Statement by Bangladesh delegation on the study of the Implementation Status of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord
Scheduled Responses to UN Special Rapporteur’s “Study on the status of implementation of the CHT Peace Accord of 1997”, presented at 10th session of UNPFII - United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Statement by Bangladesh delegation
10th session of PFII
25 May 2011, New York
Honorable Iqbal Ahmed, First Secretary, Bangladesh Mission to United Nations
May 25th, 2011.
Thank you Madam Chair,
The Government of Bangladesh has carefully gone through the Report entitled “Study on the status of implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997” and would like to register serious concerns about the contents of the report as well as the way it was formulated. Honorable Foreign Minister and Honorable State Minister for Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs clarified the government's position when the ‘Special Rapporteur’ met them. Unfortunately, and to our surprise, there is no reflection of those in the report.
Before going to the point, we would like to share some background information on this issue for better understanding of everyone present here. Although Bangladesh does not have any ‘indigenous’ population, we have always followed the deliberations of the Permanent forum on Indigenous Issues as an ‘observer.’ We reiterated our position before the 9th session of PFII on 29th April 2010. With full respect to all members of the Forum, we would like to mention that the members take the words ‘indigenous’ and ‘tribal’ or ‘ethnic minorities’ as synonymous- which is not the case at all.
We requested the PFII secretariat to make arrangement for the screening of a two-and-a-half minute video clip containing the interview of Mr. Oang Shoi Prue Chowdhury, the Bomang King - king of one of the three circles of the CHT region in this connection, where he clearly mentioned that, and I quote "we are neither indigenous, nor tribal." The PFII Secretariat expressed their inability to make arrangement for the screening of that video clip. However, we stand ready to provide the CD for screening to the Member States in the next available opportunity.
In Bangladesh, we have a small proportion of population belonging to different ethnic minorities living in different parts of the country. The majority of those people live in the three hill districts of Chittagong. There has been political unrest in that region from the period of 1975 to 1996. At the initiative of the Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord was signed in 1997 during her previous term of office. The present government after assuming office in January 2009 resumed the process of full implementation of the accord.
As you can understand from this background information, the CHT Peace Accord is an internal arrangement for improving administration and quality of governance in the CHT region. The accord has nothing to do with ‘indigenous issues’, and therefore the Government of Bangladesh reiterates its position that the Forum, which is mandated to deal with ‘indigenous issues’, does not have any locus standi in discussing the issues related to CHT Peace Accord.
The Forum members and any appointed rapporteur are expected to give ‘expert’ opinion, and on ‘indigenous issues’. But sadly, what we have before us is a ‘lopsided’ opinion on a ‘non-indigenous’ issue. For example, what has been recommended in para 56 and 58A are completely out of context and puts the legitimacy and the objective of the entire report under question. We believe this cherry picking approach might not be beneficial for the Forum in the long run bearing in mind that we have seen the demise of even higher bodies on allegations of selectivity.
While saying that, Madam Chair, since the report is here before us for discussion and since 90 minutes of valuable time of the UN has been dedicated to it, for the consumption of member states present and others, we would like to share some information on the implementation status of the CHT Peace Accord. We have already furnished the PFII secretariat with a two page document with information on implementation status of the CHT Peace Accord.
Due to time constraints, we would like to mention some of the major aspects of the Peace Accord that have already been implemented:
a. For example, a separate ministry named Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs Ministry was formed in 1998. Presently, Mr. Dipankar Talukdar of Rangamati District is working as the State Minister of the Ministry.
b. Regional Council headed by Mr. Santu Larma was formed in 1998. Chairman along with members of the Regional Council are still functioning.
c. ‘Hill District Local Government Council’ was renamed as Hill District Council through passing a bill in the Parliament.
d. So far, out of 32 subjects of different ministries, on average 18 subjects were handed over to the Hill District Council.
e. A Land Commission headed by a retired justice was formed in 1999. The government also enacted ‘CHT Land Dispute Settlement Commission Act 2001’ for functioning of this commission, and resolve the land disputes. Presently, 4th Land Commission is working to settle all the land disputes.
f. More than 12,000 tribal families repatriated from the Indian state of Tripura have been rehabilitated. A Task Force has been formed to ensure proper rehabilitation of the refugees and IDPs in CHT. Presently Mr. Jotindra Lal Tripura is working as chairman of the taskforce.
g. General amnesty was promulgated for the surrendered PCJSS members. All police cases filed during the insurgency period against the members of the PCJSS have been withdrawn.
h. A total of 705 surrendered Shanti Bahini members were recruited in the national police force.
i. During the period of 1998 to 2004, a total of 200 security forces camps were closed down from different parts of CHT. In August to September 2009, 34 more security forces camps (including one Infantry Brigade) were withdrawn.
j. Total 1,989 surrendered members of the Shanti Bahini were given about TK 50,000 each, which is equal to 700 dollars each, for their rehabilitation.
k. 325 seats in different higher education institutions are kept reserved for the tribal students.
l. Tribals are given priority for jobs in Government, semi-government and autonomous bodies in CHT.
m. A special committee titled “CHT Peace Treaty Implementation Monitoring Committee” has been formed by the present government under the chairmanship of Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury, the deputy leader of the Parliament. Other members of the said committee are Mr. Jatindra Lal Tripura, and Mr. Santu Larma, - who are both tribal leaders.
While mentioning the above, we acknowledge that some other aspects of the Peace Accord are yet to be implemented, such as:
a. Finalization of the rules of business of the Regional Council.
b. The elections for Hill District Council and Regional Council could not be held due to the following reasons:
(1) Complications in preparation of voter list
(2) Setting the election rules. (It may be mentioned that existing rules are not accepted by tribal leaders, especially Mr. Santu Larma.)
(3) Unwillingness of the tribal leaders to leave their present portfolio in Regional or Hill District Council.
c. First three Land Commissions could not function properly as JSS demanded for 19 amendments in ‘CHT Land Dispute Settlement Commission Act 2001’. The activities of the 4th Land Commission is also stalled for non-cooperation and abstention of the tribal political leaders.
d. Recruitment of police force of the rank of sub-inspector and below by the Hill District Councils could not be started, as it contradicts with the existing government rules and regulations.
We would like to mention that the term "minorities" is a relative one. Within the minorities, there are groups of people who claim to be minorities. The government of Bangladesh has been trying its best to address the ethnic minorities issue and for that purpose, for the first time, the government is actively considering to recognize the distinctive identity of ethnic minorities in the country's constitution. Massive development efforts are undertaken by the government as well as NGOs in the region. For example, there are 413 UNDP projects, out of which 43% are targeted solely towards the Chakma population. Due to time constraint, we cannot elaborate on the development activities. We can just mention that in 1971, there were only 48 km of roads, and now there are about 1500 km of roads. The number of schools and colleges were 17 and 3 respectively in 1971 and the relevant figures increased to 1973 and 17 in the last forty years. As a result, the literacy rate in that region increased from 8% to 39% during the same period.
In conclusion, we would like to re-iterate that this statement has been delivered for better understanding of everyone present here on the issue which is clearly ‘non-indigenous’ in nature. This effort, hence, should not be misconstrued as a recognition of the authority of the Forum to discuss the issue of CHT affairs. We urge upon the Forum to dedicate its valuable time to discuss issues related to millions of indigenous people all over the world and not waste time on issues politically concocted by some enthusiastic quarters with questionable motives.
For the reasons mentioned above, we would like to request the Forum to end discussion on the Report and the issue here and use their prudence on taking further action. Since the Forum is a subsidiary body of ECOSOC, we will also request the member states of ECOSOC to use their best judgment if the issue is placed before them in future, so that similar issues - not related to the mandate of the Forum - will not burden the agenda of the Forum and the Council at the expense of pressing issues related to indigenous people.
I thank you, Madam Chair.
Statement by Bangladesh delegation on the study of the Implementation Status of the Chittagong Hill Tracts ...