Friday, December 13, 2013

16 Years of the CHT Peace Accord

by Biplob Rahman, translated by Professor Farida Khan 


Without a resolution of the land conflict as outlined in the treaty, the establishment of peace and development in the Hills remains a pipe dream even after sixteen years of the signing of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord. Although a Land Commission was created fourteen years ago, it has remained defunct and therefore the Hill Tracts problem has become increasingly complex over time. Because of the above mentioned land conflict, there has been increased suspicion and mistrust between Paharis and Bengalis, leading to a corresponding rise in violence between the two communities.

Analysts have said that even after the signing of the Peace Accord on December 2, 1997, the negligence of the government has not allowed the establishment of legal rights over land belonging to many Paharis, as well as Bengalis who have lived on such land for a long time. This is the primary reason for the continued antagonism. After the signing of the Peace Treaty there have been at least 16 violent incidents as a result of land conflict. Paharis have suffered most of the ensuing adversities. At least 10 Paharis have died, and more than 20 Pahari women and children have been the victim of rape and sexual violence. Innumerable homes have been destroyed in the course of the violence. There have been countless incidents of assaults and robbery.

Although the government claims to have implemented 55 of the 77 Clauses in the Peace Accord, analysts find this to be a sham. In their opinion, peace and development in the Hills are nowhere in sight. So far no Pahari or Bengali has reaped any benefit inherent in the Accord. Treated as part of a special administrative region, the people in the area are being oppressed on a daily basis. The internal divisions within the Paharis regarding the Peace Accord are also part of this problem. The permanent administrators of the three Hills District Councils have been rendered non-operational. As they have not been elected for 24 years, they do not represent the people of the area nor is this situation accountable to anyone. There has been no list of voters created so as to move towards a District Council election.

Land Commission in Cold Storage

By the fourth Clause of the Peace Accord, a retired judge was made Chairman of the nine member Land Commission on June 3rd, 1999. The other members of the committee are the Chakma, Bomong, and Mong Circle Chiefs (Rajas), the Chairman of the Hills Regional Council or representative, the Chittagong Division Commissioner or another Division Commissioner, and the District Council Chairmen of the three Districts of Bandarban, Rangamati, and Khagrachhari.

But there are legal limits on the Land Commission, and it has not yet overcome its utter lack of resources and staffing. Only the organizational structure of the Commission has been revised. Not a single directive regarding the land conflict has been implemented correctly so far. Even after 14 years of its establishment, the Land Commission cannot claim to have resolved a single land conflict.

Hills Overrun with Land Conflict

Inquiry has found that increased land conflicts have led to escalated violence between Paharis and Bengalis. In the current year, on August 3rd, 26 Pahari homes were attacked by arsonists in the Matiranga Tainding District in Khagrachhari. In a panic, 450 families left their homes and took refuge near the Bangladesh-Indian border by the Feni river. Facing continual terror, 31 Chak families from Badurjhhiri in the Naingchhari area of Bandarban, as well as 7 Marma families from the same area in Baishari, fled from their homes. Later on, they returned to their land with the help of officials but the situation has not been remedied in any manner.

Before this in 2012, on September 12-13, terrorists destroyed 11 shops and houses in the presence of security forces in Rangamati town. There were 117 Paharis wounded in this incident. In 2011, on December 14th, one Pahari was killed and ten others wounded in an attack made in Baghaichhari-Dighinala. This, too, was a result of land conflict. In the same year, on April 17th, an attack in Ramgarh-Manikchhari led to the murder of 2 Paharis, and 25 were wounded, in addition to the burning down of the homes of 111 Paharis.

In 2011, 27 Paharis saw their homes burnt in Langadut. In 2010, on February 25th, 61 houses were set on fire in Khhagrachhari. In the same year, on January 25th, the homes of 7 newly settled Bengalis were burnt in Baghaihat in Baghaichhari.

In that year, during February 19-20th, there was an attack in Baghaihat in which two Paharis were murdered, 25 wounded, and 437 homes destroyed to the ground.

In addition, the land conflicts resulted in several incidents prior to 2010. In 2008, on April 20th, unknown terrorists set 132 homes on fire in the Baghaihat Nursery area of Gangaram Mukh in Baghaichhari. In this incident, 97 Bengali homes and 53 Pahari homes were destroyed. In 2006, on April 3rd, nearly 100 homes of Paharis were robbed and vandalized in Maischhari. In 2003, on August 26th, two Paharis died in a violent conflict in Mahalchhari; 10 Pahari women were victims of rape and violence. There were about 50 wounded. Other incidents of violence occurred in Bhuachhara on April 19th, 2003, in Rajvilla on October 10th, 2002, in Boalkhhali and Merung on May 18th, 2001, in Ramgarh on June 25th of the same year, in Babuchhara on October 16th, 1999, and in Baghaihat on April 4th of the same year. In the middle of all this, three Paharis died during a conflict in Babuchhara. Another Pahari woman was raped and last year on May 9th, the young girl Sujata Chakma was raped and murdered. The entire Hill Tracts mourned her death.

Long Disbelief in Administrative Assurances
For the past 16 years, representatives from the government have talked about making most sections of the Peace Accord a reality. In the language of administrators, the full implementation of the Accord is a lengthy process. As the process continues, the remaining sections of the Peace Accord will also be implemented. On November 19th of this year, at a meeting in Khagrachhari, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that 55 of the 77 Clauses of the Peace Accord have been implemented. The rest are in the process of being implemented. If she returns to power in the future, the Commission will be able to resolve the land conflicts and correct the legal situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, finally finding a permanent solution to the land problem in the area. She encouraged voters at the gathering to favor the “boat”, reminding them that Awami League had been instrumental in finding a solution in the Hills by bringing about the signing of the Peace Accord.

On the other side, the Chairman of the Regional Council, Bodhipriya (Shantu) Larma has invited all to resist “the land encroachment and conspiracy to exterminate the Jumma community”. He has said that because the Accord has not been implemented, there have been continual violations of the points written in the Accord. These have taken the form of leasing land that belong to absent and displaced Jummas, as well as usurping Jummas from their rightful land through various tactics. The so called Equal Rights Movement, the Hill Tracts Youth Front, the Hill Tracts Nagorik Parishad, and the Bengali Chhatra Parishad have been complicit with the administration and sections of the security forces in carrying out these despicable acts. Land grabbing in this manner is part of the conspiracy to destroy the Jumma community.

The former guerilla leader Shantu Larma said this last Sunday on December 10th at a press conference organized in Rangamati. He said that despite its two terms in power, the Awami League has shown its inability to implement the Peace Accord.

The distinguished Hills Tracts scholar and Chakma Raja Barrister Debashish Roy designated the failure to implement the Peace Accord as the primary reason for existing land conflicts.

In an interview with this writer, the Chakma Raja said that after 1997 and the signing of the Accord, except for a few deviations, Paharis are still being ousted from the Hills. Not only this, the situation is deteriorating every day. In some cases, the security forces of the government are involved. The main reason for this is the non-implementation of the Hill Tracts Land Commission Act of 2001. Under this Act, there was a committee formed under the leadership of Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury. This Act had an amendment specifically designed to activate the Hill Tracts Land Commission. But both military and civil groups have lobbied actively to ensure that the law has remained inoperative. Barrister Debashish maintained that the Land Ministry continues to work against the core intentions of the 1997 Accord.

Besides this, he underscored the importance of fully implementing the Accord by reinstating Pahari refugees who are in India, keeping the Hill Tracts free of armed forces, rendering active the Hills Regional Council and the different District Councils, rendering law and order and ensuring non-violation of human rights, resolving conflicts among the different Jumma groups, etc.

The Hills Tracts City Council Chairman Gautam Dewan told this writer that due to an absence of goodwill on the part of the government, the main points of the Peace Accord have not been implemented and the main principle of “permanent peace and development through the participation of the Paharis” has been damaged.

He said that this is the reason why the Land Commission and the Refugee Resettlement Task Force has never been made fully operational. The Regional Council and the three District Council elections have never been held. For 24 years, the government has appointed whom it pleases to the three District Councils. There is no representation from the people in these organizations, nor is there a voice for the people. All in all, there have been no benefits from the Peace Accord for Pahari or Bengali households. The situation is becoming more complicated every day.

Conclusion

01. Destroying the demographic balance of Paharis and Bengalis in the Hill Tracts has led to an increase in Bengali voters in the area. For this reason, no government has an interest in implementing the Peace Accord. In other words, they do not place any importance in resolving the land conflicts that are present by not allowing the Land Commission to function. Doing so could lead to a loss of votes from disgruntled Bengalis present in much larger numbers over time in this area.

02. The primary authority in the Hills, which is the military, is in favor of perpetuating the Hills problem as well. This is because their presence in the Hills is justified by appealing to problems between the various factions among the communities in the Hills, who are for or against the Peace Accord.

03. The government does not recognize the designation “adibashi” or indigenous for the peoples of the Hills. This is because if the government recognizes the term “adibashi”, they would have to admit to the human rights violations faced by Paharis in the presence of the army in the Hills. If this were to occur, the UN may not recruit Bangladeshi army personnel for peacekeeping missions. There is also a danger that the UN could, in turn, deploy peacekeeping forces to monitor the Hill Tracts.
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Biplob Rahman is a journalist. Translator Farida Khan is Professor of Economic at University of Wisconsin – Parkside
http://alalodulal.org/2013/12/10/cht-accord-6/