The government has implemented only four of the 37 most important provisions of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord, the party which represents the indigenous people of the region has said.
In its report published earlier this week, Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) claimed that two decades after the peace deal was signed with the Bangladesh government, no progress has been made under 24 of its “fundamental” provisions.
The implementation of the remaining nine fundamental sections has only made some progress.
“The inability to fully implement the CHT Peace Accord is a major reason for unrest in the region,” PCJSS Organizing Secretary Shaktipada Tripura told the Bangla Tribune.
“Land belonging to the indigenous people is being stolen, and the locals are still being harassed. We fought for the treaty, and peace can return to the hill tract districts only when it is fully implemented.”
Refuting the findings of the PCJSS paper, the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tract Affairs said 48 from the overall total of 72 provisions have been fully implemented.
“The government is making a serious effort to implement the CHT Peace Accord (and) the work in this regard is progressing quickly,” Additional Secretary (administration) of the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs Rama Rani Roy said.
“It is this ministry’s sole purpose to establish a peaceful environment in the hill tract districts. Among the 72 articles, 48 were fully and another 15 were partially implemented, and the realization of nine more articles is in the pipeline.”
PCJSS published its report to mark the 20-year anniversary of the signing of CHT peace treaty in Khagrachhari on December 2, 1997.
The report said the very first article of the CHT Peace Accord prioritizes the preservation of the characteristics of the Hill Tracts region, the formulation and amendment of related laws, and the forming of a committee for implementing the peace treaty.
However, although a committee has been formed to implement the accord, PCJSS claimed it does not have an office or the necessary personnel to carry out its task.
The government has also tabled the regional council recommendations for formulating and amending related laws, but these are yet to be implemented.
The report also pointed out that steps should be taken to preserve the “culture and characteristics” of the indigenous groups in Bangladesh.
It also recommended that the word “Pahari” or the “residents of hill tract districts” should be included in article 28 (4) of the constitution, following the passage: “Women or children or for the advancement of any backward section of citizens.”
However, according to PCJSS, the government is yet to take the necessary initiatives to implement these fundamental provisions.
The second article of the CHT Peace Accord states that matters such as the jurisdiction to allow settlement of the people of non-indigenous community, appointing officials and employees of the council, and development planning and granting special powers to the council will be handed over to the representatives of the indigenous community.
The PCJSS report, however, claimed that the government has retained its full jurisdiction in the above mentioned matters.
The third article of the CHT Peace Accord tackles matters such as handing jurisdiction to the representatives of the indigenous community to supervise and coordinate the activities of the district council, local law enforcement, and CHT Development Board, and for granting the license for building heavy industries in the region.
The article also states that the regional council should be given the jurisdiction to amend the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation 1900, and formulate new laws if needed.
The PCJSS report claimed that among these articles, only the regional council has been formed, and no other provision has been implemented as yet.
The fourth article consists of provisions related to matters such as the rehabilitation of the displaced members of the indigenous community, allotting land to the landless, formation of a dedicated land commission, and resolving land disputes in the hill tract districts.
The article also has provisions for the withdrawal of due loan payments of PCJSS members, providing funding to sustain the local culture and heritage, withdrawing all makeshift army camps, giving priority to job candidates from the indigenous community in the region, the surrender of weapons of the PCJSS members, and the forming of the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs.
The government fully implemented the provisions for accepting the surrender of weapons from the PCJSS members, and for forming of the related ministry.
The process for rehabilitation of the indigenous community has also seen some progress as the government has formed a task force for it, but the remaining provisions are still pending.
Sources said the articles related to resolving the land disputes in the region are the most important ones to the PCJSS.
The report mentioned that despite the formation of a land commission, it had not been provided with necessary funds or the human resources to do anything about the disputes.
The land commission still has no branches in Rangamati and Bandarban, while a successor to its chairman, Justice Anwar-ul-Haque, is still to be appointed, three months after his term ended on September 6, 2017.
The treaty stated that the land abandoned by the army will be handed over to its lawful owners, but no such initiative has been taken as yet.
The 70 makeshift Bangladesh Army camps in the region were supposed to be dismantled, but only half (35) have been removed.
“The army must be withdrawn to establish rule of democracy in the region,” PCJSS organizing Secretary Shaktipada Tripura said.
The former chairman of National Human Rights Commission, Dr Mizanur Rahman, said political “initiative” must be taken if the remaining articles of the 1997 peace accord are to be fully implemented.
“This is not an ordinary treaty,” he said. “One of the major issues in the region is land dispute. If this issue is resolved, it will make way for the implementation of other articles of the treaty.
“There is no alternative to open discussion for realizing the articles mentioned in the treaty.”
This article was first published on the Bangla Tribune