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The Bangkok Declaration on Peace in the Hill Tracts of February 1997

Introductory comment

This meeting was held before the PA and reflects one stream of international support for indigenous people in general, and those of the CHT and in India in particular. It also shows some of the international and bilateral issues surrounding the relation between Bangladesh and India.

Many elements of the declaration have found implementation and recognition, however, there are several perceptive recommendations concerning long term mediation, monitoring and confidence building which remain quite valid.

Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation

Bangkok Declaration on Peace
in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

26 February 1997

Seventy delegates, including observers from diplomatic missions, of some twenty countries and peoples of Asia, the Pacific, the Americas, Europe, Australia, and representing over 40 organisations met in Bangkok from 23 to 26 February 1997 to review the situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and to explore ways of assisting in the process of peace and reconciliation between the indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the government of Bangladesh. The conference regrets that twenty-six Bangladeshi delegates, both Bengalis and Jummas, who intended to participate in the conference were unable to travel to Bangkok.

Having discussed the current situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the status of negotiations between the Bangladesh government and the Jana Samhati Samiti (JSS), and having studied the views expressed and the stance taken by the parties in recent rounds of negotiations and heard reports of the situation on the ground,

The participants to the conference,

  • 1. welcome the resumption by the government of Bangladesh and the JSS of peace talks and their declared intention to resolve the issue by peaceful means through negotiations;

They are,

  • 2. concerned about the continuation of the conflict in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the resulting suffering of the civilian population;
  • 3. alarmed about persistent violations of human rights including the high incidence of rape and other sexual violations;
  • 4. concerned at reports that despite a decision by the government of Bangladesh to stop the transfer of new settlers to the Chittagong Hill Tracts, settlers continue to arrive because no measures have been taken to prevent this from occurring;
  • 5. aware of the great cost to Bangladesh and all its peoples of this conflict;
  • 6. convinced that the human rights violations which occur in the Chittagong Hill Tracts will not cease unless and until the fundamental causes of the conflict are removed;

They

  • 7. note that the fundamental causes of the conflict are:
  • i. denial by the Bangladesh constitution of recognition of the distinct identities of the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh, in particular those of the Chittagong Hill Tracts;
  • ii. the presence of a large number of Bengali settlers in the Chittagong Hill Tracts as a result of the population transfer policy of the government of Bangladesh;
  • iii. the militarisation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts;
  • iv. the lack of recognition or implementation of meaningful autonomy for the Chittagong Hill Tracts;
  • 8. note that the 16 point package for repatriation of the Jumma refugees from Tripura, agreed to in 1993 has not been faithfully implemented and that consequently the refugees have stopped returning;
  • 9. are concerned about conditions in the refugee camps in India;
  • 10. welcome the positive contributions of some sectors of Bangladesh civil society in efforts of reconciliation;
  • 11. note that despite the resumption of the peace talks important obstables remain, in moving closer to a solution;

Therefore, with a view to achieving lasting peace and reconciliation the conference participants,

CALL FOR

  • 1. recognition of the distinct cultural and national identities of the indigenous Jumma peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the implementation of effective measures to protect and promote them through organs of regional autonomy with constitutional guarantees;
  • 2. an effective end to the movement of settlers into the Chittagong Hill Tracts and agreement by the parties on a programme for the withdrawal of settlers from the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Such a programme should respect the human rights of all concerned, and could include financial incentives or compensation for the persons who are being relocated;
  • 3. the development of a legally protected system of land titles consistent with their customary rights which ensures that land ownership reverts and, in the future, remains in the hands of the Jumma peoples;
  • 4. recognition and the safeguarding of the customary rights of the Jumma peoples to use and control the land and the natural resources of the Chittagong Hill Tracts;
  • 5. adoption of a time table for the de-militarisation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts;
  • 6. recognition of an administrative region with organs of self-government, having powers that are constitutionally guaranteed so that no modification thereof is possible without a constitutional amendment and without informed agreement by the representative bodies of the indigenous Jumma peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The creation of a regional council, elected democratically by the indigenous Jumma peoples and containing safeguards for the representation of all the indigenous Jumma peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, women, and minority residents of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The council should have real political powers – including budgetary powers – to make and execute decisions;
  • 7. respect for human rights including the rights of women as stipulated in the UN convention on all forms of discrimination against women.

And RECOMMEND
to the government of Bangladesh and the JSS:

  • 1. to invite a facilitator/s acceptable to both the government of Bangladesh and the Jana Samhati Samiti to act in the service of the parties and help them resolve any differences;
  • 2. to establish a joint commission consisting of representatives of the government of Bangladesh, of the Jana Samhati Samiti and international experts in the field of resettlement to be agreed by both parties to research, design and administer a rehabilitation programme or settlers outside the Chittagong Hill Tracts;
  • 3. to extend the cease fire already in effect between the two parties;
  • 4. to respect common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention 1949;

to the government of Bangladesh:

  • 1. to act on its stated acceptance to resettle and rehabilitate the settlers outside the Chittagong Hill Tracts, making full use of the recommendation of the European Parliament to make European Commission funds available for this purpose;
  • 2. to initiate an incremental demilitarisation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts as a confidence-building measure prior to the conclusion of on-going peace negotiations;
  • 3. to dismantle the cluster villages of the Jummas and to extend an invitation to the Representative of the United Nations Secretary General on Internally Displaced People to study the full problem of internal displacement of Jumma peoples within the Chittagong Hill Tracts;
  • 4. to provide unrestricted access to the Chittagong Hill Tracts for all national and international media and international human rights organisations and to invite the United Nations Thematic Rapporteurs and Working Groups;
  • 5. to provide unrestricted access to humanitarian organisations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross to the Chittagong Hill Tracts to undertake its programme of work;
  • 6. to establish a commission of inquiry, to include Jumma women and men members, into the human rights violations in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and to make its reports public. Earlier inquiries into human rights violations, including that concerning the disappearance of Jumma leader, Kalpana Chakma, should also be made public.
  • 7. to bring perpetrators of human rights violations in the Chittagong Hill Tracts to justice through the civilian courts;
  • 8. to implement constitutional safeguards against religious persecution including forced conversions;
  • 9. to ratify ILO Convention 169 concerning indigenous and tribal peoples;

to the members of the international community:

  • 1. to urge the government of Bangladesh to act on these recommendations; to take up the issues contained in this statement bilaterally with the government of Bangladesh and in international fora, including in the United Nations Commission of Human Rights;
  • 2. to offer development cooperation aid and special funds for the financing of relocation and rehabilitation of settlers outside of the Chittagong Hill Tracts;
  • 3. to support organisations that help women in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and to undertake research into the impact of the violations and military presence on women. To support the provision or counselling and rehabilitation for victims of rape, sexual abuse and torture;
  • 4. to monitor and ensure that aid to Bangladesh, including food aid, is not directly or indirectly diverted to the military and to make aid conditional on its proper usage;
  • 5. to prohibit the sale of arms, including instruments of surveillance and crowd control, which could be used for internal repression, in order to prevent the violation of human rights. To suspend the training of the Bangladesh military by foreign governments until the conflict in the Chittagong Hill Tracts is resolved;

to the government of India:

  • 1. to provide to the Jumma refugees in Tripura essential resources including shelter, rations, medical facilities, water supply, education facilities, electricity, fuel and all other basic facilities;
  • 2. to withdraw restrictions on the freedom of movement and of association of the Jumma refugees, including the right to set up camp committees; and to grant international travel documents to the Jumma refugees;
  • 3. to provide full access to national and international NGOs including women’s organisations, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide assistance to the Jumma refugees;
  • 4. to facilitate the provision of support amenities for women including maternity centres and health care provision as well as counselling for survivors of rape and all forms of violence;
  • 5. to implement the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and in particular the UNHCR guidelines on The Treatment of Refugee Children and Women;
  • 6. to invite the UNHCR and ICRC to assist the Jumma refugees in determining a process for the voluntary repatriation of individual Jumma refugees, on the basis of their informed consent, following the settlement of the conflict in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.


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