present in or are otherwise to be affected by the future project activities.
  1. The World Bank should consider whether any road building projects would be appropriate to fund at the current juncture, when crucial elements of the CHT Accord of 1997 remain fully or substantially unaddressed. These include the resolution of major land-related disputes in the CHT through the CHT Land Disputes Resolution Commission and the rehabilitation of the former International Jumma Refugees and the Internally Displaced Indigenous People in terms of the CHT Accord of 1997 and the Government of Bangladesh and Jumma Refugee Welfare Association Agreement of 1997. It is noteworthy that the long-awaited amendment to the Land Commission Act of 2001 only came about on 9 August 2016, and it is still a long way for the Commission to actually start its work on resolution of land disputes.