Why is peace still missing in the CHT?
It has been 24 years since the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord was signed, yet the situation in the region is still overwhelmingly fragile. In October 2019, the home minister, during a visit to the area, also highlighted the situation in the hills at a special meeting of the three hill districts in Rangamati.
The questions that arise are these: When the CHT Accord was supposed to put an end to the conflicts and violence in the hills, why are they still taking place? What is the reason behind this situation, and who is responsible for it? From the state authorities, it is often claimed that the Jana Samhati Samiti, one of the signatories of the CHT Accord, is responsible for the violence. How true is it in reality? Or is it because the CHT Accord, which was aimed at resolving the crisis in the hills, is yet to be fully implemented?
In fact, at present, drives are being conducted against the Jumma community with arbitrary arrests, search operations, extrajudicial killings, and innocent villagers ensnared in false cases. Even after the Accord, the suppression and oppression are increasingly taking on ugly shapes. Conflicts between the hill people and Bengali settlers due to land disputes or under the indulgence of state machineries, and organised communal attacks against the Jumma people, are taking place every now and then. Even after the Accord, Jummas are being evicted from their lands—the post-Accord era has witnessed the eviction of 30 Jumma villages. Continuous illegal occupation of lands and homesteads belonging to the Jumma people are being perpetrated by both state and non-state entities. Violence against women has not decreased at all—it has escalated over time, as a weapon of illegal land occupation and ethnic cleansing.
The ultra-communal and ultra-national forces, including the settlers and fundamentalist groups, are being incited against the Jumma people and the CHT Accord. In 2019, a single organisation named "Parbatya Chattagram Nagorik Parishad" was formed, dissolving all the other organisations of the settlers, ultra-nationalists, and ultra-communal groups. The CHT land commission meetings held in Rangamati and Bandarban in December 2019 and February 2020, respectively, were surrounded under the initiative of this organisation. All those communal attacks by fanatic groups were perpetrated with a view to illegally occupy the lands of the Jumma people, and evict them from their ancestral lands. To this day, the perpetrators responsible for even a single event of those brutal attacks have not been brought justice.
It is clear that the process of fully and properly implementing the CHT Accord is being obstructed by stooge elements from within the Jumma community. Anarchy has been created in the area by allowing conflicts, fighting, killings, abductions, extortions, etc, through sheltering and indulging anti-Accord elements and fundamentalist groups.
Needless to say, the Jumma people are discontent because of the non-implementation of the CHT Accord over the years. Nothing but the non-implementation of the Accord can be held responsible for the situation we see in the CHT—the obstruction in ensuring rights, returning lands, acceding to right to self-determination, and giving employment in Accordance with the Accord.
The CHT Peace Accord was signed in 1997 between the government and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) with the promise to resolve the crisis in the region through political and peaceful means. To that end, the provisions that were brought into the Accord include: preservation of indigenous features of the CHT region; introduction of a special administrative system comprising the Regional Council and three hill district councils, and devolving political, administrative and economic infrastructures, including general administration, law and order, police, land management, forest and environment, tourism, communication, etc, to these councils; preparing voters' list with the permanent residents to hold elections in the councils; withdrawal of all temporary camps, including the military ones, from the area; resolution of land disputes through land commission; rehabilitation of those who returned from India and internally displaced Jumma people in their respective lands properly, returning their lands to the respective owners; cancellation of leases of lands given to the non-resident people; appointment of permanent residents in all jobs available in the CHT area, prioritising the Jumma people; bringing amendment to all laws and regulations existent in and applicable to the CHT in Accordance with the Accord; and rehabilitation of settler Bengali people outside of the CHT with dignity.
But it is a fact that none of these provisions have been properly and fully implemented so far. It is because these core issues have not been properly dealt with that peace has yet to find its way to the region. Take the special administrative system, for example: instead of devolving the authority of political and administrative functions to the regional council and the hill district councils, they are being directed by the district and upazila level bureaucrats, i.e. deputy commissioners, superintendents of police, and special forces.
If a community is promised the right to self-government, returning of land rights and the lands illegally occupied, establishment of democratic governance through demilitarisation, proper rehabilitation of refugees and the displaced people, and rehabilitation of political migrants (settlers) outside the CHT region with dignity and so on, and then the commitment is not fulfilled, it is quite natural that there would be anger, discontent and despair among the said community. Since the political entity in power right now—that has been in power for 13 years—is the same entity that was in power when the Accord was signed, it is natural that the victimised community would feel non-confidence and distrust because of the lack of initiative to implement the Accord.
If, instead of resolving the CHT crisis through proper implementation of the Accord, a policy of suppression and oppression is followed to end the crisis, surely resistance will grow within the community that suffers from it. When your back is against the wall, all you can do is take a stance of defensive resistance. If the powers that be opt for oppressive tactics instead of recognising the democratic movement demanding the Accord's implementation over the last two decades, it is no one else but them who should be held responsible for the situation that prevails in the CHT region today.
If the Accord had been properly implemented, if the regional council and the three hill district councils had been in control of general administration, law and order, police, land management, etc, if the occupied lands had been returned to their original owners, if there had been democratic governance available through the withdrawal of military camps, if the indigenous residents had been given all the jobs available in the CHT—it can be said for certain that the anger, dissatisfaction and despair among the Jumma people would have never appeared. If the Jummas' hope for their rights, as envisaged in the Accord, had been met, the existing fragile situation in the CHT region would have never been created to begin with.
Mangal Kumar Chakma is information and publicity secretary of the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS).