Hill Voice, 21 January 2021, Special Reporter: Implementation of the CHT Accord is a must for strengthening the good governance and ensuring the people-oriented and environment-friendly development and rule of law in CHT, says PCJSS presentative at the virtual Asia Regional Dialogue organised by the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII). PCJSS representative also added that the military rule ‘Operation Uttoron’ and military supremacy of more than 400 temporary camps enforced in CHT have, at present, become the main obstruction on the way to implementation of the Accord which was also mentioned by the PFII in its study in 2011.
In preparation for the 2021 session, the PFII conducted two-day informal virtual Asia Regional dialogues with indigenous peoples and Member State representatives on 19-20 January 2021 (Bangkok time). United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, regional and national human rights institutions, NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC, and academia are also invited to participate.
On19 January 2021Tuesday, two topics titled “Effects of COVID-19 on Indigenous Peoples in Asia” and “Rights to Lands, Territories and Resources”were discussed with Mr. Phoolman Chaudhary, an expert member of PFII in the chair. Meenakshi Munda, Asia Pacific Indigenous Youth Network and Jharkhand Indigenous and Tribal Peoples for Action and Jannie Lasimbang, MP, Sabah and former member of EMRIP and SUHAKAM were present as discussant on these topics respectively.
On 20 January 2021, Wednesday, two topics titled “Conflict/prevention and peace (SDG16)” and “Working with the UN system at national level under the reformed UN development system – opportunities for indigenous peoples” were discussed and facilitated by expert member of PFII Ms. Zhang Xiaoan. Mangal Kumar Chakma, Information and Publicity Secretary of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) and Neil Buhne, Regional Director, United Nations Development Coordinaton Office, Asia-Pacific delivered speech respectively.
Among others, Gam Shimroy, Secretary-General of Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact; Robie Halp from the Philippines; Priti Bindu Chakma, Executive Editor of Hill Voice; Binota Moy Dhamai, International Affairs Secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum; Pallab Chakma, Executive Director of Kapaeeng Foundation; Chanchana Chakma of Bangladesh Indigenous Women’s Network; Sothy Kien et al spoke in the open discussion.
In his speech, PCJSS representative Mangal Kumar Chakma said that the Sustainable Development Goals 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions, is very important for conflict prevention and peace, sustainable development, access to justice and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions of indigenous peoples.Recognition of the land rights of indigenous peoples with autonomy and self-determination rights may reduce conflict and advance human rights of indigenous peoples. We cannot hope for sustainable development without peace, stability, human rights, and effective governance, based on the rule of law. But it is unfortunate that most of the indigenous-inhabited regions in Asia fall into seemingly endless cycles of militarization, conflict and violence.
He added that during this pandemic, we have observed several states in Asia becoming even more repressive. COVID-19 has been used as a trojan horse to intimidate, arrest, plan false charges and conduct military campaign. It is being used to weaken or suspend safeguards and rights regarding indigenous peoples across Asia. Military and para-military forces have been used to quell local resistance to development projects, resulting to wide-scale violations of their civil and political rights including criminalization and vilification of their legitimate actions. Such as, in the Philippines, Bangladesh, North East India, Myanmar, and Nepal to name a few.
Civic space has been severely curbed to promote false solutions and to deny justice across Asia. Indigenous Peoples are the most vulnerable and worse victims of detrimental laws and policies in the Asia region. He cited some examples of Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Bangladesh etc.
Mr. Chakma mentioned that the CHT region is one of the crucial regions in Asia in terms of ensuring peace, inclusive development and good governance. The implementation of the CHT Accord signed in 1997 with an aim to resolve CHT problem through political and peaceful means is considered to be central to peace and development in the region.The CHT Accord introduced a special governance system consisting of three Hill District Councils at the district level and a Regional Council at the regional level aiming at the ensuring self-governance and deciding own development needs by the CHT people themselves.However, as a result of not devolving powers and functions including general administration, law and order, police, land and land management, forest, environment and so on, to these institutions even in 23 years after signing the CHT Accord, that special governance system has not yet been introduced properly and the trend of self-determined development approach has not developed.
He opined that the government did not take any initiative to holding the elections of these CHT institutions which leads to deprivation of the indigenous Jumma people from their rights to choose their representatives by exercising their fundamental rights to vote.So, effective and meaningful participation and decision-making roles of indigenous Jumma people has been denied in the development programmes, which lead to adverse impacts upon their national existence, culture and livelihood.The three Hill District Councils are being run undemocratically by appointing the members of the party who becomes in the state power as the chairman-members of the Council. As a result of the running the CHT institutions by the nominated interim councils, the special governance system in the CHT has become ineffective.
He further added that due to non-settlement of disputes over lands, conflicts and clashes between the indigenous Jumma people and Bengali settlers have been taking place every now. Even during the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, the land grabbing and eviction of the indigenous Jumma villagers by the state and non-state actors did not stop.One of the burning examples is construction of a luxury tourist complex with a five-star hotel at Chimbuk Hills of Bandarban by the army by occupying land and eviction of indigenous Mro people. Like the CHT region, conflict and clashes relating to land disputes continue in the plain land and indigenous peoples are also increasingly losing their lands.
PCJSS representative said, the government has not only stopped the process of implementation of the CHT Accord, but it has also increased the criminalization of individual rights defenders and organizations that demand implementation of the CHT Accord labelling them as ‘terrorists’, ‘extortionists’ and ‘armed miscreants.’Freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, restrictions on publishing news on human rights violations in CHT region have been strictly controlled by the military forces due to which the region has turned into blockaded areas.
To achieve the aim of the SDGs 16 by 2030, he urged the State (Government) and to the international community to implement the treaties and agreements signed between the State and indigenous peoples, such as, the CHT Accord of Bangladesh; in this regard, the government of Bangladesh should be put pressure for implementation of the CHT Accord for the sake of sustainable peace and inclusive development of indigenous peoples in CHT and developing an inclusive society in the country.
PCJSS representative also demands to stop militarization, military operations (such as de facto military rule Operation Uttoron in CHT), grabbing of indigenous peoples’ lands and increased human rights violations of indigenous peoples.