2022 proved how far we still are from peace in the CHT
The human rights situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is deteriorating day by day, and reaching an alarming stage. In a statement on December 2, 2022, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Francisco Cali Tzay, said that he has been continuously receiving news and information from different sources about the gross and systematic human rights violations against Indigenous peoples, including the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) members who signed the CHT Accord, Indigenous human rights defenders, and Indigenous women and girls. The repeated efforts to grab Indigenous land in the name of development, tourism, and eco-forests for national and international companies, and other vested interests, also disrespects the accord.
The same picture emerged in PCJSS' annual human rights report released on January 1. It counted 235 incidents of human rights violation perpetrated by state and non-state actors in 2022, where 1,935 people were victims of rights violations. This included searching of houses, arbitrary arrest, extrajudicial killing in the name of crossfire, fabricated cases, forcible land occupation, communal attacks, arson upon houses, violence against women, infiltration, anti-Accord propaganda, etc. It can undoubtedly be said that such an alarming situation can never be taken lightly.
It goes without saying that the implementation of the CHT Accord of 1997 is crucial in establishing peace in the CHT, improving the human rights situation, and leading to self-determined development, resolution of land disputes, demilitarisation, rehabilitation of affected people, and above all, introducing a system of self-governance. Several studies by independent researchers and academics have revealed that most of the provisions of the Accord still remain unimplemented. Even some basic aspects of the agreement have not been realised.
The CHT Accord Implementation and Monitoring Committee is the key body in the implementation process of the CHT Accord, as well as in monitoring the process. But it is regrettable that office space, manpower, funds and logistical support have not been provided to this committee in the last 25 years. Not only that, the government has not taken any effective steps to implement the decisions taken by the committee. If the committee that is responsible for implementation and monitoring of the Accord is kept at a standstill, then how will the Accord be implemented?
One example of this is that in several meetings, including the fifth one of the Accord Implementation and Monitoring Committee held on December 7, 2021, it was decided that the subjects of law and order, and the police, will be handed over to Hill District Councils through executive order, and a district police force will be formed according to the laws of the Council. However, instead of implementing this decision, an Armed Police Battalion (APBN) camp was set up on the site of an withdrawn army camp in April 2022, which is a direct breach of the Accord.
Similarly, although a decision was taken to formulate the Rules of the CHT Land Commission with immediate effect in the interests of resolving land disputes in the CHT, in the meetings of both the CHT Accord Implementation and Monitoring Committee and the Land Commission, the government has kept the process of formulating the Rules hanging for six years. And as the Rules have not been framed, the Land Commission has not yet been able to begin the judicial work of settling land disputes.
According to the PCJSS annual report, 40 violent incidents took place involving illegal occupation of lands, communal and arson attacks, filing of false cases related to land, and violence against women by settlers and land-grabbers in 2022, in which at least 448 people were victims.
The most recent incident is an attack on over a dozen homes in a Mro village in Bandarban's Lama upazila on January 2, where the attackers were allegedly involved with Lama Rubber Industries Limited, a rubber plantation in the area, and their goal was to drive the Indigenous community out of their land.
On April 26 last year, there was another incident of land-grabbing, where 350 acres of Jum-farming land, plantations and village forests of three Jumma villages in Soroi Union of Lama were burned, allegedly by the same rubber company. As a result, the livelihoods of 200 villagers in 39 families were endangered, forcing them to face a crisis of food and drinking water. The natural environment was also severely damaged, which included the death of wild animals.
The arson, assault and harassment of this company did not stop here. After the April 26 attack, at least 11 more attacks occurred, including the one this week, and two fabricated cases were filed against the villagers who were involved in the land protection movement in 2022. We must remember that no development can be sustainable if the human rights of the people are violated in this way.
In its report, PCJSS also mentioned that the present government has escalated security measures as its solution to the CHT crisis, even in the year 2022, instead of through political and peaceful means via the proper and full implementation of the CHT Accord. Instead, the government is continuing to establish camps one after another while conducting operations upon the Jumma people in the CHT region.
Moreover, there are concerns that a vested quarter has been providing support and shelter to armed terrorist groups, while meting out suppressive measures and imposing the responsibility for terrorist activities upon the Jumma people engaged in the movement demanding implementation of the CHT Accord.
One such terrorist group is the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF), which is reportedly providing shelter and military training to an Islami militant group named Jamatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya in their hideout in the remote area of Ruma. This is not only dangerous for the existence of the Jumma people of CHT as a national entity, but is a threat to the national security of Bangladesh as well.
At least 294 people of the Bawm community have reportedly been displaced due to threats and harassment from the KNF. They are living an inhumane life there. But despite this, there is no initiative from the administration or any authority of the government to bring them back with full security and rehabilitation.
Where the CHT Accord has already created the scope for a political and peaceful solution to the CHT problem, what is the point of subverting the implementation process of the Accord in this way?
Peace reigns today in our neighbouring Indian state of Mizoram, whereas once Mizoram was an insurgency-prone state. This was possible only because the Mizo issue was resolved politically and peacefully through the Mizoram Peace Accord of 1986, which was duly implemented by the government without any dilly-dallying, and through which the self-rule of the Mizo people was established. No outsider can buy land in Mizoram, and non-residents have to take an Inner Line Pass to enter Mizoram. But as a result of granting these rights, is the sovereignty and integrity of India under threat? The answer is definitely not. Whereas the situation of another neighbour, Myanmar, is the polar opposite, because instead of political and peaceful solutions, it has been following repressive and military policies to solve ethnic problems.
The policymakers of our country go on exposure visits to other countries to explore best practices, so that they can use those practices in their own country. But it is our misfortune that the leaders of Bangladesh keep looking for bad practices instead in terms of non-implementation of peace accords around the globe, with the intention to justify the government's dilly-dallying tactics in implementing the CHT Accord.
At the end of the day, we must realise that in the greater interests of the country, we need to improve the human rights situation in the CHT and aim to ensure peace and development in the region. In this case, there is no alternative to a genuine political and peaceful solution to the CHT problem through the proper and full implementation of the CHT Accord.
Mangal Kumar Chakma is information and publicity secretary at the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS).