Chittagong Hill Tracts: PCJSS Denounces Lack of Implementation of Peace Accord
On the 19th anniversary of the 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord, Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS) reflects on the lack of implementation and asks for the government of Bangladesh to comply with the provisions of the Accord. These include the end of tourism zone projects evicting indigenous Jumma people from their ancestral homelands, and measures against the discrimination of minorities of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
The following article was published by Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti:
Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma, President of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) declared to continue Non-Cooperation Movement based on previously declared ten-point programs aiming at proper implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord, pertaining to amendment of all the other laws applicable to CHT including the Police Act, Police Regulation and CHT Regulation 1900 to make them in conformity with the Accord; devolution of the functions to the CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils through Executive Order; withdrawal of all temporary camps including ‘Operation Uttoron’ from CHT and formation of local hill district police force; rehabilitation of returnee Jumma refugees and the internally displaced families; proper resolution of land disputes and rehabilitation of Bengali settlers outside the CHT with due dignity.
Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma alias Santu, one of the signatories of the CHT Accord, declared it at a press conference organised by the PCJSS at Hotel Sundarban in Dhaka on the occasion of the 19th anniversary of CHT Accord. Facilitated by PCJSS Organizing Secretary Shati Pada Tripura, the press conference also attended by eminent columnist Syed Abul Moqsud; Sanjeeb Drong, General Secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum; Numan Ahmed Khan, Executive Director of Institute of Environment and Development; Khairul Islam Chowdhury Rupam, Associate Professor of Dhaka University et al.
Mr. Larma, in his speech, said that the CHT Accord was signed on 2nd December 1997 with an aim to resolve the CHT crisis. To this day, it is about to pass 19 years. Despite having 19 years passed by, the core issues of the Accord have been left unimplemented as yet. The core issues include: devolution of functions to the CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils; preservation of Jumma-predominant feature of CHT region; withdrawal of all temporary camps including the ‘Operation Uttoron’; resolution of the land disputes; rehabilitation of the India-returnee Jumma refugees and internally Jumma displaced peoples in their respective lands having their lands returned back to them; appointment of the permanent residents prioritizing the Jumma people in all jobs available in CHT; bringing in amendment of all the other laws applicable in CHT including the Police Act, Police Regulation and CHT Regulation 1900, in order to make them in consonance with the Accord; rehabilitation of the Bengali settlers outside CHT with due dignity and so on. Even though 6 governments comprising of 4 political and 2 caretaker governments, have hitherto ascended to power within the prolonged 19 years, however, none of the governments came forward with firm political commitment in implementing the core issues of the Accord.
He also added that the present Awami League government, one of the signatories of the Accord, assumed the state power in 2009. The Shiekh Hasina government, though being in the state power for almost 8 years since 2009, has undertaken no effective step in implementing the unimplemented core issues of the CHT Accord. During tenure of the present Awami League government, a few measures that have been undertaken towards implementation of the Accord are: transfer of few subjects to the three Hill District Councils, withdrawal of 35 numbers of temporary camps, laying foundation stone of the CHT Complex in Dhaka, amendment to the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act 2001 etc. However, these initiatives have been in lacking of continuity and firm political commitment.
Mr. Larma said that the government went on propagating at home and abroad saying that, so far, ‘48 out of 72 sections of the CHT Accord have been implemented’. Indeed, it is only 25 sections out of 72 have been implemented. Such an insincere initiative in implementing CHT Accord, following dilly-dallying tactics in addressing the unimplemented core issues of the Accord, propagating untrue information on implementation of the Accord etc. indicate the fact that the government is absolutely uninterested in establishing the political, economic, social and cultural rights of the CHT residents as well as the Jumma peoples. It is for this reason, the government not only resorts to pleas but also continues to execute anti-accord and anti-Jumma-interest programs in the name of development. The followings are of the genre worth mentioning:
Instead of preserving the Jumma-dominated feature of CHT, conspiracy to turn CHT into a Muslim-dominated region has been accelerated. In place of ensuring the special administrative system with the CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils, while maintaining ‘de facto’ military rule and supremacy of the army in the name of ‘Operation Uttoron', the CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils have been made totally dysfunctional. In place of returning the dispossessed lands back to the Jumma peoples, a conspiracy is being hatched to uproot the Jumma peoples from their ancestral lands by establishing land port at Thega Mukh, constructing the Thega Mukh-Chittagong Connectivity Road and Border Road, establishing luxurious tourist centers by the army, declaration of reserved forest, establishment of BOPs of BGB, exploration and extraction of oil & gas in the geological structure of Kasalong and Sita Pahar in CHT, etc. While keeping the primary, secondary and college levels of education at bay, in the name of the expansion of education as well as on plea of implementation of the CHT Accord, the process of establishing anti-accord and anti-Jumma-interest political centers has been kept running through establishing Rangamati Science & Technology University and Medical College. Providing direct & indirect support to the communal and fundamentalist forces, at least 10 communal attacks have been carried out with a view to occupying the lands of the Jumma peoples. The process of implementation of the CHT Accord has been interrupted by creating a puppet class among the Jumma peoples. Instead of forming the Hill District Councils directly elected by the people, the Councils have been being run by party-nominated members; and despite vehement opposition of the CHT people, having increased members of the interim Hill District Councils from 5 to 15, the Hill District Council Acts have been amended unilaterally in 2014 and through this, the undemocratic and party-line practices have been further strengthened.
Due to non-implementation of the CHT Accord, all possibilities leading to resolving the CHT crisis through political and peaceful means are about to get thwarted down. The present grand-alliance government led by Awami League is trampling down the CHT Accord in various forms and manners. Especially, a dubious move is being exercised to put an end to the Jumma-dominated feature of CHT region and status of special administrative system forever. As a result, at present, the situation of CHT, as a whole, is aptly turning to be of great concern and unsafe.
By merit of the ‘Operation Uttoron’, the army deployed in the CHT is exercising a decision-making role in all important matters including civil administration, law & order and development, and is also creating obstructions by various means and ways in implementing the CHT Accord. It is a fact that the CHT Accord was signed in 1997 with the consent of the three forces of the country. But they took a U-turn later regarding the CHT Accord. As part of such practices, on the other side, the crimes against humanity that continue to exist in the name of searching for terrorists are: arbitrary arrest and detention, inhuman torture, arrest by planting arms inside victim’s house secretly, sending to jail by entangling in the false case, vandalizing the houses including PCJSS offices etc. It is reported that from January to October , 30 members and supporters of PCJSS and innocent villagers including the Chairman of Baghaichari Upazila Parishad and one UP member were arrested, while 89 persons were beaten and harassed during an operation of the army-BGB-police forces, followed by detention for a couple of hours and days was brought upon 89 persons while 23 houses, including 3 PCJSS offices, were searched and vandalized.
Infiltration of outsider Bengalis settling down in CHT continues unabatedly, aiming to turn the indigenous Jumma-dominated CHT into a Muslim-dominating region as per the well-concerted plan of the communal and fundamentalist forces under sponsorship of the state machineries. In pursuance to this manoeuvre, in 2000 and 2007 respectively, one Bodiuzzaman and Advocate Tajul Islam filed two separate cases against the CHT Accord with a view to foiling the implementation process of the CHT Accord. What more is a matter of grave concern is that the Islamic militant groups, as it is usual in other parts of the country, have also found a safe base in the Bengali settlers while utilizing the opportunity created out of ultra-communal activities and military rule in CHT.
In recent days, the conspiracy leading to evicting the Jumma peoples from their homesteads and lands has accelerated in the three hill districts through illegal occupation of the Jumma-dwelling lands, lands of religious shrines, recorded and pre-occupied lands of the Jumma people. In place of ensuring the Jumma peoples with their rights to lands as per the Accord, thousands acres of lands under collective ownership and the Mouza lands are being illegally occupied in the name of establishing BGB camps, tourism centers established by army, declaration of reserved forests areas, giving the lands in leases to the outsider businessmen, influential bureaucrats and political personalities in the name of horticulture and rubber plantation. Even after signing the CHT Accord, only for the cause of illegal and forcible occupation of lands, the indigenous Jumma peoples have been evicted from 30 villages and had to flee to other places. It is due to establishing tourism centers by the army, 65 Tripura families of two villages at Ruilui in Sajek under Rangamati district, and 129 Mro families of Sepru Para (Jibannagar) of Bandarban sadar, 200 Mro families of Kraudawng hill (Dim Pahar) of Alikadam-Thanchi road, 32 Bawm families of Boga Lake of Ruma under Bandarban district face being evicted from their ancestral lands and their life and livelihood are being hampered seriously.
Of the Deputy Commissioners of the three hill districts, the officers working at district and upazila levels and the Police Superintendents and Officers-In-Charge, almost all are not permanent residents of CHT. They are not sensitive to the lifestyle of the Jumma peoples and implementation of the CHT Accord. Hence, in most cases, their outlook is of anti-Accord and anti-Jumma-interest nature. Consequently, putting the CHT Regional Council Act and three Hill District Council Act in force to the needful extent is not possible. It is only for this reason that officers at district and upazila levels are performing their functions in respects of general administration, law & order, land & land management, development etc. by passing the CHT Regional Council and Hill District Councils violating the Accord.
Though the CHT Accord was signed during the Awami League government in 1997, the local leadership of Awami League in the three hill districts are playing negative role towards implementation of CHT Accord and interest of the Jumma people. The reactionary and opportunist role of a certain section of the Jumma people having involved themselves with the Awami League local branches has been making obstruction in the implementation process of the CHT Accord. Though the three Hill District Councils were constituted as a part of special administrative system of CHT, they have been made totally dysfunctional by having been transformed into party-line and corruption dens by the local Awami League leadership. The anti-militancy program of Awami League as well as the government has been being conducted against the Islamic militants throughout the country, but in CHT the anti-militant program is being carried out against the PCJSS as well as the Jumma people's movement. The Awami League leadership, with the help of the government administration, including the army-BGB-police forces, has been propagating against the righteous and just movement of the Jumma peoples for the implementation of the CHT Accord, labelling it as terrorist activities, and ultimately has been carrying out various conspiracy, repression and political harassment upon the activists engaged in the movement. As part of the manoeuvre, in recent times, with active support of the Awami League leadership, false cases were filed against 130 members and supporters of PCJSS, its associate organisations, and innocent villagers including two members of the CHT Regional Council, two chairmen of Upazila Parishad, one chairman and two members of Union Parishad and one Headman, while three persons were killed and more than 150 activists compelled to flee from their respective areas.
Though the democratic, non-communal and progressive political parties and civil society of the country are more vocal on the implementation of the CHT Accord at the present time, none of them has come forward with their own political program in support of the movement for the implementation of the Accord. To this day, the political programs of these political parties and citizen entities have remained limited to participation in the programs organised by the indigenous peoples’ organizations and expressing their solidarity with and support to the cause of the CHT people. For the sake of greater interest of the country and implementation of the CHT Accord, the way that the progressive and democratic political parties and civil society of the country necessitate to have come forward, in fact, they have not been seen coming forward to such an extent. Indeed, their direct role along with their own political programs in the implementation of the CHT Accord is considered to be urgent and important.
The overall situation of CHT is highly delicate. Especially, the Jumma peoples of CHT are being forced to lead a life with an insecure and extremely uncertain reality. The Jumma peoples want to come out of this disgusting situation. Indeed, there is no other option than the implementation of the CHT Accord in resolving the prevailing crisis through political and peaceful means. CHT Accord, the charter of rights of the Jumma people as well as the CHT residents, was achieved through bloody struggle that lasted for two and a half decades. The situation in CHT once again is being pushed towards further complexity due to dilly-dallying policy on part of the ruling class of the country. Any conspiracy directed to thwarting down the Accord implementation process and any fascist way of repressive measures designed to suppress the democratic movement for implementation of the CHT Accord will never bring wellbeing to the country. It is needless to say that the Jumma peoples will be obliged to opt for an alternative way in the interest of preserving their national existence and hence, the government will have to bear the responsibility for the undesirable situation that might crop up as the outcome.
For the sake of the implementation of the CHT Accord aimed at resolving the CHT problem through political and peaceful means, PCJSS as well as the Jumma peoples, are in firm conviction to resist any anti-accord and anti-Jumma-interest conspiracy, and PCJSS reiterates this firm belief without any ambiguity on the 19th anniversary of the CHT Accord.