Success through Coordination: Harmonizing Laws in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

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In addition to its mountainous terrain and extensive ethnic diversity, the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is unique to Bangladesh due to its complex layer of administrative arrangements. Since the British colonial period CHT has been governed by special administrative systems and associated laws. Today, the region’s governance structure is made up by multiple parties, comprising the Ministry of CHT Affairs (MoCHTA), CHT Regional Council, three Hill District Councils, traditional leaders, and central government - represented through district and sub-district offices. Furthermore, CHT is presently governed by three categories of laws, including those (i) enacted or amended following the CHT Accord, (ii) CHT specific laws such as CHT Regulation 1900, and (iii) national government laws related to CHT. In light of the existing parallel legislation and multi-level governance system, harmonization of CHT laws is required to streamline the CHT Governance Framework.

In 2014, MoCHTA and CHT institutions commissioned a study detailing the laws in the region. The purpose of the study was to identify inconsistencies between the three categories of laws and provide recommendations for amendments to reduce gaps between primary governing bodies. On Wednesday 8 April MoCHTA, with the support of the CHT Development Facility, successfully organized a national workshop to present and discuss the study’s findings. The workshop, titled Towards Harmonization of CHT Laws, also focused on the drafting of a ‘roadmap’ to streamline the region’s governance framework, ultimately reaching the outcome envisaged by the Government of Bangladesh and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS) when signing the CHT Accord in 1997.

Key discussion points included the need to amend 26 national laws and 12 CHT specific laws, the full transfer of all Accord subjects, drafting of rules and regulations, and upgrading of organograms. Other topics of agreement included the need for the harmonization process to be coordinated and to engage all relevant stakeholders effectively. Dr. Gowher Rizvi, Chief Guest and International Affairs Adviser to the Honorable Prime Minister, detailed the government’s commitment at the workshop for moving forward.

“The government will amend Chittagong Hill Tracts related laws that are inconsistent with the CHT Peace Accord of 1997 to harmonise those with the treaty.”

Over 100 participants attended the workshop, including officials from different ministries, CHT Regional Council, Hill District Councils, Development Partners, UN agencies, NGOs and national media bodies. Significant participants included: UNDP’s Pauline Tamesis; Mr. Bir Bahadur U Shwe Sing, MP, Minister of State, MoCHTA; Mr. Mohammad Shahidul Haque, Secretary, Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs Division, Ministry of Law.