Internally Displaced Persons: Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord (CHT)
D) REHABILITATION, GENERAL AMNESTY AND OTHER MATTERS
1. An agreement has been signed between the govt and the refugee leaders on March 9, 1997 with an aim to take back the tribal refugees from India's Tripura State based on the 20-Point Facilities Package. In accordance with the said agreement repatriation of the refugees started since March 28, 1997. This process shall continue and with this in view, the JSS shall provide all kinds of possible co-operation. The internal tribal evacuees of 3 districts shall, after determination, be rehabilitated by the Task Force.
2. After signing agreement between the govt and the JSS and implementation of it as well as after rehabilitation of the tribal refugees and internal tribal evacuees the govt shall start survey of land in CHT as soon as possible and after proper inquires ownership of land shall be recorded and ensured.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord set up a Task Force on Rehabilitation of Returnee Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons for the purpose of monitoring and coordinating this process with the government. By and large, the international refugees (in Tripura) were treated as a priority and aid packages facilitated their return to Bangladesh; however, a large percentage, possibly over sixty percent, were unable to reclaim their property. Just as the majority of refugees were unable to reclaim their property, the rehabilitation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) met with very little practical success also. The lack of progress on rehabilitation stemmed from implementation problems in areas of citizenship reform and land reform. IDPs could not be rehabilitated because government members and tribal members on the Task Force were never able to agree on who qualifies for IDP status, mainly due to the lack of implementation of citizenship reform. The Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (English: United People's Party of the Chittagong Hill Tracts), or PCJSS, maintained that the 1997 Accord excluded Bengalis from being re-settled to the CHT. The PCJSS demanded that only tribal people could be classified as IDPs and rehabilitated.1
These PCJSS claims rested on the assumption that citizenship reform, as called for by the Accord, would be fully implemented, vesting sole authority to issue “permanent residency certificates” with the tribal Circle Chiefs. This did not happen. Instead, Bengalis were being issued permanent residency certificates by CHT Deputy Commissioners who happened to be ethnic Bengalis. Thus, as IDPs, Bengalis were qualified to be rehabilitated to the lands titled to them by the Government of Bangladesh in the settler programs of the 1980s, while most tribal refugees received nothing as they lacked government issued titles to the lands they occupied decades earlier before the insurgency.
In February and March, an estimated 10,000 tribal people from the Indian state of Mizoram crossed into southeastern Bangladesh. Many of these refugees “had found their abandoned homes taken over.”2
- 1. "Study on the status of implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997, submitted by the Special Rapporteur," UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) (E/C.19/2011/6), February 18, 2011, accessed November 19, 2014, http://www.refworld.org/docid/4dbfb1262.html.
- 2. “10,000 Mizoram refugees cross into Bangladesh,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, March 26, 1998.
The chair of the Task Force reported that “a total of 152,000 families, of which 83,525 are tribals and 68,475 are non-tribals, from the three hill districts of rangamati, khagrachhari and bandarban (sic) have filled the government supplied forms to be entertained as internal refugees.” The chair indicated that non-tribals displaced by the insurgency would be treated as internal refugees if they could produce proper documentation of prior residency.3
- 3. “80 pct of repatriated tribals rehabilitated in Bangladesh,” Xinhua News Agency, August 4, 1999.
In 2000 the Task Force on Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons submitted a list of 90,208 indigenous families and 38,156 Bengali families to be rehabilitated. The PCJSS and Jumma Refugee Welfare Association rejected the list because it contained Bengali settlers who came to the CHT during the transmigration program of 1979 to 1984. When the government members would not agree to exclude Bengalis, the PCJSS and the Jumma Refugee Welfare Association boycotted the Task Force, thereby shutting it down.
Tribal groups in India’s north eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh threatened to use any measures necessary to force the remaining 50,000 Buddhist Chakma refugees back to Bangladesh if New Delhi failed to act.4
- 4. “Indian tribal group vows to force 50,000 refugees back to Bangladesh,” Agence France Presse, January 13, 2001.
Bangladesh experienced terrible floods in 2002 that produced thousands of additional IDPs.
Although the repatriation of refugees from Tripura was complete, those that returned were now internally displaced. The Dhaka Daily Star reported that the government had decided to stop giving food rations to “65, 000 indigenous people who became displaced in the CHT after returning from the Indian state Tripura following the 1997 peace accord.” The tribal refugees were still awaiting the return of their lands being occupied by Bengali settlers and demanded the government to relocate the settlers elsewhere. The Daily Star reported that the prime minister was finalizing a plan to “give permanent resident status to over 26,000 families of Bengali settlers living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).”5
At a press conference, Larma called on the government to rehabilitate the 3,055 tribal families who had returned to the CHT to find their lands occupied. “Around 40 Jumma villages still remained occupied by the settlers”, according to Larma’s report.6
India’s Arunachal Pradesh's ruling Congress party pledged to deport/evict all of the 60,000 Bangladeshi tribal refugees if voted to power in assembly elections.7
- 7. “Chakma refugees in a fix over whom to vote,” Indo-Asian News Service, September 28, 2004.
New refugee camps were being established in the CHT tracts for the thousands of landless tribal IDPS. The BBC reported that a six-member team from the European Union (EU) visited several refugee camps in the CHT region. The team went to the Rohingya refugee camp, the Kutupalong camp, the Nayapara camp in Teknaf, and a newly-set up camp at Korontali.8
- 8. “EU team visits Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh,” BBC Monitoring South Asia, November 9, 2005.
Speaking to the national press on the 9th anniversary of the 1997 Peace Accord, Chittagong Hill Tracts leader Shantu Larma warned that another guerrilla war in the CHT was inevitable due to lack of implementation of the treaty and army oppression in the CHT. In his speech titled "Land dispute in the hill, IDPs and implanting the peace treaty", he deplored the lack of land resolution for tribal IDPs and the legal re-settlement of Bengali settlers in the CHT by the government in violation of the treaty.9
- 9. “Bangladesh indigenous leader warns of guerrilla war in hills,” BBC Monitoring South Asia, December 2, 2006.
According to the last report from the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, “the definition of an internally displaced person is still unresolved and, consequently, this clause of the Accord remains substantially unimplemented” (2011).10 The same report stated that 9,700 families were not able to reclaim their land or houses because the property was occupied by Bengali settlers or military personnel. We do not know exactly how many individual people this translates into. According to Begum (2004), the average family size in rural Bangladesh was 4.59 persons, which yields a rough estimate of 44,500 persons (9,700*4.59) falling in the semi-rehabilitated status.11
According to the CHT Returnee Jumma Refugees' Welfare Association (CHTRJRWA), 9,780 out of the 12,222 families that had returned to the CHT were not able to recover their lands and were living in camps on government food rations.12