Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord 25 Years Later: Indigenous Peoples Still at Serious Risk
On 2 December 1997, the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord was signed, giving hope for lasting peace and development for the Indigenous Peoples of the CHT. However, today, as we mark the 25th anniversary of the peace accord, Indigenous Peoples in the CHT in Bangladesh have experienced little to no peace or development.
Over the last 25 years, the natural resources of the hill tracts, which are a hotbed of biodiversity, have been rapidly depleted by land-grabbing, agricultural monoculture, hill-cutting, and stone extraction by private corporations, the government and the military. Indigenous Peoples, who have protected the land of the CHT and its natural resources for generations, face continuous eviction, with land for growing food and living on rapidly becoming scarce.
IWGIA has been working in solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples in the CHT since the 1980s. In fact, it was the first group of Indigenous Peoples in Asia that IWGIA engaged with as a response to the massive and decades-long human rights violations and killings experienced by the Indigenous Peoples in the area.
IWGIA calls on the Government of Bangladesh to prioritize all efforts to implement the most crucial parts of the CHT Peace Accord to end the human rights violations that the Indigenous Peoples of the CHT have faced for decades and are still facing today, and to ensure that they are allowed to live their self-determined lives on their lands in peace, without fear of violence or eviction.
Process at a standstill
The implementation of the CHT Peace Accord has remained completely halted for the last few years.
Nearly two and a half decades later, little substance has been achieved apart from some institutional and legal action, of which much is still left to be improved, including significant changes related to the election and participatory governance of the Hill District Council, delegation of power and authority to the Regional Council, and financial and institutional support for effective traditional governance of the CHT.
In addition, some of the basic provisions of the accord remain completely unimplemented, such as the establishment of the CHT as an Indigenous-inhabited special administered area, the creation of a mechanism to solve land disputes, rehabilitation of returning refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, and demilitarization of the area.
Brief history of the CHT
In 1947, British India was partitioned into predominantly Hindu India and predominantly Muslim Pakistan, which included the region now known as Bangladesh. In the 1960s the Government of Pakistan, with financial support from the US State Department, began the construction of the Kaptai Dam in the heart of Indigenous Peoples’ land, leading to the eviction of around 100,000 people.
During the 1970s and 1980s the Bangladesh military engineered a transmigration program to change the demography of the CHT by bringing in 400,000 landless Bengalis from the plains. Thousands of Indigenous Peoples were evicted and the Bangladesh army killed thousands more. This gave rise to a guerilla movement and an armed conflict that lasted for more than 20 years. The human rights violations that IWGIA documented were vast.