On 2 December 1997, the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord was signed, giving hope for lasting peace and development for the Indigenous Peoples of the CHT. However, today, as we mark the 25th anniversary of the peace accord, Indigenous Peoples in the CHT in Bangladesh have experienced little to no peace or development.
Over the last 25 years, the natural resources of the hill tracts, which are a hotbed of biodiversity, have been rapidly depleted by land-grabbing, agricultural monoculture, hill-cutting, and stone extraction by private corporations, the government and the military. Indigenous Peoples, who have protected the land of the CHT and its natural resources for generations, face continuous eviction, with land for growing food and living on rapidly becoming scarce.
IWGIA has been working in solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples in the CHT since the 1980s. In fact, it was the first group of Indigenous Peoples in Asia that IWGIA engaged with as a response to the massive and decades-long human rights violations and killings experienced by the Indigenous Peoples in the area.
IWGIA calls on the Government of Bangladesh to prioritize all efforts to implement the most crucial parts of the CHT Peace Accord to end the human rights violations that the Indigenous Peoples of the CHT have faced for decades and are still facing today, and to ensure that they are allowed to live their self-determined lives on their lands in peace, without fear of violence or eviction.
Process at a standstill
Nearly two and a half decades later, little substance has been achieved apart from some institutional and legal action, of which much is still left to be improved, including significant changes related to the election and participatory governance of the Hill District Council, delegation of power and authority to the Regional Council, and financial and institutional support for effective traditional governance of the CHT.
In addition, some of the basic provisions of the accord remain completely unimplemented, such as the establishment of the CHT as an Indigenous-inhabited special administered area, the creation of a mechanism to solve land disputes, rehabilitation of returning refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, and demilitarization of the area.
In 1947, British India was partitioned into predominantly Hindu India and predominantly Muslim Pakistan, which included the region now known as Bangladesh. In the 1960s the Government of Pakistan, with financial support from the US State Department, began the construction of the Kaptai Dam in the heart of Indigenous Peoples’ land, leading to the eviction of around 100,000 people.
Brief history of the CHT
During the 1970s and 1980s the Bangladesh military engineered a transmigration program to change the demography of the CHT by bringing in 400,000 landless Bengalis from the plains. Thousands of Indigenous Peoples were evicted and the Bangladesh army killed thousands more. This gave rise to a guerilla movement and an armed conflict that lasted for more than 20 years. The human rights violations that IWGIA documented were vast.
You can find more of our CHT documentation on this page.
Life is not Ours: Land and Human Rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts
From 1991 to 2000 the CHT Commission produced these five reports on the situation in the CHT.
All the reports document gross human rights violations in the CHT gathered from fact-finding missions, journalist reports, information from different governments and civil society organisation, and from personal accounts of those who were able to escape the area.
The last report analyses the situation after the CHT Peace Accord was signed on 2 December 1997.
Click on the report covers to read and download each report.
IWGIA's first publication on the CHT
IWGIA began working on the CHT campaign in the 1980s and an enduring cooperation was established with organisations and individuals in the Netherlands, Belgium, UK, and
Germany, as well as with the Indigenous resistance movement and refugees in India.
The human rights violations in the CHT were vast, and the first report published by IWGIA in 1984 concerning this — Genocide in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh — was written by Wolfgang Mey who had conducted research and fieldwork in the CHT.
Wolfgang Mey put IWGIA in touch with the Organising Committee Chittagong Hill Tracts Campaign (OCCHTC) in the Netherlands and with researchers familiar with the situation.
The issue of a commission was raised by Ramendu S. Dewan, a Chakma and the foreign spokesperson of the Jumma peoples, when - during a visit to the Danish Parliament in 1985 - the Bangladesh Minister of Finance expressed support for a fact-finding mission to visit the CHT.
IWGIA brought this suggestion to the first international CHT conference, organised by the OCCHTC in Amsterdam 10 months later in October 1986, which was supported by the European NGOs and Indigenous Peoples from the region. This developed into a creative working relationship that was legitimised by close contacts with various partners in the CHT and CHT refugees living in India.
It took three years and several meetings of the CHT Commission but at the end of 1989 a number of political obstacles had at last been dealt with and financial support was secured.
The commission, including experts and advisors from IWGIA and OCCHTC, travelled to the CHT and to refugee camps in Tripura (India) in late 1990 and early 1991, resulting in the Life is Not Ours report series, which became the most important lobbying tool for years on the CHT.
The Commission’s report put the CHT back on the agenda and made it possible for IWGIA to raise the issue with donors, such as the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and others that took the issue seriously, raised concerns, and allocated resources earmarked for the CHT.
In the UN, IWGIA made sure that the Jummas came to the meetings and presented their case before the Working Group on Indigenous Populations.
In the years ahead, IWGIA followed the situation fairly closely and, after the peace agreement in 1997, tried to influence government and donor agencies to find ways of putting pressure on the Bangladesh government to implement the agreement.
Other key IWGIA publications on the CHT
Recent key articles on the CHT
Human rights violations continue unabated in the CHT, including threats of eviction and land grabbing for the sake of large infrastructural projects or business endeavours.
Below are several news articles IWGIA has produced to document the ongoing precarious situation of Indigenous Peoples in the CHT.
The Indigenous World
Since 1986, IWGIA has been publishing The Indigenous World, an annual overview documenting the situation of Indigenous Peoples in dozens of countries and within various international and regional mechanisms and processes.
Below are some of the most recent chapters on Bangladesh, just click on the book cover to go to that year's chapter.