19 Feb, 2018
Chiang Mai, Thailand/Dhaka, Bangladesh
Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) is deeply concerned about the recent incident of sexual violence against two indigenous Marma sisters, their unlawful confinement at the Rangamati General Hospital followed by their abduction by law enforcement officers as well as the assault on Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) who were protecting them.
On 22 January 2018, the two Marma sisters aged 19 and 14 were reportedly raped and sexually assaulted at gunpoint by the members of the security forces at their home in Bilaichari in Rangamati district, Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). They were unlawfully confined by law enforcers at the Rangamati General Hospital and prevented from meeting with human rights activists or journalists. Several WHRD including APWLD Feminist Legal Theory and Practice (FLTP) graduate Chakma Rani Yan Yan were volunteering at the hospital to aid the two sisters.
On 15 February, Yan Yan along with her companion were physically assaulted by 14-18 security personnel while the police officials forcefully took the Marma sisters to an unknown location against their will. It is alarming that the government itself has chosen to attack the work of peaceful women human rights defenders while blatantly failing their obligation to protect the rights of human rights defenders and their family members.
WHRD in Bangladesh have expressed deep concern for the safety of the two sisters and are appalled at how this incident has discarded any remnants of human rights and democracy while emboldening state actors to make threats with impunity. Six prominent rights activists including Sultana Kamal, Khushi Kabir and Shireen Huq have sought a High Court directive in a writ petition to put the survivors under the custody of Chakma Circle Chief Devasish Roy, as they are unwilling to go back to their village or the custody of their parents as they fear lack of protection and social stigma.
The violations against the Marma sisters is not an isolated incident of violence against indigenous women. The CHT, home of 11 Indigenous communities, is the most militarised zone in Bangladesh where threats and violations against indigenous peoples committed by both state and non-state actors are commonplace. In 2013, APWLD partner organisation Kapaeeng Foundation documented 136 cases of sexual and other forms of violence perpetrated against women in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). They found that 89 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence in the CHT were Bengali settlers and four percent were security personnel. Yet none of the cases filed at the courts resulted in a conviction to date.
APWLD, together with the brave WHRD and their movements in Bangladesh, urge the Government of Bangladesh to take the following immediate actions:
- Thoroughly and independently investigate the case of sexual violence against the two Marma sisters and take immediate actions to bring the perpetrators to justice in civilian court.
- Investigate the attacks against Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) including Rani Yan Yan and her companion and hold perpetrators accountable.
- Ensure safety and security of the two Marma sisters and WHRD.
- Recognise the important role of WHRD in the society of Bangladesh and fulfil the commitments made in the UN General Assembly’s resolution on human rights defenders, including protection of WHRD and maintaining and safe and enabling environment for the defence of human rights.
- 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.
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Media Report Links:
- ‘Raped, Harassed’ Marma Girls: Traceless after leaving hospital, The Daily Star, 16 Feb 2018: http://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/rangamati-rape-victims-handed-over-parents-1535377
- Marma sisters picked up from hospital, New Age, 16 Feb 2018: http://www.newagebd.net/article/34879/marma-sisters-picked-up-from-hospital
- Victim Marma sisters forcefully picked-up by forces, BIWN, 6 Feb 2018: https://www.facebook.com/notes/biwn-net/victim-marma-sisters-forcefully-picked-up-by-forces/984225168420981/
- Two Marma sisters allegedly raped and sexually assaulted in Rangamati, Dhaka Tribune, 26 Jan 2018: http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/nation/2018/01/26/marma-sisters-raped-sexually-assaulted-rangamati/
- Bangladesh: The NHRC fails the Marma sisters raped by military, The Political, 05 Feb 2018: https://www.theapolitical.in/homenews/bangladesh-nhrc-fails-marma-sisters-raped-military