Photo: Amirul Rajiv

CHT Accord: Likely Prospect

Devasish Roy Wangza

The Implementation Status of the CHT Accord: The Part Empty Glass
The issue of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord of 1997 inevitably brings up the question of what parts of it remain unimplemented, and what parts have been implemented. If you ask the government, it will tell you how much it has done to implement it, and what "processes" it has revived to further implement it (after the lull and stagnation suffered under the 4-party rule period). The government only sees the filled portion of the part-filled (and of course, part empty) glass of accord-implementation. You ask the hill people, from different walks of life, including members of the regional political parties, and they will tell you how empty the glass is! Of course, there is both implementation and non-implementation. But let us not just look at the express provisions of the Accord, but the spirit behind it. Only then can we assess to what extent the accord has been implemented or not implemented.


The Spirit of the CHT Accord
Now lets cut through all the words littered about this law-jargonised document. And what do we see? We see three words screaming out: peace, justice (also read "rehabilitation") and autonomy or self-government. It is no wonder the instrument is popularly called the "peace" accord although this hallowed word does not occur even once in the document! But nor do self-government or autonomy or justice. There can be no justice or self-government for the people of the CHT without peace. And peace without autonomy and justice for the CHT people cannot be called a just peace. Prisoners and detainees in jails are seldom violent. But can we call that a peaceful existence?


Raj Anikat/ Drik News

The Achievements of the CHT Accord: Stoppage of Insurgency
Lest I be accused of blindly supporting the "empty glass" wallas -- and wallis -- let me clarify. The accord did achieve some things. It may not have brought about total peace, or a just peace, in the region, but it did end the insurgency against the government. Lets take a good look at the CHT through un-tinted glasses. We see no insurgency there. I took a brief look at the Collins and Oxford dictionaries on the meaning of the word "insurgency." Together they refer to use of violence or force to control the country or to oppose the government (or army). Now, do we have that in the CHT? The answer is no. The only organised violence in the CHT is directed by and against regional indigenous political groups, the JSS and the UPDF. Communications are not being disrupted, establishments are not being destroyed and officials are not being attacked or abducted (as happened before the Accord of 1997). But unfortunately, the government still tends to look at the CHT through "security" and "counter-insurgency" lenses.

The "Security" & "Counter-Insurgency" Perspective and the Quinine Antidote to the Flu-Affected
The fact that the government continues to follow, at least partly, a "counter-insurgency" model of governance and development, is borne out by the continued omnipotent presence and role of the security forces in matters they have neither training nor expertise in. The level of violence in the CHT calls for policing, at best, not military action, and yet the military is allowed to have a role in non-military matters: road checkposts, supervision of movement of timber and other forest produce, and other "law-and-order" matters falling short of insurgency or external threat of occupation or war. In India, more than a hundred police personnel were recently killed by Maoist insurgents. The army was not called in. Why do we not do the same? Why should we use our national army for activities more suited for the police and the Ansar? Is it not equivalent to disrespecting the high standards of training given to our soldiers that make them one of the leading UN peacekeepers in the world? Let us make our soldiers better peacekeepers and soldiers rather than trying to make them do the work of policemen. And here too, unless and until the accord provisions of a multi-ethnic police are implemented, I doubt that ethnic tensions will ever be reduced in the CHT, let alone contained.

Photo: Munir uz Zaman/Drik News

The "Part-Empty" Glass: What has not been implemented
Now let us identify what parts of the accord have not been implemented at all, or only very partially. I have already indicated before that de-militarisation has not been substantively achieved, and nor has mixed policing under the hill district councils, at all. Another provision that remains totally unimplemented is the rehabilitation of the internally displaced hill-people. Let alone rehabilitation, the IDPs are to even receive basic healthcare, access to safe drinking water, primary education and livelihood support. People from Sajek beyond Baghaihat were allegedly not being allowed to transport their produce and other goods to Dighinala upazilla and beyond, just because there was some sort of a boycott of Baghaihat Bazaar. This was a grave human rights violation. Boycott of a market is not. That is a consumer's right. I am told that these unwritten restrictions have since been withdrawn or relaxed. Apparently NGO activities in Sajek union have been almost totally stopped. Restrictions on travel of foreigners, including diplomats, in the rural areas of the CHT are also a new development of recent times (even more restricted than during 4-party rule!). This is unjust. Does someone have something to hide from the outside world? Another important under-implemented provision of the Accord is the devolution of requisite subjects and departments to the hill district councils (e.g, Law & Order, Land, Forest, etc). Similarly, the Regional Council's mandate to supervise general administration of the CHT, NGO activities, local government institutions and so forth, is largely unfulfilled because this authority has not been vested upon them through policy directives, if not legislation. Finally, there is the vexing matter of the Land Commission's resolution of disputes, which is threatened by the commission's chairperson's arbitrary and unilateral diktat-like activities and the defects in the Commission's law. Thankfully, the proposed "inaugural" hearing of the commission has been postponed. The Accord Implementation Committee allegedly decided to have the law amended at parliament's next session. This seems quite unlikely?


Photo : Nick Kozak_Drik News

Towards Implementation
I am happy to hear that finally, at the Accord Implementation Committee's meeting on 26 December of last year, it has been decided that the two indigenous members of the committee (the Regional Council chair and the Task Force chair) will identify the unimplemented matters with the help of a government official. However, unless and until the prime minister gives the matter its due attention, the remaining three years of this government will pass by with little substantive changes. Sheikh Hasina got a UNESCO award for signing the CHT Accord. Let her lead the nation to a just and lasting peace in the CHT. We will all work to obtain further international recognition for her leadership and for the government and the country.

Revisiting the Spirit of the Accord: The Restoration of Rights
Let us remember that the Accord is just one other instrument. There are other instruments on the CHT peoples' rights, including the national constitution, international human rights and environment-related treaties, national and regional laws and policies. All concern rights. And we should recall too that many matters were not directly addressed in the accord itself, including constitutional safeguards, psychological rehabilitation of those affected by the conflict, the question of the government-sponsored Bengali migrants' voluntary rehabilitation in the plains, and an un-gendered perspective with which to review the implementation of the Accord, among others. If we tackle the Accord by following its spirit, only then can we restore a just peace in the CHT, and usher in self-determined development in this long-neglected region.

The writer is the traditional Chakma Raja, chief of the Chakma Circle in the Rangamati and Khagrachari districts of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, an advocate at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, and member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.