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Whither accord? Champion peace, justice, self-determination in Chittagong Hill Tracts

By Beverly Longid, Jiten Yumnam* 

On the 26th anniversary of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord, the International Indigenous Peoples’ Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL) reaffirms solidarity with the Jumma people and their continuing struggle to enjoy their right to land, culture and self-determination.
The 1997 CHT Peace Agreement, between the Government of Bangladesh and the United People’s Party of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, aimed to end a long-lasting armed conflict born from decades of land grabbing and human rights violations.
The plight of the Jumma people traces back to 1949 when the British colonizers transferred the administration of the area to the Government of Pakistan, who then curtailed the rights of the people, seized their lands, forcibly displaced its people, and systematically enabled the influx on migrants to shrink the Indigenous Peoples population. For instance, the construction of the Kaptai dam in 1962 displaced 100,000 Indigenous People from their ancestral lands.
The situation only deteriorated for the people of CHT when the State of Bangladesh in 1971 was established, continuing the erosion of Indigenous culture.
As the CHT underwent heavy militarization, Indigenous Peoples were forced to establish their political party (PCJSS) and its military wing, Shanti Bahini—initiating an insurgency against state forces in 1977.
A protracted conflict ensued for two decades until the CHT Peace Accord, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who notably received UNESCO’s esteemed Félix Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize for her role in signing the treaty.
Despite this accord, the promises outlined within it remain unfulfilled to this day.

Under Siege: Persistent Attacks and Perils in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

The Jumma people continue to suffer and face systematic discrimination, relentless violence, land encroachment, and terrorist-tagging on a daily basis.
Despite the accord's signing, numerous incidents of arson and property destruction have been well documented. Even religious sites are not exempted as targets of attacks.
The government takes no action to hold the perpetrators accountable. Multiple cases of attacks are orchestrated by paramilitary groups supported by the Bangladesh army, especially against Indigenous People activists.
For instance, in a distressing October 2020 event, the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) attempted an unlawful occupation of Jumma lands in Panchhari. A BGB member strangled a student-protester, and those resisting the occupation were falsely labeled as “extremists.” In the same month, 23 indigenous leaders, activists, and members of PCJSS faced baseless murder accusations and were branded as “armed hill terrorists,” ”separatists,” “armed miscreants,” and “extortionists” to null the movement for implementation of the CHT Accord.
Of the 113 incidents from January to June 2023, 29 were perpetrated by military-backed armed terrorist groups, and 1,030 people and residents of 23 villages faced human rights violations, as documented by PCJSS.
The pervasive grip of patriarchy also thrives in such a brutal environment—women and children live in constant fear of kidnapping, rape, and murder amid the atrocities of the military, multinational companies, and migrant settlers
From January to June 2023, there are reported 12 incidents of violence against Jumma women and girls, 11 women were victims of human rights violations, one person was killed, 6 women and girls were raped, 3 women and girls attempted to be raped and 2 women and girls were abducted and tried for trafficking.

Reasserting Commitments for Just and Lasting Peace

The CHT, situated in southeastern Bangladesh bordering India and Myanmar, stands as a culturally and ecologically rich region. Yet, the Jumma indigenous communities continue to grapple with the deterioration of their lives and sources of livelihood.
Without addressing the fundamental issues of the CHT Peace Accord, the Bangladesh State will continue to fail to bring lasting peace.
Amid the condemnable attacks, the Jumma people continue to build for a greater movement, organize mass gatherings, and cultural programs on the occasion of the day asserting their rights and defeating all conspiracies and distortions the state forces concoct against their struggle.
In Chittagong, the celebration themed “The CHT Accord must be fully implemented with the aim of protecting national existence, developing the society and culture of the Jumma people and establishing sustainable peace” reflects the burning aspiration of Indigenous communities for a self-determined future for the next generation.
IPMSDL calls on the international community, every indigenous organization and community, to stand for the full implementation of the accord. We enjoin all peace advocates and human rights defenders to stand with their call to fully uphold the Jumma people’s right to their defense of ancestral lands and life.
Let us also amplify the immediate and thorough investigation and achievement of justice for decades of ongoing human rights violations, fascists and inhumane treatment, and oppression of the people of the CHT.
Stop the attacks on Jumma people!
Uphold the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord!
Struggle for self-determination and liberation!
---
*Co-Convenors, International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL)

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