Chittagong Hill Tracts: UN Urged to Act on Peace Accord
At a United Nations press conference on 24 May 2011, several human rights activist urged the UN to push for implementation of the on the 1997 Peace Accord for the Chittagong Hill Tracts
Below is an article published by the UN Department of Public Information:
At a Headquarters press conference today [24 May 2011], human rights activists urged the United Nations to play a greater role in pushing for implementation of the 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord in Bangladesh, which was intended to protect the rights of the area’s indigenous peoples.
“The peace accord is a quite good one, but the problem has been in its implementation,” said Lars-Anders Baer, a former member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues charged by that body’s ninth session with visiting Bangladesh to carry out a study of the accord’s implementation. The Forum had addressed the issue many times, but the pressure on the Chittagong indigenous peoples, and the use of violence against them, had escalated, he added.
Expected to present his report, “Study on the status of implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997” (document E/C.19/2011/6), to the Forum’s ongoing tenth session on Wednesday, Mr. Baer said it includes a series of recommendations for the Government of Bangladesh, a variety of stakeholders and the Permanent Forum. Issued on 18 February 2011, it recommends that the Permanent Forum dedicate the special theme of its twelfth session, or a technical seminar, to conflict-prevention initiatives in the territories of indigenous peoples. The Chittagong Hill Tracts in south-eastern Bangladesh are home to 11 indigenous groups.
Also present at the press conference was Aditya Dewan, President of the International Jumma Association, who said there had been no peace since the signing of the accords, adding that there had been all types of ethnic conflicts between Bengali settlers, placed there by the Government, and the indigenous peoples, even though the two sides had previously lived together for centuries without conflict. It was embarrassing to turn to the outside world in an attempt to achieve peace, he added. “We feel ashamed to talk against Government policy. We want demilitarization. There is no civil government. We have had to go outside for help.” Land settlement was a major issue as hundreds of thousands of indigenous people had been forced off their lands over the past several decades, making way for the Government to resettle about 500,000 people.
Elsa Stamatopoulou, member of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission and a lecturer at Colombia University, said women and girls were raped with impunity, a serious situation that had worsened in the last five years. Such acts of violence and other gross violations of human rights, such as the burning of villages, killings and torture, threatened the indigenous peoples, she said. “This situation is one of the most under-reported human rights and humanitarian issues in the world.” The situation was especially relevant to the United Nations because while Bangladesh was one of the Organization’s largest troop-contributing countries, its Government had displaced indigenous peoples so it could use their land for training its military, including troops deployed to peacekeeping operations.
Responding to a question about the army’s use of the areas, Mr. Dewan said Bangladesh had 10,000 soldiers serving in United Nations peacekeeping forces, though they were not maintaining peace in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. It was illegal for the Government to place armies in the area during peacetime. “There is no fighting, no insurgency. We are peace-loving citizens,” he said, adding that the army was undermining the civil population. “Why get that type of treatment from people who are supposed to protect us?”
Ms. Stamatopoulou emphasized that the international community, including the United Nations, must understand the difficult situation and the threats faced by civilians living in the area. Urging the media to call international attention to the situation, she called for the United Nations to provide assistance through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. The Bangladesh judiciary, which included many distinguished jurists, could also play a role in protecting those indigenous people threatened with extinction, she added.
Mr. Baer advocated dialogue with the Government and military, stressing that, as Bangladesh marked its fortieth anniversary since independence, it was important that the military followed the rule of law.
Mr. Dewan said indigenous peoples wished to live peacefully in Bangladesh, but the military was initiating conflict between them and the settlers.