The government should ensure the full implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord, 1997 before frustration among the indigenous community leads to unrest and instability in the region again, speakers told a discussion yesterday.
“My only urge to the policymakers and government is please implement the CHT accord in its full content and essence before it is too late,” said Prof Mizanur Rahman, chairman, National Human Rights Commission.
The discussion, “Marginalization and Impunity: Violence Against Women and Girls in the Chittagong Hill Tracts”, was organised by International Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission (CHTC) and Bangladesh Indigenous Women's Network (BIWN) in the capital's Chhayanaut Sangskriti Bhaban.
The full implementation is crucial in ensuring security of indigenous women and ending impunity currently enjoyed by perpetrators of violence, the speakers noted.
Chanchana Chakma, general secretary of BIWN, presented excerpts from a CHTC report which showed how from 1976 onwards militarisation and the state's transmigration programmes to settle Bangalees in the three southeast hill districts created tension and led to the two-decade-long armed struggle of indigenous people against the state.
The treaty ended the armed struggle but hill women continued to be targeted in clashes between Bangalees and the indigenous community, the report mentioned.
The report presented case studies of violence from 2011-2012, showing how the culture of impunity prevailed in the regions starting with the unsolved case of indigenous leader Kalpana Chakma's enforced disappearance in 1996.
KS Mong, member, Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council, stated how women were often abducted, forced to convert and marry Bangalee men to intimidate the indigenous community, who were forced to move away to remote areas for security.
Noting that land was the major issue of conflict in CHT, Mong stressed the need for an effective land commission.
“If the situation continues to be such, we would either announce and leave the country and take refuge in India or Myanmar or began preparing ourselves for resistance again,” he said.
Besides the treaty's implementation, the CHTC report also recommended establishment of a national commission of inquiry and committee to monitor violence against women in the CHT to end the culture of impunity.
Employing mixed police force with more women police and sensitising them also came up from open discussions.
CHTC Co-Chairperson Sultana Kamal, members Khushi Kabir and Sara Hossain, Adviser Meghna Guhathakurta and Bangladesh Mahila Parishad President Ayesha Khanom also spoke.
On Saturday rights activists under the banner Nagorik Shomaj formed a human chain before Bangladesh National Museum demanding immediate election to the three CHT district councils.
“Undemocratic forces are becoming permanently rooted in the hill tracts as no election of the councils had taken place in 22 years,” said Oikya NAP President Pankaj Bhattacharya, adding that CHT people have reasons to feel utterly betrayed.
The activists also criticised the government for mulling over increasing the number of zila parishad members from five to 11.
“Increasing the size instead of holding an election clearly means that the government is doing this to politicise the CHT zila parishad with its chosen people,” said Prof Mesbah Kamal of history at Dhaka University.
Khushi Kabir, also coordinator of Nijera Kori; Sanjeeb Drong, secretary of the Bangladesh Forum for Indigenous People; Chanchana Chakma, also president of Hill Women's Federation; and Associate Prof Robaet Ferdous of Dhaka University also spoke.