While the world seems to have eyes, ears and wallets only for Muslim refugees from African countries, as one on the most exposed social groups in the Chittagong Hills Tracts (CHT) region, in Bangladesh, indigenous women – and particularly girls – continue to be subject to severe human rights violations, including abduction and sexual assault. This is one of the conclusions presented by the recently published Kapaeeng Foundation 2017 Human Rights Report, which shows how violence against women and children in the CHT is answered with impunity. This publication comes only a few weeks after the event in which two indigenous marma girls were subject to sexual violence by members of the Bangladeshi military, only to be later abducted in an attempt to hide the case from the public eye. On that occasion the Chakma queen YanYan,was also abused and harassed by muslim armymen.
A total of 58 women and girls from ethnic and religious minority communities suffered sexual assault in 48 separate incidents across Bangladesh last year 2017, a new report has revealed.
The annual report on Human Rights of Ethnic Minority in Bangladesh by the Kapaeeng Foundation said almost half of the incidents (28) occurred in the Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT) region.
Kapaeeng Foundation Executive Director Pallab Chakma, who edited the report presented at a program in Dhaka on Thursday 19/4, said nine women were raped and murdered, 12 other women were raped, and another nine women faced attempted sexual assault. “As the report was being compiled, four more women were raped and another eight women and teenagers were abducted,” he said.
Of the 75 people suspected of committing the crimes, 64 were Bangali muslims and only four were of ethnic minority origin. “Members of the ethnic minority groups are seriously concerned about the issue, as none of the victims have received justice, and those responsible are getting away,” Pallab said.
The report discussed the levels of violence against women, which also included psychological and physical torture, abduction and human trafficking. “It is a matter of grave concern that the incidents of violence against women of ethnic minority is increasing every year,” Pallab said. “This is one of the major instances of human rights violation in Bangladesh.”
Addressing the program as the chief guest, former adviser to the caretaker government and human rights activist Sultana Kamal called on citizens to uphold the spirit of the 1971 Liberation War. “We cannot let the current trend of impunity in Bangladesh continue,” he said. “Using this platform, we must raise our voice against the culture of lawlessness. These incidents are not the problems of the ethnic minority in Bangladesh, they are the problem of every man with a conscience.”
Ushaton Talukder, a member of Jatiya Sangsad’s caucus on ethnic minorities, pointed to the wider abuse of ethnic minority rights in Bangladesh. “We have seen video footage showing police torching homes belonging to members of the ethnic minority in Gobindaganj of Gaibandha,” he said. “The law was blind there. We need to introduce reforms for existing laws and for the state machinery to re-establish human rights in the country. Several companies, such as the Laden Group, are taking over land belonging to the ethnic minority in Chittagong Hill Tracts, evicting them in the process. If the government is powerless to stop it, what will happen?”
Professor Sadeka Halim, dean of Social Science Faculty at Dhaka University, said the traditional land rights of the ethnic minorities, and of the women who are suffering human rights violation every day, had to be addressed. “Only a few weeks ago, two Marma women suffered sexual assault in CHT, and after that, two women of ethnic minority,” she said. “I am urging the government to look closely in these matters.”
Most of the human rights violations in the CHT are being perpetrated by muslim law enforcers, according to one member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). “We must amend the law that prevents investigation of matters that has the involvement of law enforcing agencies,” Professor Banchita Chakma said.