Bangladesh Environment Network Statement on Garo leader, Mr. Choles Ritchil’s death from torture

(Submitted to various print media in Bangladesh, April 7, 2007)

Bangladesh Environment Network (BEN), a global network of pro-environment Bangladeshis, is shocked and very disturbed by the death from the torture of Mr. Choles Ritchil, a leader of the Garo people living in the Modhupur forest area. According to press reports and information compiled by the Asian Centre for Human Rights, torture marks found on Mr. Ritchil’s dead body included plucked eyes, removed testicles, mutilated anus, smashed palms with holes in them, uprooted nails, holes in the thighs, and other wounds all over the body. Apparently, this barbaric torture was carried out by the members of the joint force at Khakraid army camp of Muktagacha Upazila on March 18, 2007.

Mr. Choles Ritchil was leading the Garo people’s movement against the ill-conceived Modupur forest Eco-Park project, under which a wall is being constructed around 3,000 acres of Modhupur forests. According to most observers, the wall will basically destroy the forest and disrupt the livelihood of the Garo and other indigenous people who live in the area and depend on the Modhupur forests for their livelihood. Mr. Ritchil took up the leadership after Mr. Piren Snal, the previous leader of the Garo movement against Modhupur Eco Park was killed on January 3, 2004, by police firing on a peaceful demonstration against the project. The firing also caused injuries to twenty-five people, including women and children.

Earlier BEN participated in the citizens’ rally organized by Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) in Dhaka city protesting against the killing of Piren Snal and demanding scraping of the Modhupur Eco Park project. BEN hoped that good sense would prevail among government authorities and the project would be abandoned.

BEN is dismayed by the fact that the authorities are persisting with the Modhupur Eco Park project despite the previous tragedy, and now another Garo leader has been killed, and this time by medieval torture. BEN condemns this killing in the strongest terms possible and demands that the government immediately undertakes an impartial, thorough judicial inquiry into the incident and metes out appropriate punishment to those responsible. BEN also reaffirms its earlier call to abandon the ill-conceived Modhupur Eco Park project, which infringes on the customary land rights of the indigenous people of the area and is sure to destroy the forest.

BEN would also like to raise the question of motivation of the joint forces in arresting Mr. Ritchil and subjecting him to such inhuman torture. As per publicly proclaimed intentions, the joint forces are supposed to act against the corrupt and the criminals. Mr. Ritchil does not fall into any of these two categories. On the other hand, we know that pushing the Modhupur Eco Park project are vested interests including corrupt forest department officials, contractors, suppliers, and local mastans who benefit from gabbing land belonging historically to the Garo people. In investigating the incident BEN would like the authorities to look carefully into whether there was any influence of these vested interests on the course of events leading to Mr. Ritchil’s death.

BEN notes that the use of torture is a grave crime and violates the fundamental rights protected by the Bangladesh Constitution. Furthermore, the use of torture is completely prohibited by UN Convention against Torture, and the operation of the joint forces in the name of combating corruption and restoring law and order must be carried out within the internationally recognized norms of human rights. BEN would also like to draw attention to the fact that the mistreatment of ethnic minorities can end up creating a tragic security problem, as Bangladesh’s experience in the Chittagong Hill Tracts regions amply testifies.

BEN urges the people of Bangladesh and all citizens’ organization to come forward protesting the killing of Mr. Ritchil, demanding the scrapping of the Modhupur Eco Park project, and supporting the rights of the indigenous peoples of the country.