Dec 06, 2011

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Peace Treaty Still To Be Implemented

The lack of commitment to the clauses of the peace treaty leads to distrust and instability.

Below is an article published by The Daily Star

Many provisions of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord could empower the indigenous people living in hills. But 15 years into the signing of the treaty, many of those provisions, including giving them the land rights and making functional the hill district councils, have yet to be implemented.

Continuous influx of Bangalees into the three hill districts -- Chittagong, Khagrachhari and Bandarban -- is putting pressure on the existing arable land triggering ethnic clashes, driving away the indigenous community into remote areas devoid of minimum civic services.

Violent clashes between indigenous and Bangalee people centring land rights have become a daily affair in an otherwise serene hills as successive governments have done little to implement the accord.

On December 2, 1997, the then Awami League government signed the peace deal with Parbatya Chattgram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS) ending a 22-year armed conflict in the hills.

As per the agreement, some 683 members of PCJSS got job in the police. The government is providing monthly ration to 1,966 families of PCJSS. They also got Tk 50,000 in cash for each member as grant.

But newspaper reports say, at least 21 women were raped, three of whom were killed afterwards, and eight others were physically tortured in the last three years alone. The government, however, has not taken any action against the perpetrators.

The International CHT commission in a report said a culture of impunity prevails in the three hill districts, where crimes like killing and violence against women including rape remain unaddressed.

The slow implementation of the accord is also causing social instability in the region, as the indigenous people continue to fight among themselves over establishing supremacy.

Since December 1997, about 50 leaders and activists of PCJSS and UPDF were killed in clashes and more than 100 were kidnapped.

UPDF, the United Peoples Liberation Front, opposes the peace treaty.

Pledges like withdrawal of temporary army camps from the hills, formation of hill police and civil administration also remain unimplemented.

This is creating a feeling of mistrust, fear and insecurity among the indigenous people, observers said.

Amid all this, the hills people have begun a new struggle for constitutional recognition.

It started in 2008, when the foreign ministry and CHT affairs ministry sent letters to government agencies and also to United Nations offices not to call them "indigenous".

An official of the CHT affairs ministry told The Daily Star, "The government was influenced by an intelligence agency. They [the intelligence people] really don't want to recognise them as indigenous."

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention ensures special protection and other rights of indigenous people.

"Promises haven't been kept. The government has breached the agreement signed with us," PCJSS Chairman Jyotindra Bodhipriya Larma said at a press conference in the capital yesterday.

He said he was now "frustrated" of waiting and threatened to launch tougher movements to see the treaty implemented.

Asked, Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura, acting secretary of the CHT affairs ministry, said the government was taking initiatives to implement the accord.

"The CHT affairs ministry itself is an outcome of the peace deal," he told a press conference at the secretariat yesterday.

Author: Pinaki Roy