Sat, May 28th, 2011 10:58 pm BdST
The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has urged Bangaldesh government to declare a timeline for the execution of 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord.
At the end of its 10th session on Friday, the forum also asked Bangladesh to sketch modalities of implementation and persons and/or institutions responsible for implementation of the accord.
Ignoring Bangladesh’s claim that the forum had no standing to discuss about the peace accord, its chairman said “the case is intricately related to the mandate of the forum”, as the accord’s two objectives were aimed at re-establishing peace and to provide institutional arrangements for regional autonomy, the official UN website said.
The forum recognised that there was opportunity on constitutional amendments in Bangladesh and encouraged “peaceful dialogue between the government and indigenous peoples”.
“Implementing the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord would help address the substantial concerns raised in the report and during the tenth session of the Permanent Forum, in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
The UN body made the remarks upon recommendations put forth by UN Special Rapporteur Lars-Anders Baer, also a former member of the forum.
In his study report, he said 14 years after its signing, many critical clauses of the accord, which aimed to establish a regional system of self-government, remained unimplemented, or only partially addressed.
He further said delayed implementation could result in continued widespread human rights violations, violent conflicts and military control.
The Bangladesh first secretary to the UN denied the allegations of dilly-dallying in execution and also binned the report saying the forum had no locus standi to discuss the peace accord, since there were no “indigenous” people in the country.
Instead, Iqbal Ahmed labelled them as “minorities”.
The peace accord between the then Awami League government and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS) ended the decade-long bush war between the indigenous people and the army.
PCJSS chief Jyotirindra Bodipriyo Larma or Santu Larma on Friday alleged that the government did not fulfil its pledge to implement the accord. “In Awami League’s election manifesto, the party claimed it would end forever violence, discrimination and human rights violations on the indigenous and the religious minorities.”
“Now we see that the ruling party has not kept its promise,” said Santu, also chairman of the CHT Regional Council.
On the other hand, Chakma Raja Devasish Roy, an expert member of the forum, urged the government for effective measures to execute the peace accord. He said, “Demilitarisation is crucial, as it has implications for the stability of the entire country and its journey to democracy”.
While presenting his study report on the implementation of the peace accord, Baer said, “The region is still heavily militarised and there are reports that the military is indulging in gross violations of indigenous human rights.”
The former UNPFII member said impunity prevailed in the area and stressed that the violators be brought to justice.
Baer prepared the report ‘Status of Implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997’ after visiting places and talking to inhabitants in the region and senior ministers and top government officials in September last year.
He was empowered by the forum’s ninth session for visiting Bangladesh to carry out the study.
This year’s session has a significant representation of the indigenous people of Bangladesh. Raja Devasish, an expert member of the UNPFII for 2011-13, led the indigenous groups in the 12-day session that began on May 16.
The govt delegation, led by state minister of CHT affairs Dipankar Talukdar, cancelled their trip to New York “at the last minute”.
“The failure of successive governments to fully implement the accord has immense consequences for the indigenous people in the region,” Baer said in his study.
Terming the implementation crucial, he suggested, “Immediate and meaningful steps should be taken to implement it, in participation with the region’s indigenous population.”
As the model for an agreement that provides some form of indigenous autonomy, the accord, including its implementation process, provides valuable lessons, he added.
Like Baer, other members in the session, also expressed their concern over the tardy progress of the execution of the accord.
However, Iqbal said the present government after assuming office in January 2009 had resumed the process of full implementation of the accord.
“There is a monitoring committee to look into the implementation process under the chairmanship of deputy leader of parliament Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury. Other members of the said committee are Santu Larma and Jatindra Lal Tripura.”
He counted formation of a separate ministry, headed by the prime minister, in 1998 with Dipankar Talukdar as the state minister, the Regional Council, reform of the Hill District Local Government Council to Hill District Council, Land Commission and formation of a taskforce to ensure rehabilitation of the refugees and internally displaced people.
Of some 500 temporary army camps, 200 had so far been withdrawn by the governments in phases until 2007, while 34 were withdrawn in August and September last year, Iqbal said, adding that six permanent cantonments were still there.
PCJSS, however, estimates the number of military camps withdrawn to date at around 74.
He claimed that 32 subjects of different ministries were handed over to the Hill District Council and over 12,000 repatriated tribal families were rehabilitated.
General amnesty and rehabilitation assistance were also given to the surrendered PCJSS members, apart from priority in educational institutions and jobs, he said.
The UNPFII in its resolution urged the United Nations to prevent military units violating human rights from participating international peacekeeping activities.
It also asked the Bangladesh government to “establish an independent enquiry commission to look into the allegations of human rights violation by army against ‘indigenous’ people”.
It called for withdrawing the temporary military camps in phases from the region and demilitarise the region in keeping with the safeguards of the accord.
KEY FACTS OF THE ACCORD
* Part A of the accord recognises the hill tracts as a “tribal inhabited region”. It deals with commitments to pass legislation and gives details of the composition of a committee to oversee the implementation of the Accord;
* Part B details proposed legal amendments to strengthen the existing powers of the three Hill District Councils and to extend their jurisdiction to include new subjects;
* Part C lays down the composition of a new unit of regional authority to be constituted as a Regional Council incorporating the three districts of the area. In case of both regional and district councils, the chairperson and two thirds of the seats are to be reserved for indigenous people;
*Part D addresses a wide range of issues including the rehabilitation of international refugees, internally displaced people and indigenous fighters, and the granting of amnesty to the guerrillas and other people involved in the armed struggle. The issue of land and settlement of land disputes is mentioned both in Part B and Part D.
The UN Special Rapporteur in his study stated that the accord was not protected by constitutional safeguards. “This means, inter alia, any government disagreeing with the devolution of powers to the Chittagong Hill Tracts could, in theory, initiate legislation that has the effect of revoking the Accord or at least of diluting its provisions.”