Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is a hill area situated in south-eastern Bangladesh. It borders Myanmar to the south-east, the Indian state of Tripura on the north, Mizoram to the east and Chittagong district to the west.
As a result of building "Kaptai" dam during the sixties, over 100,000 homes and livelihood of locals were affected. The 18,000 affected families were not compensated adequately and satisfactorily. All these increased discontent among the tribals. Later, it flared up violence. A strong resentment built up in the minds of these people over the decades and a long-standing intrastate conflict cropped up in Chittagong hill tracts. Parbattya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), is one of the leading organisations of ethnic minority people in Bangladesh, which aims to fight for regional autonomy.
With an objective to safeguard the political, social, cultural, educational and financial rights and to expedite socio-economic development processes of all inhabitants in CHT, on December 2, 1997, after much negotiation, an agreement was signed successfully between the government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, and the PCJSS of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. This historical agreement is called the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord, 1997. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord was signed during the first tenure of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, ending bloody conflicts in three hill districts.
The then Chief Whip of the Parliament Abul Hasnat Abdullah signed the agreement on behalf of the government while Santu Larma signed on behalf of PCJSS.
This famous accord promised to end a long-standing armed conflict and protect theethnic minority communities from harassment and violence. The government is making a serious effort to the full implementation the CHT Peace Accord. Among the 72 articles, most of the important articles have been fully implemented.
Some of the important Articles of the Peace Accord that have been implemented:
1) Land Commission has been constituted to settle land disputes. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Settlement Commission (Amendment) Act 2018 has been approved by the Parliament and Gazette has been published to that effect. Once the Land Dispute Settlement Commission Rules are enacted, the hearing of disputes related to the Land Commission will begin. Beside this, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina announced that inhabitants of Chittagong Hill Tracts will get land ownership just like other citizens in the country. She also announced that ownership of land will not be determined according to British-era laws. One of the major issues in the region is land dispute. Once this issue is resolved, it will make way for the implementation of other articles of the treaty. The formation of the Land Commission is one of the major steps towards dispute resolution.
2) With a view to protect, preserve and promote the cultural expressions of small ethnic groups of Bangladesh at local, national and international level Small Ethnic Groups Cultural Organisation Act 2010 was enacted. Presently, the rights of small ethnic groups are much more recognized by the government than ever before in Bangladesh. Cultural elements, language, musical instruments, ornaments, handloom textile etc. are being exposed and exhibited at national and international level.
3) It was recommended that the word "Pahari" or the "residents of hill tract districts" should be included in article 28 (4) of the constitution of Bangladesh, following the passage: "Women or children or for the advancement of any backward section of citizens." However, I think such express inclusion is not required as they are already enjoying the privilege guaranteed by the constitution. The quota system for the inhabitants of hill tracts is a kind of positive discrimination as per the article 28 (4) of the constitution. Such positive discrimination exists in almost every country across the world. Affirmative action programs taken by the government are certainly beneficial for the under-privileged.
4) The article also has provisions for the withdrawal of all makeshift army camps, giving priority to job candidates from the enthnic minority community in the region, the surrender of weapons of the PCJSS members, and the forming of the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs. This important provision has fully been implemented. The government has accepted the surrender of weapons from the PCJSS members, and formed the related ministry. A task force has been formed to rehabilitate the ethnic minority community. Majority numbers of Bangladesh Army camps in the region have been removed.
Presently, the small ethnic groups are much more recognized by mainstream people than ever before in Bangladesh. They are much aware of the fundamental rights and importance of their political expressions.
It is very important for Bangladesh to implement the remaining provisions of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord, 1997, which are still pending. This is an extraordinary treaty. Negotiating and signing this historical treaty itself was certainly a pragmatic and dynamic action taken by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. This treaty not only implemented peace but also created space and opened opportunities for development of the CHT region, which remained outside mainstream development assistance. If political 'initiative' can be taken to resolve this interstate conflict completely by implementing the remaining articles, Bangladesh's contribution to peace implementation will be its brightest and most glorious chapter in history.
Barrister Miti Sanjana is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, partner of Legal Counsel, and an activist.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.)