PCJSS Report 07 January 2008

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CHT Situation under Caretaker Government in 2007: PCJSS report

7 January 2008

Brief status of Implementation of CHT Accord

The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord, popularly known as CHT Peace Accord, signed between the government and the PCJSS on 2 December 1997, ends more than two-decade old armed struggle for self-determination and paves the way for the peace, development and political solution of the CHT issues. Though then Awami League government signed the Accord, but it had no sincerity to implement the Accord. Only a little of the Accord was implemented during her three year and eight months tenure. During the period of the BNP led last four-party coalition government, it had violated vital clauses of the Accord. As a result, though more than ten years have passed away after signing of the Accord, most of the following provisions have not been taken into account for implementation:

  1. No government steps have yet been taken to preserve the characteristics of the tribal-inhabited region and attain the overall development thereof recognised by the Accord.
  2. Full execution of the CHT Regional Council Act is yet to be made and Rules of Business of the CHTRC is kept pending without any approval by the Government. (for example, no execution of power of CHTRC to supervising and coordinating to the subjects transferred to three HDCs, law and order, general administrations, development programmes, CHT Development Board, Coordination of NGO activities and disaster management and relief operation, traditional and social justice etc and issuing license for heavy industries)
  3. No subject has been transferred to the three Hill District Councils (HDCs) since signing of the Accord. Election of the HDCs is yet to be held and Voter list only with the permanent resident of CHT is yet to be prepared for the election of HDCs.
  4. Land Commission is yet to start its function and its Act is yet to be amended. Hence, no land dispute has been resolved.
  5. Only 31 temporary army camps out of 543 camps were withdrawn. Rests of temporary camps are yet to be withdrawn. Moreover, 'Operation Uttaron' was imposed in 2001.
  6. 9,780 families out of 12,222 families of repatriated Jumma refugees have not returned their lands, homesteads and orchards and 40 villages of the returnees are still under the occupation of the settlers.
  7. Internally Jumma displaced families numbering more than one hundred thousand families are yet to be rehabilitated.
  8. Since stopping of activities of the CHT Accord Implementation Committee on 13 September 2001 by then Caretaker Government, the activities of the committee have never been reactivated till to-date.
  9. Withdrawal decisions of the cases filed against PCJSS members and the permanent residents involved with PCJSS are yet to be executed.

Attitude of present Caretaker Government to CHT Accord

Since assuming to the state power by the present Caretaker Government undertook various vital initiatives that were not addressed by any political government, such as, drive against widespread corruption, separation of judiciary from the executive, re-constitution of Anti-Corruption Commission etc, but it is the Dr. Fakruddin Ahmad's interim government who addresses the same. Considering this, the indigenous Jumma people hoped that this neutral Caretaker Government would start proper implementation of the CHT Peace Accord that was also kept unimplemented by the previous political governments. However, though one year has passed, no proper initiative has yet been taken for implementation of the CHT Peace Accord by the Caretaker government.

Three meetings have been held during the present Caretaker government. But no progress has been made to this direction. The first meeting was held in April by Dr. Iftekhar Ahmad Chowdhury, Advisor for CHT Affairs Ministry (CHTAM) with four chairmen of CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils. In addition, two meetings of Advisory Committee of CHTAM were held by the present Caretaker Government. It is reported that development activities of the CHT, implementation of the CHT Peace Accord and other issues were discussed in these meetings, but no concrete decision has been taken in the meeting. But indigenous people believe that holding of these meetings are nothing but eye-wash.

On the contrary, soon after assuming to the state power, the Caretaker government curtailed at least one-third budget of CHT Regional Council, an apex body of the special administrative arrangement for CHT. Now CHT Regional Council is facing financial crises to run its activities.

It is also alleged that the Caretaker government is reluctant to implement the Accord and hence the military authority continues to be final policy making and law enforcing authority in the CHT like as before during the political government. Anti-Accord attitude of the military forces is the main challenge in implementing the Accord.

By taking the advantage of the state of emergency, the military forces have increased anti-Accord activities, such as, forcible occupation of indigenous Jumma people's land, settlement of Bengali Muslim families to outnumbering indigenous and setting up new camp to support them, strengthening of extreme communal forces through Sama Odhikar Andolan (CHT Equal Rights Movement) and nomination of them to HDCs, trying to replace Bengali members of CHT Regional Council with extremist leaders of Sama Odhikar Andolan etc. It is mentionable that the Sama Odhikar Andolan, an extreme Bengali nationalist and extreme communal organisation in CHT, especially during the BNP-led alliance government under the patronisation of then ruling lawmaker Abdul Wadud Bhuiyan, took up a series of programmes to press for the scrapping of the CHT Accord.

As part of the strengthening of Sama Odhikar Andolan, military forces have supported to organise district conference of the Sama Odhikar Andolan held on 20 July 2007 at office of the Khagrachari Contractors' Association. Though State of Emergency does not permit to organise such conference, but Sama Odhikar Andolan could easily do it. As per decision, holding of sub-district level conferences and reconstitution of sub-district committee of the Sama Odhikar Andolan are also going on uninterrupted.

It is also reported that the Caretaker Government appointed General Officer of Commanding (GOC), 24 th Infantry Division of Chiitagong cantonment as Chairman of the CHT Development Board on 22 October 2007. It is mentionable that before signing of the CHT Accord, GOC was also appointed as Chairman of the board and the board was directed in line with the military point of view.

In addition, the Law and Information Advisor of the present Caretaker Government Barrister Mainul Hossain attended the discussion organised by the Sama Odhikar Andolan, in the VIP lounge of at the National Press Club in Dhaka on 2 December 2007. He said in this discussion that CHT Peace Treaty of 1997 could be reviewed.

The followers of Abdul Wadud Bhuiyan have also been rehabilitated to Khagrachari HDC nominating them as member of this council in July 2007 by the Caretaker Government. The Chairman of the council, Mr. Manindra Lal Tripura was appointed by Adbul Wadud Bhuiyan during the regime of BNP-led coalition government. He has been kept up as chairman. The Bengali member of the newly constituted Khagrachari HDC, Md. Abu Bakar Siddique is BNP leader and Sama Odhikar leader as well.

In collaboration with Sama Odhikar Andolon, Advocate Mohamed Tajul Islam filed a writ petition (no. 6451/2007) against CHT Peace Accord at High Court on 22 August 2007. It is alleged that DGFI (military intelligence agency) was involved with this motive.

Human rights situation during present Caretaker Government

The present military-backed Caretaker Government of Bangladesh of Dr. Fakruddin Ahmed imposes the State of Emergency in the country amid conflict political situation on 12 January 2007. Under the state of emergency, the Joint Forces led by military forces are conducting drive against the corrupt politicians, businessmen and godfathers. As part of this drive, a few godfathers and corrupt leaders of last four-party alliance government have been arrested in CHT. However the military forces have been using the state of emergency with a different motive in case of indigenous peoples in CHT. Basically it has been used to suppress the voice of indigenous Jumma people of CHT.

The military forces are using the emergency rules to unleash sweeping political repression against indigenous Jumma peoples including PCJSS and its front organisations. To materialise their allegation, the government forces have been showing arm recovery from arrestees' possession putting their (army) arms and hence lodging false arm case against them. Since the promulgation of the State of Emergency, at least one innocent villager has been killed and 50 indigenous activists including 20 members of PCJSS (among others, PCJSS general secretary Mr. Satyabir Dewan, two more central members of PCJSS, headman and UP chairman Mr. Ranglai Mro etc) have been arrested by the government forces.

Pressure on indigenous activists by arresting and sending detention of their leaders and threatening to lodge cases against them were not yet stopped; the government forces are still putting pressure on the indigenous activists who are not yet arrested to give up raising voice against military and Bengali settlers and to resign from their respective organisation. Hence at least 100 indigenous activists (for example PCJSS Vice President Mr. Laxmi Prasad Chakma and Organising Secretary Mr. Shaktipada Tripura) left their home place avoiding military arrest and harassment.

It is also reported that land grabbing is also continuing even during the period of Caretaker Government. Military forces deployed in CHT resumed settlement programme of Bengali settlers occupying the land of Jumma people particularly in Khagrachari by taking advantage of the State of Emergency. For example, one of the affected villagers of this recent drive Mr. Prithwiraj Chakma of Kantkupya village in Khagrachari sadar sub-district informed that last July 2007, government forces settled down at least 200 families of Bengali settlers at Dantkupya village evicting 12 families of indigenous people from their traditional land. With an aim to provide security to the settler families, the military forces set up a camp on 8 March 2007 at this Dantkupya village.

Conclusion

Like widespread corruption, terrorism and abuse of power in Bangladesh, the CHT problem as well as non-implementation of the CHT Peace Accord is also a crucial national problem in the country. For the sake of good governance and rules of law in the CHT, implementation of the CHT Peace Accord is a must. Without proper and speedy implementation of the CHT Peace Accord, a congenial atmosphere for free, fair and impartial election could not be ensured in the region. In order to resolve CHT problem through political and peaceful means and to create a favourable atmosphere for free and fair election, international community should influence present Caretaker Government and Bangladesh military forces to:

  1. start initiative for speedy implementation of the CHT Accord that paves the way for the peace and development in the region;
  2. prepare voter list of the region only with the permanent residents of CHT as per CHT Peace Accord and allow to enter international observers in CHT during the preparation of voter lists and election as well;
  3. stop military atrocity and harassment on the indigenous peoples' activists and withdraw the cases filed against them, and release them immediately;
  4. stop settlement programme of Bengali settlers and land grabbing and return back them to their cluster villages until and unless land disputes are resolved through land commission.

Sources:

PCJSS (Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti)
E-mail: pcjss.org@gmail.com, pcjss@hotmail.com
Website: pcjss-cht.org

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