By Rebecca Landy, Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group
You probably are aware of the news reports in the last twelve months regarding the horrific sweatshop fires and building collapses in Bangladesh that killed and injured over a thousand, mainly women, laborers.
Or maybe you read recently about U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay calling out Bangladesh for the injustice and violation of international law in the recent verdict of death sentences for 152 border guards accused of murder.
But chances are you have not heard of Kalpana Chakma and the 17-year miscarriage of justice in waiting for a proper investigation into her disappearance.
Chakma was the organizing secretary of the Hill Women’s Federation, an organization that campaigns for the rights of women and indigenous peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. On June 12, 1996, plain-clothed security personnel, believed to have been from the nearby Ugalchhari army camp, entered her house and blindfolded her and her brothers, and forcibly took them away.
Chakma was just 23 years old at the time – she has never been found.
This year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence theme - From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women - highlights the link between militarism and gender violence in the case of Chakma.
Her brothers managed to escape and identify the three kidnappers, despite being shot at by security personnel, but the police officer in charge would not include the information on the accused kidnappers’ in the case file. The case was filed without mentioning the names of the accused, and they were omitted from the investigation.
Over the years, investigative reports on this case have been submitted neglecting this crucial evidence and witness testimony, and Chakma’s brothers have continued to challenge these reports.
Although her disappearance is nearing almost two decades, a court order at the beginning of 2013 for a new investigation into her case means it is critical to put pressure on the authorities now to ensure that the investigation is carried out properly and the perpetrators are once and for all brought to justice.
Chakma’s high-profile case in Bangladesh is symbolic of the violence and repression faced by Pahari Indigenous People. Indigenous women everywhere often suffer from higher levels of gender based violence, as a result of the double discrimination associated with being both a woman and indigenous.
The agreed conclusions of the most recent U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57) reaffirmed “that indigenous women often suffer multiple forms of discrimination and poverty which increase their vulnerability to all forms of violence; and stresses the need to seriously address violence against indigenous women and girls.”
Furthermore, the indigenous people that Chakma was fighting for are still waiting for their rights. More than 15 years after an agreement guaranteeing the rights of Pahari Indigenous Peoples to their traditional lands in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts, they continue to wait for their lands to be restored to them.
Join us during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence to find out more about how you can support the efforts of Justice for Chakma and other cases of gender based violence around the world!
Send a letter to the Minister of Home Affairs asking for the Rangmati District police to conduct a thorough and independent re-investigation of Chakma’s case.