The Chittagong Hill Tracts is situated in southeastern Bangladesh and is home to 11 indigenous groups, numbering approximately 500,000 people, who differ markedly from the Bengali majority in language, culture, physical appearance, religion, dress, farming methods etc.
The indigenous peoples in the CHT are commonly known as Jummas for their common practice of swidden cultivation (crop rotation agriculture) locally known as jum.
Civil war and the CHT Peace Accord
In response to the erosion of their autonomy, the denial of constitutional recognition and their political, economic and social marginalization, the armed wing of the indigenous peoples’ political party, PCJSS, initiated in 1976 a low-intensity guerrilla war against the Government of Bangladesh. In December 1997, the 25-year-long civil war ended with a peace treaty, the CHT Accord, which recognizes the CHT as a tribal inhabited region, acknowledges its traditional governance system and the role of its chiefs and provides building blocks for regional autonomy.
The CHT Accord, however, remains largely unimplemented which has resulted in continued widespread human rights violations, violent conflicts and military control.
The Chittaging Hill Tracts Commission
IWGIA has been involved in addressing the situation facing indigenous peoples in the CHT for decades. In 1990, IWGIA and the Organising Committee CHT Campaign (OCCHTC) in Amsterdam established the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission with five international members. Over the next 10 years the Commission published a series of reports titled “Life is not Ours”, which documented widespread human rights violations of the indigenous populations in the CHT at a time when hardly any thorough documentation existed.
The Commission dissolved itself in 2000 but was re-established in 2008 in response to limited implementation of the CHT Accord, especially with regards to resolving land disputes, as well as worrying reports of continued violations of human rights in the region, continuous influx of Bengali settlers and continued presence of the military. The re-established Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission, which now comprises members from both Bangladesh and abroad, undertakes regular missions to Bangladesh and carries out intensive lobby work at the national and international level.