Bangladesh: Empowering People for Peace in the Chittagong Hill Tracts
As Nigar Sultana strides up the path to the local community centre she has the air of focus and determination about her. She has just received word through the Trust-builders Network of a recent outbreak in community violence, resulting in homes destroyed and villagers displaced. Nigar pauses briefly to catch her breath. “No one can wish such devastation, even on their sworn enemies.”
She lives in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), a geographically rugged and culturally diverse part of the country that has been marked by over two decades of conflict. Despite the fighting formally ending in 1997 with the signing of the CHT Peace Accord, tensions remain between Hills’ communities on issues surrounding land ownership, control of local resources and human rights. Too often these tensions boil over into communal conflicts and violent encounters between neighbouring villagers.
- The Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Facility also promotes social cohesion and peace across the region through supporting the establishment of community policing forums, sensitization of police and of young people in sports for peace camps.
- The EU-funded Local Trust-Builders Network mediated roughly 800 local level conflicts in 2014 alone, bringing the cumulative figure to over 1800 cases resolved.
- The EU is an enduring partner of CHTDF, contributing over US$92 million since 2003. Thanks to the European Union and other development partners, local Hill Tract institutions have been strengthened and communities empowered to manage their own development needs.
- Over 20,000 children have access to quality education, 3,500 community development committees have been established, 2.5 million patient cases treated and 115,000 households have been benefited in the region.
Nigar is part of the Local Trust-builders Network, a cadre of 101 trained volunteers from across the region who proactively promote conflict conciliation, positive dialogues and the prevention of violence in the Hill Tracts. They are women and men from different ethnic groups and different political persuasions, united under a common dream for peace in the region. This is something that resonates strongly with Trust-builder, Shahena Akter.
“We mediate in the conflicting situation so that parties are reaching a win-win outcome and no one feels like the loser. In doing so conflict is removed and community bondage become stronger. In doing so we are closer to peace.”
Thanks to mediation and negotiations brokered by Trust-builders, disagreements are increasingly being diffused without bloodshed.
Linkages between local administration, police and community groups has also been strengthened through the Network, facilitating information flow on potential or rumoured conflicts and enabling law enforcement agencies to react quickly.
On the occasions that communal disagreements do become violent, the Trust-builder’s response has been rapid and targeted.
When conflict broke out in the Khagrachari district, in late 2013, the devastation was profound. Over 900 households were affected, with many homes looted and others burnt. As a result of the violence roughly 4,800 people were displaced, with half fleeing to the Bangladesh-India border and a further 380 families seeking refuge in nearby areas.
As news of the violence reached the Local Trust-builders Network, the mediators were immediately mobilized. On the ground, they met with impacted villagers bearing witness to stories of heart break and destruction, playing a vital role in addressing psychological impacts and offering practical assistance through liaising with local administrators.
They were also central to subsequent reconciliation efforts, bringing communities together to discuss grievances. Bringing households together to seek mutual understanding. Bringing people together to help displaced villagers return home.
It is this hope of ‘togetherness’ that keeps veteran Trust-builder Namita Chakma going. “It has been years since the signing of the CHT Accord. We try to be guardians of peace. We have lived in CHT long enough to really appreciate the meaning and need for it”.
The Local Trust-Builders Network is one of many initiatives of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Facility, implemented in partnership with the European Union, UNDP, Sweden, Denmark, Japan and United States, in support of the promotion of sustainable peace and development in the Hill Tracts.