Friday, August 21, 2009

Daily Star article

CHT Peace Accord
Implement to ensure justice for all
Lord Avebury stresses need for strategic framework so none can reverse the process
Lord Eric AveburyStaff Correspondent

The government should have a strategic framework to implement the CHT Peace Accord and should implement it in such a way that ensures justice for all so that none can reverse the process, said Lord Eric Avebury.

Avebury, co-chair of the International Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission, said this while talking to The Daily Star after a press conference at the Jatiya Press Club on the CHT Commission's recent six-day visit to the three hill districts.

"The government [Awami League-led] in their earlier tenure signed the Peace Accord, and now initiated its implementation. So it should have a timeframe, say four years, for its completion so that the next government, even with different ideology cannot reverse it," he said when asked about BNP's opposition of the CHT Peace Accord implementation.

Different political parties have different ideologies and a democratic government will do what it thinks best, he said.

"Therefore, the present government should have a strategic framework, and set appropriate rules to settle the land disputes based on justice," Avebury said.

CHT Commission co-chairs Ida Nicolaisen and Sultana Kamal. The Sami Parliament President Lars Ander Baer of Sweden, Hideaki Uemura of Japan, Shapan Adnan and Sara Hossain are also included in the commission's tour.

Members of the commission, which was formed in Copenhagen in the 90's to create pressure on the then Bangladesh government to stop human rights violations in CHT, also met the prime minister, foreign minister, finance minister, cultural affairs minister and the CHT affairs minister.

The commission members at the press conference said during their visit they talked to army personnel, police, local authorities and the people, both Bangalees and indigenous people who saw no security risks in the army pull out.

They praised setting up of the National Committee for Implementation of the CHT Accord, re-establishment of the Land Commission, the Taskforce for CHT Refugee Rehabilitation Affairs, cancellation of leased out land for plantation and the withdrawal of temporary military camps.

"This has generated a sense of momentum," said Lord Avebury.

He, however, said the commission was disappointed with the pace of progress towards activation of the Land Commission, its lack of progress in solving disputes over land claims, its apparent decision to depend on the cadastral survey to resolve land disputes and the absence of proposals for electing the Hill District Councils.

Settling the land disputes will be a major issue, Avebury said, adding that because of the complexity of overlapping titles, granted in different circumstances, a definite set of rules should be developed by the Land Commission to rank priority of different kinds of land titles.

For those whose claims on land are disallowed, the government should draft rehabilitation measures for discussion with community leaders, he said.

The commission suggested that the Land Commission establishes a database of all disputes over land and provides claimants with forms on which they can supply the information required for this purpose.

Asked if the CHT Commission wants the Bangalees who have settled in that region in the 80s to move out, commission member Shapan Adnan said more important question than that is who originally owns the land, Bangalee settlers or the indigenous people.

"Under the traditional land systems, the indigenous people do not have any records, other than some for paying taxes. But in the 1979-80s, several lakh Bangalees with the state instigation settled on the land of the hill people. Bangalees were also provided with documents," he said.

Adnan said this way the hill people were made refugees.

"We have to make a policy decision on the traditional land systems of the hill people," he said, adding that if precedence is given to original owners in settling land issues then the settlers will be dispossessed of the land.

Stating that the settlement of the Bangalees was an "artificial problem", the commission member said those who are losing land must be rehabilitated by the state.

"We want each and every part of the dispute resolved in a transparent way where no family is deprived of justice," said Ida Nicolaisen.

Asked how the government can rehabilitate several lakhs of people, Lord Avebury said the finance minister during their meeting gave assurance of financial assistance in implementing the CHT Peace Accord.

"Of course, the international community has to come forward in this regard because they want peace in the region. Bangladesh has to approach the international community for it," he said.

The major challenge in implementing the accord will be logistics. "The government has to calculate what it requires and go forward accordingly," Avebury told The Daily Star.

No comments: