Partnerships for Peace – Dignity for All

Each year the International Day of Peace is observed around the world on the 21 September. The United Nations General Assembly has declared this as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.

The theme of this year’s commemoration is “Partnerships for Peace – Dignity for All” which aims to highlight the importance of all segments of society to work together to strive for harmony – whether it be government, private sector or civil society groups – peace and development that leaves no-one behind.

Bangladesh has been a stand out performer not just in economic growth but in poverty alleviation too.  Growth is steady at 6.25% and at the same time poverty has fallen from 56.7 percent in 1991-92 to 31.5 percent in 2010.  The under-five mortality rate has been reduced, significant progress has been made in attaining gender parity at primary and secondary schools, and remarkable improvements have been made in the areas of poverty reduction. This was reflected in a 2010 Household Income and Expenditure Survey indicated that incidences of poverty are declining at a rate of 2.47 percent per year since 1991/92. 

But the growth and progress seen across Bangladesh has not been even, as indeed the Government has noted in its new 5 year development plan. This is particularly true of the post-conflict Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) which continues to rate above the nation’s average on poverty indicators, has limited public infrastructure and, according to the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, has 80 percent of Bangladesh’s total reported malaria cases. 

Whilst CHT’s hilly terrain does present challenges to poverty reduction, one cannot overlook the legacy of the region’s protracted conflict as a reason for lower development outcomes. Indeed, despite the conflict formally ending with signing of the CHT Accord in 1997, tensions remain between communities on issues of identity, local control of resources, and people’s rights. A 2014 study by the University of Dhaka found that 39 percent of those surveyed stated that they lived in fear from violence and 75 percent said they actively took precautionary measures, such as avoiding going outside at night or only carrying small amounts of cash. 

Against this complex backdrop considerable achievements have been made in CHT, largely from communities working together to build peace and strengthen development. Today, over 20,000 children in the region have gained access to education, 50,000 households have increased food security as a result of Rice Banks, and front line health services are now functioning in many remote communities. Farmers have greater access to innovative agricultural practices, and communities are increasingly empowered to manage their down development affairs. 

There is a lot yet to be accomplished in the Hill Tracts, but there is also a lot of progress to be proud of. 

Since 2003 the CHT Development Facility (CHTDF) has been working to build confidence in the Hill Tracts through strong connections spanning civil society organizations and communities through to local governing bodies and traditional institutions. 

CHTDF’s approach is multidimensional, fostering relationships between police and paras through Community Policing Forums, supporting the use of Victim Support Centres, working with traditional leaders on violence against women, and building linkages between local administration, police and community groups for rapid response to any rumblings of conflict. Through our Local Trust-Builders Network, a cadre of 101 volunteer mediators from different ethnic backgrounds, the Facility also continues to promote reconciliation and peaceful dialogues across the region.  

Furthermore, CHTDF recognizes that building lasting confidence in the region requires more than just working with men and women. The promotion of respectful relationships and unity between youth is the backbone of our Sports for Peace programs, a successful model for building confidence and trust across ethnic groups and between gender divisions from a young age. 

Social harmony in Bangladesh is greater than the absence of violence. Confidence must be fostered in the minds of all men, women and children on the basis of human rights and mutual understanding. Moreover, it is essential efforts at the community level be complemented by robust and inclusive governance structures that protect human security, respond quickly to any threats of conflict, and ensure accessible justice for all citizens. 

So how can we foster positive relationships to build harmony across Bangladesh? We believe that solidarity, respect and dialogue is a critical starting point – and something we should all take responsibility for.

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