The CHT Peace Accord and the Voters List
Zobaida Nasreen Kona
Along with various parts of the country, the listing of voters in Chittagong and the three Hill Districts of Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban began on 22nd October, 2007 (Prothom Alo, 23rd Oct.2007). Each part of Bangladesh has its own historicity and geographical characteristic.
From that perspective, the Chittagong Hill Tracts with its cultural richness and geographic distinctiveness has always deserved special attention. On 2nd December, 1997, a Peace Accord was signed between the Parbottyo Chattogram Janasanghati Samiti and the erstwhile Government. But over the years, the implementation of the Accord has been questioned from time to time by Adivasi leaders. The reason for bringing up the issue of the voters list is due to a writ petition issued by the High Court to the Government of Bangladesh on 27th August in response to a case filed by Tajul Islam (writ petition 6451/2007). The petition asks the Government to give reasons as to why the Peace Accord between the Government of Bangladesh and the Parbottyo Chattagrram Jana Shanghato Samiti (PCJSS) should not be considered as unconstitutional. Previously a Md. Shamsuddin had filed a similar case in 1999 against the Government of Bangladesh and others, opposing the signing and implementation of the Peace Accord. Through the writ petition issued by the High Court (4113/99), the Bangladesh government was asked to respond as to why the Peace Accord should not be regarded as unconstitutional. More recently, another case was filed by a Md. Badiuzzaman on a similar tone. In the writ petition (no. 26669/2000), the government was asked to explain as to why the Regional Council 1998 and Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban Hill District Council Act should not be considered anti-constitutional. Both these cases were subject to prolonged hearing, and a final verdict is still in the offing.
Under the present circumstances, the writ petition given in the third case bears some distinctive characteristics. This case was filed against the Government as the sole opposition. No mention was made of PCJSS as the opposing party or the Regional Council. But more important, was the special directive given to the Election Commission as part of the writ petition: “Direct the Respondent No. 8, The Election Commission not to deprive of any non-tribal citizen residing on CHT area from being enlisted as voter during the ensuing voter enlistment process on ground of being non-permanent resident in CHT pending disposal of the rule.”.
According to the Peace Treaty only permanent settlers of the CHT should become voters. The criterion for permanent settlement was defined as a minimum of 15 year residentship and ownership of land. If this is disregarded and everybody is considered to be a voter, then for all practical purposes, in both national and international perspective it will only foreground the possibility of considering the Peace Accord to be null and void..
On the other hand, the process of illegal migration of Bengali settlers continues even today. And under the provision of this recent writ petition they could be enumerated into the voters list. Such a process is not devoid of the kind of politics that the Peace Accord has been trying to resolve, the strengthening and imposition of Bengali rule over the indigenous people of the Hill Tracts.
OP-ED: My Own Little Palestine