Rights activists, researchers, and politicians opined on Monday that non-contextual development in the Chittagong Hill Tracts bore no fruit for the local communities and adversely affected their ways of life and biodiversity in the three hill districts – Rangamati, Bandarban, and Khagrachari.
They raised the concerns at a discussion titled CHT Accord’s 25 Years: Sustainable Development, Crisis, and Opportunities in the city.
Kapaeeng Foundation, Manusher Jonno Foundation, Association for Land Reform and Development, and Bangladesh Adivasi Forum jointly organised the discussion.
President of BAF and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanmhati Samiti president Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma, better known as Santu Larma, said that without ensuring the rule of law and an accountable and transparent administration, the people would never reap the fruits of development.
‘Many roads are being built without taking the needs of the locals into consideration. Many infrastructural developments have been implemented, destroying local lives and biodiversity, to facilitate military and tourists,’ he said.
Santu Larma also blamed successive governments for misinterpreting the armed resistance of ethnic minority communities in the CHT.
‘’Governments have misinterpreted the cause of our armed resistance. Moreover, the authorities have deliberately divided the communities in the CHT by creating and backing different political parties to promote their agendas,’ he said.
Larma, a signatory to the CHT Peace Accord, added that he saw no hope of the accord being fully implemented in his lifetime.
The signing of the accord on December 2, 1997, between the government and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti ended the two-decade long armed resistance between PCJSS’s armed wing Shanti Bahini, and the government of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh University vice-chancellor Mesbah Kamal said that the government had no regard for local communities in the CHT, so the development projects did more harm than any benefit for them.
‘The development of the CHT should be done considering the needs of its communities, flora and fauna. Without taking these factors into consideration, any development is a futile effort,’ he said.
Economist Debapriya Bhattacharya said that the government is in a political dilemma as it marked the 25 years of the CHT Peace Accord without representatives of ethnic minority communities.
‘There are serious allegations of human rights violations in the CHT and the government should take measures to curb such incidents,’ he said.
On December 2, marking the 25 years of the CHT Accord, the UN issued a press release from Geneva that raised concerns about human rights violations, violence against women, and a culture of impunity for such crimes.
Shaheen Anam, executive director of the Manusher Jonno Foundation, said that the development projects in the CHT had been far from sustainable.
Kapaeeng Foundation’s executive director, Pallab Chakma, said in his keynote paper that the regional councils formed following the accord had been mostly ineffective and that ethnic minority people rarely got compensation for their lands if they were acquired.
The Association for Land Reform and Development’s executive director, Shamsul Huda, Bangladesh Hindu Buddha Christian Oikkya Parishad’s presidium member, Kajal Debnath, and members of different ethnic minority communities from the CHT spoke at the event.