Bangladesh: Sexual Violence against Indigenous Women on the Rise
Sunday, August 17, 2014 9:30 AM

Violence against indigenous women in the Chittagong hill tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh has increased significantly in the past six years, as settlers from the majority Bangalee (or Bengali) community compete with the local population over land, according to local human rights groups. Women, particularly girls under the age of 18, fear leaving their homes to attend school or gather firewood and tend cattle. Several women have allegedly been raped and sometimes killed over land disputes and extortion demands by settlers and criminal gangs.

The government of Bangladesh signed a peace agreement with the indigenous Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti in 1997. The agreement states that land in the CHT cannot be bought, sold or leased without permission from a regional council. However, local officials and others say that the peace agreement has not been honored and that Bangalee settlers continue to occupy and seize land belonging to indigenous communities. They also report that perpetrators of sexual violence against indigenous women in the CHT enjoy widespread impunity for their actions, due to lengthy and complex court procedures, lack of suppot services and legal aid, intimidation of witnesses, poor investigative techniques, and language and cultrual barriers. Women and girls also fail to report rapes to the police due to fear of retaliation and social stigma.

A 2014 report by the Kapaeeng Foundation, with support from Oxfam International and the EU, documented numerous instances of sexual and other violence against indigienous women in the CHT and stated that "available mechanisms have failed to protect indigenous women of both in plains and the CHT from violence." Recently, hundreds of indigenous women have marched in protest of the attacks, demanding greater accountability from police and prosecutors. On August 9, police arrested three men in connection with the mass rape and assault of an indigenous women’s leader on her farm in the CHT.

Compiled from: Bangladesh: Rape used as weapon against indigenous women, Asian Tribune (August 10, 2014); Barman, Dalem Chandra and Neo, Mong Sing, Human Rights Report 2013 on Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh, Kapaeeng Foundation (January 10, 2014).