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State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2010 - Bangladesh

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 1 July 2010
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2010 - Bangladesh, 1 July 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c33311f3c.html [accessed 1 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

A month after being sworn in as prime minister in January 2009, Sheikh Hasina, head of the Awami League, faced a mutiny by border guards that left at least 74 people, mainly soldiers in the army, dead. The mutiny was brought to an end with the arrest of some 700 border guards. Apart from this, the political situation in Bangladesh remained largely stable through 2009.

Incidents of violence and land seizures affecting ethnic minorities in Bangladesh were recorded throughout 2009. Odhikar, one of the country's leading independent human rights organizations, recorded 38 incidents of violence against ethnic minorities, including 4 killings, 4 cases of land seizures and 25 injuries. Most of the incidents were perpetrated by local gangs, in some cases reportedly under political influence.

In 2009, the Bangladeshi government asserted its commitment to implement the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) peace accord, and said that it would press ahead with vacating army camps in the area. The peace accord, signed in 1997 between the then Awami League government and the United People's Party of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, was largely neglected by the previous Bangladesh National Party government. The return to power of the Awami League raised some hopes, but, despite the commitments, human rights violations continued to be recorded against ethnic and religious minority and indigenous communities in the CHT. Evictions and the forced displacement of communities, such as the Mady and Garo in the CHT, continued to be reported by human rights groups and the media in 2009. In February 2009, the CHT Commission stated that, 'Indigenous and religious minorities have been targets not only of land-grabbing, but also of human rights violations including arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention, torture, rape, killing and religious persecution.' In November 2009, the Jumma community blocked streets and protested over the failure to prosecute a soldier who had attempted to rape a Jumma woman. According to the non-governmental organization (NGO) Survival International, seven people were injured as soldiers attempted to break up the protest.

Bangladesh's small Urdu-speaking, non-Bengali Bihari population faced citizenship issues during the 2009. In 2008, local media reported that a High Court had ordered 300,000 Biharis be granted citizenship after over 30 years of living in poor conditions as stateless in camps. Despite being given identity cards to vote in the December 2008 elections, media reports in early 2009 stated that the Biharis had not been provided with passports, restricting their freedom of movement.

The situation for the larger refugee population in Bangladesh, the Rohingya, remained extremely poor. Rohingyas are Burmese Muslims who fled their homeland due to persecution. They live in squalid camps, and have virtually no political, social or economic rights. In June 2009, Bangladeshi media reported that the authorities in Cox's Bazaar district tore down several makeshift huts belonging to Rohingyas. In the same month, Médecins sans Frontières reported that it had treated several injured Rohingyas, who had been violently evicted from their temporary homes by Bangladeshi state officials. In July 2009, groups of Rohingyas leaving Bangladesh, due to insecurity and poor economic conditions, were arrested and detained in Thailand.

In 2009, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a congressional panel, removed Bangladesh from its watch-list of countries noted for violations of religious freedoms, on the grounds that there had been signs of improvement for religious minorities during the December 2008 elections. However, Bangladesh's religious minorities, including Hindus, Christians and Ahmaddiyas, faced incidents of targeted violence. MRG's partner NGO Odhikar recorded a total of 541 incidents affecting religious minorities during 2009, including assaults, land seizures and one killing. There were also 27 attacks on places of worship during the year, most of them instigated by local gangs or political leaders who acted in a climate of impunity, with police taking no action over the incidents. According to Odhikar, in February 2009, 300 Hindus were injured and one woman raped in Maheshkhali, Chittagong, when gangs attacked a religious event. In March and April 2009, mainly Hindus were affected when gangs forced some 400 people from their homes in the Sutrapur district of Dhaka. In both places, Hindu temples were destroyed. Supporters or members of the ruling Awami League have been accused of being involved in almost all of the attacks against Hindus. In October 2009, Awami League members fired gunshots and evicted Hindus from their homes, again in Sutrapur. In that incident and others during the month of October, a total of 14 temples were reportedly attacked.

Targeted gender violence is an integral part of the attacks against religious minorities. During 2009, there were two reported cases of rape of religious minority women, according to Odhikar statistics. In January, the wife of a Christian pastor was raped in Chaksing Baptist church in the village of Vennabari, 100 km south of Dhaka. A Hindu woman was also raped in the incident in Chittagong in February. There were no reports as to whether the perpetrators of both crimes were identified or brought to justice.

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