Indigenous Minority Rights: Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord (CHT)

A) General

1. Both sides, considering CHT as Tribal Populated Region, recognized the necessity for protection of the character of this region and for overall development of it.

B) 33a: The following subjects shall be added in the No. 3 of the function of the Council- (1) Vocational training; (2) Primary education in mother tongue; (3) Secondary education.

D) 11: The govt and elected representative shall make efforts to maintain separate culture and tradition of the tribals. The govt in order to develop the tribal cultural activities at the national level it shall provide necessary patronisation and assistance.

Implementation History

1998

Minimum Implementation

Clause 1 of the 1997 CHT Accord provided a one sentence synopsis of the purpose and intent of the 75 clauses that followed: to protect and preserve the rights of indigenous peoples in the CHT to their cultural property, identity, and language. To do that, the Accord put forth 72 articles that were intended to protect the Jumma population from violence, displacement and the larger trend of Islamization in the CHT.

If fully implemented the Accord’s specific stipulations would have provided self-determination to the Jumma community in the form of a Regional Council dominated by Tribal members, an overall electoral system that advantaged Jumma voters in general CHT elections, and the legal basis for providing land restitution to displaced Jummas. Across these fronts, beyond being ratified in 1998 by the parliament of Bangladesh under the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council Act of 1998 and in the amended version of the Rangamati Hill District Council Act of 1989, the new legislation has not been applied or legally enforced.1

  • 1. "Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council Act (Act 12 of 1998)," 1998.
1999

Minimum Implementation

The CHT Accord contained several amendments that were intended to put control over residency qualifications in the hands of Tribal leaders and the Regional Council and Hill Councils. The Accord granted special privileges to CHT “tribal permanent residents”. Only “tribal permanent residents” could serve as tribal members on the Hill District Councils and qualify for preferential treatment in higher education and employment as called for in the Accord. Also, only “permanent residents” of the CHT were allowed to vote in CHT elections and be rehabilitated in the land restitution program. Therefore, whoever controlled the issuing of the legal certificates granting permanent residency status in the CHT had an incredible amount of power in shaping the area’s future. 

New legislation was passed but was not applied. In the CHT, as in Bangladesh as a whole, the Deputy Commissioner (DC) had the power to issue permanent residency certificates, and the CHT Accord was designed to strip away this power.  Not only was it not revoked, the power of the DC to issue permanent residency in the CHT was reconfirmed in 1999. An official order from the CHT Ministry (HDC/Certificate/62/99-587) dated 1999 reiterated the authority of the DC to issue “Permanent Resident Certificate” in the CHT. 

Regarding the importance of land issues to the indigenous population of the CHT, one of the main themes of the 1997 Accord was land restitution and land use for Jummas who had lost much of their ancestral lands as a result of armed violence forcing them to flee, forceful evictions, and occupation by the military and government-sponsored Bengali migration and settlement. 

No progress or developments have been reported on resolving land disputes. The land restitution program could not be implemented without the implementation of citizenship reform as stipulated by the Accord. No voluntary relocation program for Bengalis was ever initiated by the government of Bangladesh, which continued to provide free food rations to somewhere between 27,000 to 50,000 thousand Bengali settlers in the CHT. This continued government support of the Bengali settlers in the CHT was noted as an “essential component in ensuring that Bengali settlers from the plains do not return to their original home regions.”2

Lastly, to protect and preserve the CHT as a “tribal populated region” with a “separate culture and tradition”, the 1997 Accord granted the Jumma community an unprecedented amount of autonomy and self-determination in the form of a Regional Council to be governed by a majority of tribal members. This Regional Council would effectively rule the CHT. The scope of powers that the 1997 Accord granted to the Regional Council, if fully implemented and enforced, would have yielded the highest level of autonomy possible, short of independence. Under the amended 1998 legislation, the functions of the Councils included: law, police, primary and secondary education, health, agriculture, game and fisheries, cooperatives, trade, commerce, social welfare, cultural protection, roads and highways, waterways, public parks, development, justice, land and land management, conservation, tourism, licensing, statistics, and banking. 

In May 1999, the 22-member interim CHT Regional Council was formally established in the southeastern hill district of Rangamati. However, all the members were appointed by the government of Bangladesh rather than elected since no acceptable voter registration list was available owing to the lack of progress on citizenship reform.3 The PCJSS reported that out of the 33 functions to be transferred to the HDCs, limited amounts were transferred in 12 functions (Agriculture, Health, Primary Education, Small Industry, Cooperatives, Social Welfare, Fishery, Livestock, Public Health, Culture, Sports, and Red Cross/Crescent Unit). Clause 35 listed 12 sources of taxable revenue to be transferred to the Councils. Of these 12 revenue sources, the PCJSS claimed that none of these revenues had been transferred to the Councils.4 As for the power of the Regional Council over CHT affairs, clause 9, section C of the Accord put the three HDCs under the authority of the Regional Council. It is evident that this relationship was not legally or judicially enforced. The HDCs were run by government appointees and did not follow the directives of the Regional Council. The Regional Council and the chairperson appear to have little real power on the other governing institutions in the CHT.5 

  • 2. International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs, 2006, 371.
  • 3. “Interim Chittagong hill tracts council installed.” Xinhua News Agency, 27 May 1999.
  • 4. “Report on the Status of Implementation of the CHT Accord,” PCJSS, 2011, 22-23.
  • 5. Ibid., 24-25.
2000

Minimum Implementation

No further developments observed.

2001

Minimum Implementation

No further developments observed.

2002

Minimum Implementation

No further developments observed.

2003

Minimum Implementation

No further developments observed.

2004

Minimum Implementation

No further developments observed.

2005

Minimum Implementation

No further developments observed.

2006

Minimum Implementation

No further developments observed.

2007

Minimum Implementation

No further developments observed.