Indigenous women and girls face “double discrimination” – first as women, then as indigenous, speakers said at a round-table held in the capital yesterday.
With International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women ahead, they said although the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord was signed by the government 17 years ago, indigenous people, particularly the women, still live under the threat of various criminal acts frequently taking place in the region, while the culture of impunity and settlement of Bengalis have left them extremely vulnerable.
The observation came at a session titled: “Marginalisation and Impunity: Violence against Women and Girls in the Chittagong Hill Tracts,” organised by CHT Commission (CHTC) at the Ramesh Chandra Hall of Chhayanaut Bhaban.
Speakers claimed that the culture of impunity is so prevalent in the CHT areas that victims, despite suffering constant harassment, have lost interest in filing cases at the police station.
According to Kapaeeng Foundation, an organisation working for protection of the rights of indigenous people, 19 cases of sexual violence were reported from January to April this year. Of them, two were killed after rape, nine were raped, seven fell victim of attempt to rape and one was abducted.
A total of 227 cases for violence against women in both the hilly areas and plain lands under CHT were filed in between 2007 and 2013. The forms included rape, gang rape, murder after rape, physical assault, attempt to rape, abduction, sexual harassment and human trafficking.
Five rape incidents occurred in 2007 and the number rose three times higher last year.
Many of these cases are not followed up, said the speakers.
Bangladesh Indigenous Women’s Network General Secretary Chanchana Chakma read out the keynote paper prepared by Dr Bina D’Costa, a peace and conflict specialist from the Australian National University.
The report emphasised that militarisation and transmigration (illegal settlement of Bengalis in the CHT) that started from 1976, generated extreme vulnerability and poverty in the region, grossly affecting the safety of women in CHT.
Kalpana Chakma, former organising secretary of Hill Women’s Federation, who was allegedly abducted from her house by a military official and two members of the village defence party in 1996, is still missing.
“Still we do not see any development or any exemplary punishment to the culprits of similar cases,” said KS Mong, a member of CHT regional council.
He also claimed that the present government, who signed the Peace Accord, has now lost the courage to implement it.
The paper suggested that the process to bring peace and stability in the CHT must begin with the demilitarisation of the region as stipulated in the 1997 CHT Peace Accord.
The paper recommended the recruitment of an ombudsman to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to which NHRC Chairman Dr Mizanur Rahman replied: “I disagree with the recommendation. Until I have the power to investigate, recruiting 10 ombudsmen would bring no benefits. First the government should grant more power to NHRC.”
CHTC Co-chairperson Sultana Kamal, member Khush Kabir and Sara Hossain, Adviser Meghna Guhathakurta, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad president Ayesha Khanam were present at the programme.