APWLD Statement on latest attacks on Indigenous Peoples in Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh
08 June, 2017
Dhaka, Bangladesh/Chiang Mai, Thailand
The Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) is alarmed at the news of recent violence perpetrated against Indigenous Peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) this month.
On 2 June 2017, Bengali settlers reportedly attacked and burned almost 300 homes belonging to Indigenous Pahari peoples in Langadu, Rangamati Hill District, killing a 75-year-old woman, Gunamala Chakma. The attack displaced hundreds of families including children and adolescents.
CHT remains the most militarised area of Bangladesh. Security personnel were present during this latest attack on Langadu, yet did not take action to intervene or to arrest perpetrators on site. In sharp contrast, on 7 June, just days after the Langadu attack, reports surfaced of security forces violently dispersing Hill Women’s Federation’s peaceful demonstration in neighbouring Khagrachari, detaining 21 and injuring 14 activists. The protest demanded justice for the forced disappearance of Indigenous activist Kalpana Chakma.
Restrictions on entering the CHT have limited mainstream civil society from supporting the community, demonstrating shrinking democratic spaces and worsening the already dire human rights environment for Indigenous women.
“School going girls are in trouble because their books and uniforms have been burnt. Adolescent girls are exposed to vulnerable situations because they have to stay at other people’s homes. They do not have enough clothes to change. Some girls are menstruating but they do not have sanitary napkins or hygienic facilities. We distributed some clothes and sanitary napkins but it’s not enough. They are more at risk than others and need more attention,” said Suchitra Chakma, a teacher at Tintila Government Primary School in Langadu.
These latest incidents follow an unbroken history of violations against Indigenous peoples in the area. At least 19 other similar communal attacks by Bengali settlers against indigenous communities have taken place since the CHT Peace Accord was signed in 1997. The sub-district of Langadu was attacked in 1989 during the 20 year conflict that officially ended with the Accord, and attacked again in 2011.
In 2013, APWLD partner organisation Kapaeeng Foundation documented 136 cases of sexual and other forms of violence perpetrated against women in the CHT. They found that 89% of perpetrators of sexual violence in the CHT were Bengali settlers and 4% were security personnel. Yet none of the cases filed at the district courts resulted in a conviction. The attacks this week have exposed women and girls to further risk of violence, and will perpetuate a culture of impunity that will undermine efforts to de-militarise and provide women with access to justice.
Bangladesh’s challenges in restoring and maintaining peace and in protecting religious and ethnic minorities can only be overcome with the collective strength and democratic engagement of all citizens and a shared commitment to Development Justice.
We call on the Government of Bangladesh to:
- Immediately release the Indigenous activists arrested for peaceful protests and recognise their right to peaceful assembly
- Investigate the attacks on the Pahari homes and the murder of Gunamala Chakma and bring all perpetrators to justice
- Investigate the actions of the military, paramilitary and police personnel in the attacks and their failure to protect local peoples and prosecute those found to have either directly or indirectly aided the attacks
- Implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and ensure the equal participation and full involvement of Indigenous women in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security
- Establish an independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address past violations that have not been actioned
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