The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord popularly known as CHT Peace Accord was signed between the Government of Bangladesh and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS).
The Accord recognizes the CHT as a tribal-inhabited region, and provides for establishment of a special administrative system for this region with a Regional Council and three Hill District Councils, resolution of land disputes in accordance with the Jumma peoples’ traditional land rights, withdrawal of all temporary camps of armed forces (excluding BDR camps and 6 permanent cantonments) in order to promote democratization, rehabilitation of returnee Jumma refugees and internally displaced Jumma people, allocation of additional financial resources for the development of the region, and establishment of a CHT Affairs Ministry.
It provides for transfer of powers to the Regional Council and the three Hill District Councils (HDCs).
Unfortunately, the Awami League government at that time did not proceed to implement the main provisions of the Accord, such as protection of the uniqueness of the CHT as a tribal inhabited region, establishment of land rights through resolution of land disputes, and introduction of a special administrative system through enforcement of the Regional Council Act and the three Hill District Council Acts.
Narrow-minded and undemocratic political perspectives and attitudes of extreme communalism and Bengali nationalism acted as major obstacles.
There were persistent elements within the government and the Awami League that created obstacles to implementation.
In fact, though the Regional Council Act and the three Hill District Council Acts were enacted, they were never properly enforced, so the special administrative system could never be made effective.
The temporary camps of the armed forces were never withdrawn, but rather de facto military rule was imposed under the name of “Operation Uttoron.”
Though the Land Commission was formed, it was unable to resolve any land disputes, and the Land Commission Act was passed with provisions that were contradictory to the Accord.
The Jumma refugees who returned from India and the internally displaced Jumma people were not rehabilitated, but rather, Bengali settlers were counted as internally displaced people and efforts were made to rehabilitate them in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in violation of the peace accord.
The provision vesting the circle chiefs with exclusive powers to grant permanent resident certificates was not enforced, but rather the deputy commissioners were given the power to grant permanent resident certificates.
Land leases previously given to nonpermanent residents were not rescinded, but rather outsiders were given new leases in violation of the accord.
Voter lists for the CHTs comprising only permanent residents were not prepared, but rather outsiders were included in the voter lists.
The provision to grant employment to permanent residents of the CHTs with priority for Jumma people in all forms of civil service in the CHTs also was not enforced.
Next, the four party alliance government led by the ultra right wing anti peace accord political party BNP came to power.
Naturally this government moved to trample upon the accord by various means. There were increased moves to render ineffective the Regional Council and three Hill District
Councils established under the special administrative system.
“White-robed terrorism,” extreme communalism and extreme religious militancy cast a long shadow over the Hill Tracts.
Half a dozen barbarous attacks occurred such as the communal attack upon the Jumma people of Mahalchari in 47 Betraying a Treaty 2003.
The extreme communalist and ultra-nationalist organization known as the so-called “Sama Odhikar Andolan (Equal Rights Movement),” founded under the leadership of BNP-affiliated MP Wadud Bhuiyan, received overt state patronage.
Undermining the status of Hill Tracts as a Jumma inhabited region, the process of Bengali settlers’ forceful grabbing of Jumma lands intensified.
On January 11th, 2007, a “caretaker government” (CTG) came to power. This government arrested many indigenous leaders, filed malicious cases against them, expanded settlements for Bengali settlers, and intensified forceful land grabbing.
In violation of the CHT peace accord, the CTG gave the G.O.C. of the 24th Infantry Division the post of chairman of the CHT Development Board in October 2008, and included non-local Bengali outsiders in the voter lists for the Chittagong Hill Tracts like the previous politically elected governments.
The Awami League promised in its 2008 election manifesto that it would fully implement the CHT Accord.
However, since coming to power, the government took only few steps to reconstitute some committees and appointment of some posts.
Expansion of settlements and forcible land grabbing by the Bengali settlers with the support of military and civil administration continue unabated in all the three districts of CHT.
In February 2010, massive communal attack on Jumma villages (Baghaihat of Sajek union) were made by Bengali settlers, with support of military.
Though more than 13 years have passed after signing of the Accord, most of the provisions, especially the main issues of the Accord, such as, preservation of tribal-inhabited characteristics of CHT region, effective enforcement of the three HDCs and CHT Regional Council Act, resolution of land disputes through Land Commission, rehabilitation of returnee Jumma refugees and internally Jumma displaced families, withdrawal of temporary camps of security forces and military administration, preparing voter list only with the permanent residents of CHT, rehabilitation of the Bengali settlers outside CHT, etc. have been left unimplemented.
Many powerful influences are standing in the way of implementation of the CHT Accord.
The nation’s major political parties as well as bureaucratic, undemocratic, communalistic and discriminatory attitudes regarding the CHTs have worked as obstacles against the implementation of the accord.
The role of the CHT Affairs Ministry also has not been positive with regard to implementation of the CHT Accord.
To the extent that the ministry has played a role, it has for the most part been in opposition to implementation of the accord.
Another obstacle to the CHT Accord implementation process is the military deployed in the CHT, as well as government employees at the level of the three hill districts and the sub-district level.
They in general do not wish for the CHT Peace Accord to be implemented.
Though some of the military stationed in the CHT do support the accord, other powerful quarters can still be seen to be active in opposing the accord.
A third obstacle to implementation of the accord is the presence of fundamentalist and extreme communal organizations.
They are racist extremists targeting the Jumma by instigating communal riots, and particularly by forcefully grabbing their lands.
It will not be possible to implement the CHT Peace Accord unless these obstacles to the accord are removed.
Implementation of the CHT Accord is the only way to achieve a lasting political solution to the CHT issue.
The longer the implementation of the CHT accord is delayed, the more complex the CHT issue is likely to become.
Abbreviated from original essay.
Writer : Mangal Kumar Chakma