June 22, 2016
On 17 June 2016 the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), in collaboration with the South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF) and No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ), organised a roundtable discussion on the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord, signed in 1997 by the Government on Bangladesh and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), discussing the reasons behind the lack of implementation of some of its provisions as well as possible ways forward. The event was hosted in the Brussels office of NPWJ.
The 1997 Accord between the Government of Bangladesh and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS - United People’s Party of the CHT), the main political party representing the interests of the indigenous communities of the CHT, came after over two decades of conflict and negotiations, and was therefore welcomed as a great achievement. The Accord comprises a number of provisions that the Bangladeshi Government was to implement to better protect the rights of CHT’s numerous tribes collectively known as Jumma people (Highlanders) and amounting to approximately 850.000 individuals. Despite several attempts and the insistence of the indigenous community, almost 19 years later, many provision of the Accords still lie unimplemented while others have been only partially implemented. The Jumma people have yet to be officially recognised as indigenous, while their distinctive cultures, languages and traditions are threatened by the settlement of a large number of Bengali people from other parts of the country, which in only 60 years have increased from 2% to 50% of the region's population. The indigenous populations faces dire human rights violations, including racial discrimination, land-grabbing, eviction, harassment, rape, abduction, and killings.
The roundtable brought together representatives of the Jumma people, civil society organisations, a representative of the Bangladeshi Embassy in Brussels and other individuals interested in the issue. The Chittagong Hill Tracts were represented by Mr Ushatan Talukder, the only member of the Bangladeshi Parliament representing the interests of the indigenous community, Mr Mangal Kumar Chakma, from the PCJSS, the political party representing the interests of the Jumma people, and Mr Pallab Chakma, from the Kapaeeng Foundation, an NGO advocating for indigenous rights based in Dhaka.
After welcome remarks by Mr Gianluca Eramo (NPWJ) and an introduction by UNPO, the delegation from the Chittagong Hill Tracts briefly introduced the Accord and gave an overview of the current situation in the area, stressing once again the importance of giving power to the local Regional Council and Hill District Councils, as foreseen in the Accord. Ms Laura Berlingozzi (SADF) also gave her organisation’s perspective, stressing the importance to put pressure on the government to fully implement the accord and highlighting some of the most important issues facing the community.
A lively discussion followed, addressing the need to raise awareness about the case at the European level. The representative of the Embassy of Bangladesh also exposed the Government’s view, highlighting the progress made and reiterating the Prime Minister’s commitment to fully implement the Accord.
Civil society representatives expressed their respective organisations’ interest in supporting the CHT delegation and creating a network on themes such as environmental protection, development, migration and human rights.