Children and conflict in the Chittagong Hills Tract, Bangladesh
In 2001, Bangladesh celebrated its 30th birthday as an independent nation state. In comparison with other countries in South Asia, it is still a relative newcomer, and yet the journey has been anything but smooth. For over 20 years, 10% of the entire country was effectively shut down as a bloody insurgency was fought by tribal groups from the Chittagong Hill Tracts region, who felt themselves to be severely threatened by the government's construction of a national, homogenous identity around Bengali Islamic values. 30,000 people lost their lives as the politics of ethnicity and its related issues of territoriality, religion and culture within a 'one-nation' context were played out among the thickly forested hills. Only recently was an apparent resolution reached, in the shape of a Peace Accord signed by both the Bangladeshi government and tribal leaders on December 2, 1997. Since then, the government has issued numerous assurances that "Absolute peace prevails in the CHT" and that "the people living there are not only happy, but jubilant. Life has returned to normal." This report sets out the refute these notions, not merely by examining the practical impotency of the Peace Accord itself, but also by showing how factors such as displacement, terrorism, communalism, militarisation, small arms and drugs have all continued to seriously destabilise the hill tracts. Even after apparent peace has been declared on paper, conflict still persists in various forms at the micro level: between January and June 2001 alone, 36 people were killed, 219 injured and 159 arrested in the region.i This report also seeks to highlight the Government of Bangladesh's continuing responsibilities towards the children of the Chittagong Hill Tracts as outlined in Article 39 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.