Even 22 years after the signing of the CHT peace accord, indigenous people in the Chattogram Hill Tracts still have to demand its full implementation.
Their frustrations over the issue dominated a dialogue at the capital’s Cirdap auditorium yesterday. The discussion was organised by the Association for Land Reform and Development and the CHT Commission.
The then Awami League government and the Parbatya Chattogram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS) had inked the peace accord on December 2, 1997. The agreement was aimed at ending violence in the CHT region, which had witnessed two decades of bush wars between indigenous guerillas and law enforcers.
But even after all these years, many key commitments in the agreement have not been kept, said speakers at the dialogue, titled “Current Situation of the Chattogram Hill Tracts and the Role of the Civil Society”.
“The government says 48 out of the 52 provisions have been implemented, but the indigenous communities don’t agree with it. The way they see it, only 25 provisions have been fully implemented,” commented Raja Devasish Roy, the Chakma chief.
He echoed statements various indigenous groups have made over the past few days across different spheres.
Noted rights activist Sultana Kamal said, “While we sometimes hear statements of reassurance from the agencies responsible for implementing the peace accord, the promises never materialise.”
A statement drafted by the dialogue organisers said some of the key provisions have not yet been implemented. Those include handing control of land, law enforcement and forests to the three hill district councils; solving land disputes between the indigenous community and settlers; rehabilitating indigenous people who had become internally displaced during the conflict, or fled to India as refugees; and withdrawal of temporary camps of security forces from the CHT region.
Although almost a 100 temporary camps were withdrawn after the agreement was signed, around 400 camps still remain in the region, the statement said.
Since its inception in 1999, the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission has not been able to resolve any of the eviction cases filed by indigenous people, while settlers continue to build luxurious resorts, it said, adding that there were 22,000 such land-related cases pending with the commission.
The commission, however, announced last month that it would start hearing its first ever case on December 23.
The statement also said, “Although a taskforce had been formed to rehabilitate displaced indigenous people, around 90,000 families are still waiting to get their ancestral land back.”
At the dialogue, Mizanur Rahman, former chief of the National Human Rights Commission, said, “The issue of land ownership was one of the main components of the agreement. How has that not been implemented? Implementing that is at the heart of ensuring peace in the region.”
Meghna Guhathakurta, executive director of Research Initiatives, Bangladesh, said, “Since the state has given commitments, it must fulfill those.”
The organisers yesterday also pointed out that freedom of association was a limited right in the CHT region. “When we wanted permission to celebrate World Indigenous Day in Rangamati this year, we were not given it,” they wrote in the statement.