The military has played a decisive role in Bangladesh. Its influence over political, economic and social affairs is particularly pronounced in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), a region of natural abundance and home to 11 indigenous groups numbering approximately 700,000 people; this is a region, however, which has experienced decades of relentless human rights violations.
Despite occupying only 9% of the total territory of the country and being inhabited by 1% of the total population, around one-third of the Bangladesh army is deployed in the CHT and there are around 400 army, paramilitary and police camps in the area, a vestige of more than 20 years of low-intensity guerilla war led against the government from 1976 to 1997 by the armed wing of the indigenous political party, the PCJSS, in response to violations of the region’s autonomy.
In 1997, a peace treaty known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord was signed between the PCJSS and the Government of Bangladesh. This contained, among other things, provisions for the region’s demilitarization, the settlement of land disputes and a form of regional autonomy. Fourteen years on from the signing of the CHT Accord, however, de facto military rule still continues, something to which this report attests.
Bangladesh prides itself on being one of the world’s leading contributors of soldiers to United Nations peacekeeping operations but, at the same time, army personnel are repeatedly violating human rights at home. The direct involvement of army personnel in, or their covert support of, the numerous communal attacks on indigenous villages, often motivated by the quest for control of indigenous peoples’ traditional lands, is a case in point. The same goes for the military’s role in duties normally carried out by civilian agencies, such as development projects or the supervision of NGO activities, its influence over policymaking as well as the economic gains it receives from its involvement in, for example, tourism.