Bangladesh: Update on Sexual Violence Against Marma Sisters: Now Confinement Along With Their Parents At A House in Rangamati

On 22 January 2018, two Marma sisters aged 18 and 14 were allegedly raped and sexually assaulted at gunpoint by the members of security forces at Oracchari village in Belaichari upazilla of Rangamati Hill District. The incident occurred around 3:00 am in the morning while a team consists of 12 Army personnel and 8 Ansar members were conducting a joint raid to seize a criminal in the said village. The survivors, one of whom was raped and the other sexually assaulted, confirmed that the perpetrators were in military uniform. It is alleged that parents of the survivors were picked up by the security forces from their house and then they were reportedly confined  since the incident.

The Marma sisters were rushed to Rangamati General Hospital the next day by a relative. However, both survivors were unlawfully confined in the hospital under 24-hour surveillance. Around 8-10 police members including 2 female cops were seen guarding them all the time outside the female ward. They prevented human rights activists, journalists and civil society members and community leaders to meeting survivors. In initial stage, only Chakma queen Yan Yan and a volunteer managed permission to aid the survivors in the absence of their parents. Their movements were also frequently restricted by the on-duty law enforcers and security forces.

According to Yan Yan ‘There are severe restrictions on civilians to go in; no journalists are being allowed. When we go in, we cannot record anything or take photos. The authorities are scared that the sisters will say something to us and we will record it and make it public. On the other hand, the sisters have been questioned over and over again by their men. The OC himself came in, charged the girls and took their photos and videos—even though they are rape victims. Even yesterday (January 29), there was a man who said he was working for law enforcement who was trying to ask them questions, but the girls refused to talk. There are plainclothes men with smart phones in their pocket, with the camera facing our way—we are always under surveillance, the girls are under surveillance’. (The Daily Star, 2 February 2018)

A three-member medical team was formed to conduct medical tests of the survivors. The team was led by Dr. Hena Barua, senior consultant of the hospital. Other members were medical officer Dr. Utpal Borna Chakma and Dr. Saima Jahan. They conducted medical tests of two Marma sisters on 24 January and hospital authority submitted the report to the court.

Protest against rape incident

The incident caused tension and anger among indigenous peoples, civil society and human rights activists in the country. Human rights bodies expressed deep concern about two sisters and their safety. On 26 January, human rights bodies took out protest rallies both in Dhaka and Chittagong demanding judicial investigation and punishment of the perpetrators. In Dhaka, the protest was held in front of National Museum at Shahbagh. Kapaeeng Foundation, Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum, Bangladesh Mohila Parishad, Manusher Jonno Foundation, Bangladesh Indigenous Women’s Network and Garo Student Union took part in the protest among other organizations.

Writ petition filed at High Court

While survivors’ parents were missing, police and security forces refused to release the survivors under the custody of Chakma queen Yan Yan even after medical tests were conducted. Civil Surgeon Dr. Shahid Talukder informed that medical tests were conclusive, so the survivors could be released. However, police denied to let them go outside hospital. Unable to get release from the hospital, the two Marma sisters were in confinement for 23 days in a row. Meanwhile six prominent rights activists including Sultana Kamal, Khushi Kabir and Shireen Huq filed a writ petition at High Court on 8 February to get  survivors release from hospital under their own custody since they were unwilling to return to their village due to lack of protection and social stigma. According to Chakma queen, later on security forces forced survivors’ parents to file another writ petition to a separate court on 12 February to take Marma sisters in their (parents’) custody. While hearing of first petition was in waiting, another High Court bench issued verdict of the second petition on 13 February in favor of survivors’ parents. However, in practice, court does not issue verdict of a second petition while first petition is still in waiting for hearing.

Chakma Queen under attack: Solidarity rally in Rangamati

Intimidated and traumatized, Marma sisters refused to leave hospital with their parents even after the verdict. According to Chakma Queen Yan Yan, on 15 February around 8:00 pm, security forces in plain clothes forcefully taken two Marma sisters out of hospital against their will and attacked on her and a volunteer. Both Yan and the volunteer were physically assaulted by plain clothed security force members.

On 19 February, traditional leaders and common people organized a solidarity rally at Rajbari premises, Rangamati to protest the heinous attack on Chakma Queen. Thousands of people from all cultural and religious backgrounds participated in the solidarity rally. Participants and speakers of the rally demanded impartial investigation and exemplary punishment of the attackers as well as perpetrators of rape incident. They also demanded that the government identify the persons, who raped two Marma sisters, and ensure justice for the survivors. Addressing the protesters, Chakma Circle Chief Raja Devasish Roy said that the people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts want to be ruled by the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, not by army.People want democracy and rule of law, he further added.

On the same day, a torch procession was brought out at Shahbag, Dhaka demanding justice for the survivors. They promised to continue the fight until rapists are punished. ‘The real character of security forces is manifested in a situation like this,’ said Umme Habiba Benzir, president of Bangladesh Chhatra Federation, Dhaka University chapter (New Age, 20 February 2018).

National Human Rights commission formed a three-member committee

Following the incident, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) formed a three-member committee led by Professor Banchita Chakma to investigate the rape incident. Other members of the committee are Md. Sharif Uddin, Additional Justice and Director (complaint and investigation) of NHRC, and Md. Gazi Salauddin, Deputy Director (complaint and investigation) of NHRC. The committee is given one week to submit the investigation report. Earlier NHRC also instructed Deputy Commissioner to submit a report on this incident by 26 February.

Confinement with Police Security Continues:

It is learnt that the two victim sisters and their parents were kept at the house of Abhilash Tanchangya, a leader of ruling Awami League, at Patharghata area in Rangamati town under tight police security. Nobody is allowed to meet them. On 19 February, Ms. Nipura Dewan, an ex-member of NHRC, was asked by police to take permission from Deputy Commissioner while she went to meet to two sisters and their parents. Finally, Ms. Dewan got permission but only for limited times and had to talk in presence of police forces.

As of now no police case has filled in this connection. Inter Services Press Relation (ISPR) is also denying the allegation of involvement of their force members with this incident.

News links:

1. Two Marma sisters allegedly raped and sexually assaulted in Rangamati, Dhaka Tribune, 26 January 2018: http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/nation/2018/01/26/marma-sisters-raped-sexually-assaulted-rangamati/

2. Rape of Marma sisters, The Daily Star, 2 February 2018: http://www.thedailystar.net/star-weekend/human-rights/rape-marma-sisters-1528471

  1. Bangladesh: The NHRC fails the Marma sisters raped by military, The aPolitical, 5 February 2018: https://www.theapolitical.in/homenews/bangladesh-nhrc-fails-marma-sisters-raped-military

4. Statement: APWLD calls on Bangladesh Government to end impunity for violations against indigenous women in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, 19 February 2018: http://apwld.org/statement-apwld-calls-on-bangladesh-government-to-end-impunity-for-violations-against-indigenous-women-in-the-chittagong-hill-tracts/

5. Solidarity rally organized to protest attack on Chakma queen, Dhaka Tribune, 19 February 2018: http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/2018/02/19/solidarity-rally-organized-to-protest-the-attack-on-chakma-queen/

6. Conduct impartial prove into ‘attack’ on Chakma queen, The Daily Star, 20 February 2018: http://www.thedailystar.net/city/conduct-impartial-probe-attack-chakma-queen-1537285

7. Protests held demanding justice for victims, NewAge, 20 February 2018: http://www.newagebd.net/article/35153/protests-held-demanding-justice-for-victims

8. ‘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

9. Marma sisters picked up from hospital, New Age, 16 February 2018: http://www.newagebd.net/article/34879/marma-sisters-picked-up-from-hospital

10. 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/

11. Bangladesh: Assault on Chakma Rani Yan Yan: An Official statement from Chakma Raj Office: https://iphrdefenders.net/bangladesh-assault-on-chakma-rani-yan-yan-an-official-statement-from-chakma-raj-office/

12. Settle rule on Marma sisters in 6 weeks: SC, http://www.thedailystar.net/country/settle-rule-rangamati-marma-sisters-rape-confinement-6-weeks-supreme-court-1538443?utm_source=dailystar_website&utm_campaign=newsalert&utm_medium=newsurl&utm_term=all&utm_content=all

Source: Kapaeeng Foundation

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