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OP-ED: Nothing but a piece of paper

  • Published at 07:09 pm December 3rd, 2020
CHT Indigenous communitites
The Chittagong Hill Tracts -- home to many indigenous communities of Bangladesh Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Peace continues to elude the indigenous population of the Chittagong Hill Tracts

The armed struggle ended through the signing of an agreement (known as the CHT Accord) between Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) and the Bangladesh government on December 2, 1997. As a result, it has been widely known as the “Peace Accord.” 

The CHT Accord was signed with the intention of ending the armed conflict and to grant a host of benefits to the indigenous Jumma people in the southeastern region of Bangladesh, but has instead increased tension in the last 23 years and their ancestral land has been continuously seized by different government and non-government organizations in the name of tourism development. 

In the last 23 years, the Jumma people have been given nothing except a piece of paper.

Agree to disagree

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed the agreement with great courage and prudence in 1997, but no effective steps have been taken since then to implement some of the most fundamental clauses of the Accord. Two-thirds of the provisions of the Accord are still unimplemented and there has been misleading information at home and abroad that 48 of the 72 clauses have been “fully implemented.”

The agreement was signed in accordance with the constitution of Bangladesh by the undisputed leader of the hill people, Jyotirindra Bodipriya Larma (Santu Larma), on behalf of the indigenous Jumma people, and Abul Hasnat Abdullah, MP and Convener of the National Committee, on behalf of the Bangladesh government. 

The agreement promised to bring stability in the region. But even after 23 years of its signing, the Accord has yet to bear fruit. CHT is still the most unstable region in the country and resentment among the indigenous Jumma people is increasing day by day due to delays in the full implementation of the Accord. 

That failure has also led to the continuing sufferings of the internally-displaced families and India-returned refugees of the Jumma -- who were victims of the atrocities and conflicts in the 1980s and 90s. Ironically, in the 23 years since the CHT Accord, many scholars have done their PhDs on it but the agreement remains unimplemented to this day.

There are in total 72 clauses in the CHT Accord, but important issues such as land management, land commission, and police administration are still unresolved. While the government claims that most of the clauses of the Accord are implemented, in reality, nothing as such has happened. This CHT Accord is another death trap for the Jumma people of CHT.

Tourism over people?

On the other hand, there are allegations that this new instrument is being undertaken to use the tourism industry as a weapon for grabbing their land in the name of development. Tourism centres and resorts are mushrooming, taking over hill land and forest land, violating the traditional land rights of the Jumma people. 

Different development projects have been undertaken in order to evict indigenous people from their ancestral land. Settlers have also replaced the names of Chakma-Marma places with Bengali and Islamic names.

However, in recent times, there have been allegations of an attempt to grab about 1,000 acres of land from Kapru Para Bazar to the Jiban Nagar area in the name of constructing the Marriott Hotel and Amusement Park in Nilgiri, or thereabouts, in Bandarban. 

If this project is executed, it will directly displace around 10,000 Jum cultivators, landless poor Mro indigenous people. But no one cares what happens to the innocent and helpless indigenous people of CHT. 

The signing of the Peace Accord kindled a glimmer of hope among the Jumma people that they will eventually live in peace and with dignity. But their hope has not materialized in the last 23 years. 

Violent clashes between the Jumma and Bengali people over land rights are still a regular affair in the region. The Jumma people expected that the present government -- whose first government signed the Accord -- will take steps towards the full implementation of the Accord. But this has yet to happen.

Moreover, about 600 acres of land that belonged to the Mros of Bandarban have been taken as part of the Nilgiri Tourist spot. Approximately 500 acres of land in the Dim Pahar area under Sangu, Toinfa mauzas under Alikakadam, and Naikhyangchari under Thanchi have also been taken. 

It has been reported that about 150 non-Bengali ethnic families from the Alikadam and Thanchi areas of Bandarban left for Myanmar as they felt increasingly insecure where they lived.

The Bandarban district administration has developed the Nilachal tourist site near at Tigerpara at Bandarban Sadar. The Nilachal tourist centre was established on the traditional Jum land of indigenous peoples. 

Although the said tourist centre was established on the traditional land of indigenous peoples, Jumma villagers are not getting any share of the benefits from this tourist spot. Violating the Bandarban Hill District Council (Amendment) Act 1989, the district administration is running this centre.

Apart from various town areas in Rangamati, a luxurious tourist centre has been built in the Rui Lui valley on Sajek hill, one of the Jumma people-inhabited areas at Baghaichari in Rangamati. A luxurious tourist centre has been created as one of the most attractive tourist spots of the country. As a result, 70 families of Jumma people have been evicted.

The elusion of peace

The agreement was signed to establish peace in the region, but peace is still elusive due to the political unwillingness to resolve the problems of the indigenous Jumma people of CHT. The government should not forget that the problem of the Chittagong Hill Tracts was not solved through military means; the solution was initiated by political means in 1997. 

Now is the right time for the Bangladesh government to rebuild the nation in an inclusive, productive, and prosperous manner, ensuring safety for all.

The present situation in the CHT proves that the CHT Accord has failed to bring peace in the region. The state’s failure to implement all the provisions of the Accord in a timely manner is leading to an increasing sense of frustration and disillusionment among the Jumma people, which is enhancing the possibility of renewed unrest and possible revival of the old situation in the region, the effect of which will be devastating. 

Therefore, in the interest of the overall peace and security of the country, the present government should consider the matter as a critical national security issue and endeavour to build a nationwide consensus in favour of the treaty, and implement at least the provisions of resolution of land dispute, rehabilitation of internally-displaced persons, and demilitarization.

John Tripura is an indigenous human rights defender. He can be emailed at [email protected]

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