Recently, Awami League General Secretary and Minister for Road Transport and Bridges Obaidul Quader said, ‘The breeze of peace that Sheikh Hasina has spread through the implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord, the potential hilly area is moving forward along its path. In addition to spreading the message of peace in the remote hills, Sheikh Hasina has now opened the golden door of development and turned the crisis into a possibility.’ (Source: Bangladesh Pratidin and Dainik Jugantar).
He further added, “Most of the provisions of the peace accord have already been implemented. Efforts are also underway to resolve long-standing land issues. …The government is moving forward in the development process while maintaining the uniqueness of life and livelihood of the people of the region.’
Obaidul Quader, an important leader of the Awami League and minister, said this at a video conference on road development in the three hill districts and Cox’s Bazar from his residence on 14 September 2020.
It is needless to say, the problem in the CHT is a political problem. This political problem must be solved politically. It is never possible to solve this problem through economic development without solving it politically. Otherwise, the problem is bound to be more complex and, in fact, it is happening. Therefore, the issue of the ‘opening the golden door of development’ or ‘blowing the breeze of peace’ mentioned by Obaidul Quader must first be analyzed in the light of how far the process of political solution to the CHT problem has progressed; Second, it is important to assess the extent to which these development activities have taken into account the land and cultural rights of the CHT people, especially the Jumma people, and the extent to which the environment and bio-diversity of the hills have been taken into account.
It is to be mentioned that, these remarks by Minister Obaidul Quader are far from satisfying the people of the CHT, especially the indigenous Jumma people, which has left them frustrated and annoyed. As much as his statement failed to highlight the real situation in the CHT, it can also be considered as a mockery of the rights of the oppressed and deprived Jumma people. In the context of non-implementation of the basic issues of the CHT Accord for almost 23 years, his expression of self-satisfaction and self-aggrandizement is in fact nothing but a deception with the Jumma people who signed the Accord.
The people of the CHT and those who are well-wishers of them know the current situation in the region. What kind of development is happening in the hills, for whom the development is taking place! They know how in the name of government and non-government development the indigenous Jumma people, the sons of the land here, are being pushed towards constant eviction and destruction. Today, the common people of the CHT know how, as in the pre-Accord period, the state forces are depriving the Jumma people of their freedom of speech and expression on the one hand, and imposing a steamroller of repression, oppression and torture on them on the other. On the one hand, state power is being used by various state forces and people in government circles, on the other hand, conspiracies are being hatched to oust and destroy the Jumma people by inciting Bengali settlers and their various communal organizations and terrorist armed groups like Reformists and UPDF (Democratic).
In fact, the statement of Awami League leader and minister Obaidul Quader on the implementation of the CHT Accord and development in the CHT is not only conventional, but also unrealistic, outright false and deeply deceptive. This kind of statement is not a message of hope for the people of the CHT, even nothing but a ‘thunder signal’. Because such a statement is an indication of a conspiratorial divergence of the problem rather than a solution to the problem by denying the fact of the problem.
The government itself is violating the CHT Accord and working against it
Minister Obaidul Quader’s statement that “Sheikh Hasina has spread the breeze of peace through the implementation of the CHT Peace Accord” and “most of the provisions of the Peace Accord have already been implemented” cannot be considered to have any basis in reality. Although the CHT Accord was signed between the Government of Bangladesh and the Parbatya Chattagra Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) to end the conflict between the Bangladesh army and the Shanti Bahini in order to find a political solution to the CHT problem and establish peace and development in the region, the government has not fully implemented the Accord. Apart from full implementation, the government has not implemented any of the basic issues of the Accord on which the framework of the Accord has been outlined.
Even in the implementation of those basic issues of the Accord, no sincere initiative of the government has been seen so far. Two decades have passed by saying only ‘being implemented’, ‘will be implemented’. And the Minister’s statement that “most of the provisions of the peace accord have already been implemented” is nothing but a hoax. Because, as per the government statement, the sections that have been partially implemented or only have been made into the law, but that sections have not been implemented in practice, are also falsely propagated by the government as fully implemented. In this case, the PCJSS has analyzed and shown by example that the government has in fact fully implemented only 25 of the 72 sections of the Accord and some of the remaining 48 sections have been partially implemented, most of which have been kept completely unimplemented.
Even in the last 23 years, one of the main problems of the CHT, the Land Problem, has not been solved. As per the Accord, even though the land dispute was to be settled, not a single land dispute was resolved, not a single Jumma was able to get back their dispossessed land. As per the provisions of the Accord, except for 6 cantonments, all temporary army camps have been supposed to be withdrawn from the CHT, but more than 400 camps are still in force. Although thousands of India-returned Jumma refugees and internally displaced families are supposed to be rehabilitated by returning their lands as per CHT Accord, but most of the refugees have not yet returned to their lands and not a single family of internally displaced persons has been able to return their land and been rehabilitated.
In accordance with the provisions of the CHT Accord, the Election Rules and Voter List Rules of the CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils have not been formulated yet. So far, no initiative has been taken to prepare a voter list with permanent residents. As a result, Regional Council and three Hill District Council elections could not be held in 23 years. Not all the laws applicable in the CHT have been amended and updated as per the Accord. Although there was a provision in the CHT to maintain the characteristics of the Jumma (tribal) inhabited area in the CHT, no initiative of the government was observed. No initiative was taken to rehabilitate the Bengali settlers who had settled down in the CHT to their respective places outside the CHT.
It is to be noted that although the current government led by Sheikh Hasina has been in power for the last 12 consecutive years, the implementation of the CHT Accord has been completely stopped during this period. No initiative was taken to hand over the remaining subjects and functions to the Hill District Councils. Even during this period, the government has practically kept the CHT Regional Council dysfunctional and pushed away the PCJSS which signed the Accord.
On the other hand, the government has not only stopped the implementation process of the Accord, but the government itself has been violating the Accord and implementing one anti-Accord programs after another and has been working against the Accord. Even the government has been supporting such conspiracies against the Accord and against the interests of Jumma people. In fact, the government started trying to violate the Accord from the very beginning. During enactment of the CHT Land Dispute Settlement Commission Act in 2001, the government nakedly violated the provisions of the Accord. At that time the government enacted the Land Commission Act in conflict with the Accord without proper consultation with the PCJSS and the Regional Council. Later, after continuous movement for about 15 years, in 2016, the government amended the contradictory provisions of the Land Commission Act in line with the Accord. But even after enacting the law, 4 long years are going to pass but the government has not yet formulated the Rules of the Land Commission Act. As a result, the judicial works of land dispute settlement are yet to be started.
According to the Accord, there is a provision to take the opinion or advice of the CHT Regional Council in making any kind of law or important activities related to the CHT. But the government did not care about it and unilaterally enacted the CHT Development Board Act and amendment of three Hill District Council Acts in 2014, enacted and established the Rangamati University of Science and Technology Act, and established the Medical College. These laws and regulations and policies have grossly ignored the CHT Accord and the interests of the local people. The government forcibly acquired the land of the local people in order to establish universities and medical colleges.
According to the Accord, there is a provision for coordination, supervision and control by the Regional Council, the highest body of the special governance in the CHT in all areas of development, law and order and general administration of the CHT, but the government has completely ignored those provisions. As the special governance system consisting of CHT Regional Council and Hill District Council could not take institutional form and the ignoring it by various government authorities themselves, the land grabbing and eviction of Jumma people in the name of development by various quarters, both government and non-government actors, has increased at an alarming rate.
Not the golden door of development, but the death trap of development
On the one hand, the government has stopped the implementation process of the Accord and continues to violate various provisions of the Accord and the laws enacted as per the Accord, on the other hand, it has been unilaterally implementing various so-called development programs that are in conflict with the Accord and against interests of Jumma people. The government has rendered the CHT Regional Council, as an apex body of special administrative system of CHT, ineffective and turned the three Hill District Councils into arenas of looting for the ruling party people and unaccountable to the people. Besides, the government has been using the Ministry of CHT Affairs, CHT Development Board and other developmental organizations in the interest of their own party and ignoring the core spirit of the CHT Accord unilaterally. As a result, here the rights and interests of the Jumma people as well as CHT people are being trampled on in any development project. The allocation given in the name of development in the CHT, the project that is adopted and implemented, the development allocation and the decision-making key of the development programs is not in the hands of the Jumma people and the benefits of that development are not in the interest of the Jumma people. In fact, by trampling on the spirit of the Accord and ignoring the opinions and prerogatives of the Regional Council, PCJSS and the Jumma people, the government has been adopting and implementing these so-called development projects one after another.
As a result, Minister Obaidul Quader’s statement that says, ‘the golden door of development has been opened’ in the CHT is not really for the indigenous Jumma people. Like as the Pakistani government built the Kaptai Dam death trap in the name of development, the present government has continued to create development traps one after another for destroying the livelihood of the Jumma people by stopping the implementation process of the CHT Accord and violating it.
Minister Obaidul Quader mentioned in the video conference about the road development of the three hill districts, ‘Under the supervision of the Bangladesh army, the construction of 317 km long road along the border of Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban hill districts is in progress. Of these, work is progressing rapidly along 100 km of link roads and 216 km of road along the border.’ It is learnt that if this road development project is implemented, the habitat of hundreds of Jumma families will be destroyed and many plantations they have developed will be damaged. According to a survey, if only the Rajasthali-Bilaichhari-Jurachhari-Barkal-Thegamukh road is constructed, 114 acres of land will have to be acquired, which will affect 564 families, damage 241 plantations, 10 cultural infrastructures and 32 ponds.
Besides, in all the three hill districts, the army and the BGB themselves are violating the CHT Accord by grabbing land and evicting hundreds of local Jumma people in the name of development and running the luxurious tourism business. Recently, an ambitious large tourist complex project is being undertaken at the Chimbuk hill in a joint venture of Bangladesh army and Sikder Group, again at Nilgiri of Bandarban, evicting the local Jumma residents and endangering their livelihood. There will be 12 separate villas and modern hanging cars (cable cars) with the main hotel building for the convenience of tourists. As part of this, construction of a five-star Marriott Hotel and Amusement Park has begun there. In fact, in the name of development, the state forces and various quarters supporting them are arbitrarily trampling on the law and human rights of the local people, occupying various hills and lands and pushing them towards the extinction. But it is often propagated that all this is being done for the development of the people in the hilly areas.
The Bandarban Hill District Council itself has been damaging the environment in the name of recent development, and building roads for a private university by cutting the hills indiscriminately. In fact, examples of such destructive development activities to the Jumma people by the government, government actors and state forces can be given.
In fact, the recent aggression and coercion by the government against the Jumma people in the name of development is, in a word, nothing more than a ‘total conspiracy detrimental to indigenous Jumma people’ or an anti-people colonial aggression. The main objective of these anti-people developments is to make the CHT a Muslim-dominated region by ethnic-cleansing of Jumma people.
Current explosive situation in the CHT
No matter how much the government tries to cover rotten fish with vegetables or dead body of elephants with the fan, it will never be able to hide the real situation in the CHT. Because, the Accord that the government has signed with the promise of solving the hill problems, establishing peace and development in the area, but without implementing that Accord, depriving the Jumma people and destroying the leadership of PCJSS that signed the Accord, a lasting solution, peace and development can never be expected. The government and the state forces are currently pushing the PCJSS and the Jumma people to a tougher movement for survival in deceiving the Jumma people with the Accord. The government and the state forces themselves have strangled the peace dove by cheating with the CHT Accord. On the one hand, they are carrying out various anti-Accord conspiracies with outsider Bengali settlers, including eviction of Jumma people from their ancestral land, on the other hand, they are maintaining a reign of terror against the Jumma people through the Reformist and UPDF (Democratic) terrorist groups.
As a result, what Obaidul Quader said in his speech, ‘spreading the message of peace in remote hills’ through the implementation of the Accord, is nothing but a spark of words. The government’s recent development aggression in the name of development, security and the suppression, killings, arrests, repression, and torture of PCJSS leaders, activists, supporters and the general public engaged in the movement for full implementation of the CHT Accord labelling them as criminals in the name of security and searching of terrorists, the government is not sending a ‘message of peace’, rather is spreading a ‘message of violence’ in the hills. In fact, the situation has reached an explosive stage as the government and state forces have put the Jumma people in an unprecedented crisis of national existence and homeland.
In order to obstruct the implementation process of the CHT Accord, to divert the situation to other direction, above all to carry out activities of anti-Accord and anti-interest of Jumma people unabated, there have been 72 human rights violations by the army, BGB, intelligence and police as part of the criminalization of the Jumma people engaged in the movement in the last six months from January to June 2020. In these 72 incidents, 2 people were extrajudicially killed, 27 people were arbitrarily arrested, 6 people were temporarily detained, 22 people were physically abused and harassed, 53 houses were searched, 3 new camps were set up and 167 families were affected by army development.
Even more worrying is that in the midst of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a recent increase in land grabbing, assaults, harassment and evictions of Jumma villagers by the ruling party people and outsider land grabbers with the help of administration. There have been 23 such incidents by Bengali settlers in the last six months. In these 23 incidents, 4 Jumma women and girls were subjected to violence, 2 communal attacks on Jumma people were committed, 818 families lost due to land grabbing or eviction, forcibly occupying 3,021 acres of land of Jumma villagers, 2 persons were arrested in the 2 cases filed against Jumma people, and around 5,000 acres of rubber plantations have been burnt.
Needless to say, the current overall situation in the CHT has pushed the CHT and the Jumma people back to the precarious situation of 1975.
In fact, the present Awami League government has eschewed the path of political solution to the CHT political crisis and has chosen the path of solving the CHT problem through military means and development engineering like the previous military governments did. Minister for Road Transport and Bridges Obaidul Quader has tried to cover up this fascist conspiracy of the government with a ‘golden door of development’, aiming at converting the real situation into other direction.
It is very sad and disturbing that the present government that signed the CHT Accord with a promise to solve the CHT problem politically has today taken on the role of opposing the implementation of the Accord. The situation in the CHT is being pushed towards unrest today during the tenure of the government led by the Prime Minister who signed the CHT Accord and received the International UNESCO Peace Prize. It is as clear as day that the government that signed the Accord to seek a peaceful political solution instead of a conflict is today carrying out various anti-Accord activities and repression against the PCJSS and the Jumma people through the military forces.
Needless to say, denying the real situation, the genuine solution to the problem can never be achieved by lying about it. The government must come out of the conspiratorial activities against the Accord and against the interests of Jumma people and avoid the suppressive path of resolving the CHT issue by military means. In fact, there is no alternative to resolving the CHT problem without ensuring the rights of the Jumma people as well as permanent residents of CHT, including the full implementation of the CHT Accord. Therefore, the Government and the Hon’ble Minister are urged to stop these lies, highlight the true and real situation and take initiatives for the proper and full implementation of the Accord with honesty and sincerity. Otherwise you will be responsible for any terrible situation in the future.