TH SESSION OF WORKING GROUP ON MINORITIES 10
UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
United Nations, Geneva
March 1-5, 2004
Torture and Cleansing of
Religious and Ethnic Minorities of Bangladesh
Dr. Niranjan Ray, Ph.D, President
Bangladesh Hindu, Buddhist & Christian Unity Council, Los Angeles, USA
Honorable Chairman, delegates, ladies and gentlemen, good morning/ afternoon to you all. It is an honor and privilege to be here to participate in the Minorities forum representing the Bangladesh Hindu, Buddhist, Christian Unity Council, the civil and human rights advocacy groups for the ethnic, religious and tribal minorities of Bangladesh.
Since 1946 the minorities of Bangladesh have been targets of discrimination and religious racial profiling as well as hate crime because of the failure of successive the governments to make a secular, democratic, pluralistic and religious tolerant society. As half a century’s human rights violations had been encountered so the challenge is to overcome this evil. Precedents are countless for the unprecedented atrocities. Gang rape, murder, threatening, forced conversion to Islam, living there to pay infidel security tax and ethnic minority cleansing are day to day incidents. We, the minorities, with moderate Muslims stood up to fight against it. We’re not going to rest until the persecution of innocent minorities is stopped. Ladies and gentlemen, we urge you to join us. Together we can make the difference.
In 1965, the then nationalist government promulgated an anti-minority law called the Enemy Property Act to seize the property of Hindus who had to leave the country after being relentlessly persecuted. But immediately after the creation of Bangladesh as a secular state in 1971, the secularist government refused to repeal the anti-minority law of Enemy Property
Act. The successive governments seized 2.5 million acres of land from the Hindus by 2001 (Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2001/Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights,
and Labor/U. S. Department of State). ). Similarly they continued the Islamic Pakistani practice of sending Muslim settlers accompanied by the armed forces to evict the indigenous people of Chittagong Hill Tracts thus increasing the Muslim population of the region from 3% in 1947 to an alarmingly high 50% in 1997 (International Religious Freedom Report 2001 -
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor/U. S. Department of State). They even did not return the site of the Ramna Kali Temple in the heart of Dhaka city, which had been demolished by the militant nationalists in 1971.
In 1988, the Islamic nationalist government declared Islam to be the state religion. This was perceived by the average Muslims as a license to drive the minorities out of the country by conducting atrocities against them. It was then that the campaign became systematic, and goal oriented, the goal being ridding the country of its non-Muslims.
Ever since the present ruling government assumed power in October, 2001, attacks against religious minorities in Bangladesh escalated dramatically. Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and even moderate Muslims were targeted as well. Minority homes were looted,
vandalized, and burned. Temples and deities were destroyed. Brutal torture, gang rape, forcible conversion to Islam, and grisly murder of monks, priests, professionals and intellectuals are examples of on-going atrocities.
Let me give you a couple of examples of atrocities conducted against the minorities in the recent years:
1. On Nov. 19, '03, eleven members of a Hindu family which included a 4-day-old infant and 75-year-old man of a Hindu family were burned alive by Muslim terrorists, who had come carrying inflammable agent with them, and did not touch any of their assets, in Southern Shadhanpur under Banshkhali police station early today..... Locals alleged that police did not rush the spot even after repeated request from the villagers. (The
Bangladesh Observer, Nov. 20, '03; The Economist (Asia), Nov. 29, 2003).
2. On November 22, '03, Islamic terrorists razed 12 temples in three villages under the Union Council of Aintara in the Upazila of Mirjapur, chopped the deities with machete and threw them away into the river. No action was taken up until the time of writing this report six days after the incident (The Daily Janakantha, Nov. 29, '03)
3. On Oct. 30, '03, Harkat-E-Islam Al-Jihad issued a letter of ultimatum to the religious
minority businessmen and minority leaders of the Awami League [the relatively
progressive party] of Manikgonj, threatening to wage attacks on their families and burn down their dwelling houses unless they converted to Islam within seven days of receipt of the letter (The Daily Sangbad, Nov. 3, 2003).
4. On August 28, 2003 "Nine indigenous women, three of one family, were gang-raped and some others assaulted during a nearly eight-hour mob attacks on at least 10 villages in Mohalchhari Upazila of Khagrachhari district on Wednesday. More than 400 houses in those villages, two Buddhist temples and three shops were set ablaze and an elderly indigenous man was killed during the attacks (The Daily Star, August 31, '03).
5. On June 3, 2001, the Islamic terrorists bombed a Catholic church in Baniar Char,
Gopalgonj, killing 10 and injuring 20 (International Religious Freedom Report 2001 -
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor/U. S. Department of State)
6. Nearly 200 Hindu women were gang raped by Muslim men in Char Fashion, Bhola, in
one night at a single spot. (The Daily Star, Nov. 16, 2001)
7. Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's government has used the armed forces and Muslims
settlers to conduct massacres of indigenous people and annihilated entire villages in
Chittagong Hill Tracts. During her first tenure as the Prime Minister, the armed forces
and Muslim settlers cordoned off the tribal village of Logan, and “systematically
murdered” 130 (according to another account 600) residents of the village, and then
burned it down to the ground (This information is available in letter that 17 U.S.
congressmen wrote to Prime Minister Khaleda Zia on November 13, 1992.
Due to blatant discrimination and such atrocities as above, millions of minorities have had to leave their ancestral homeland to seek refuge in the mountainous terrain of India, where most of them live in abject poverty and illegally. Consequently, whereas the minorities of Bangladesh represented approximately 30% of the population in 1941, they constitute a bare 10% today. The situation is so grim that on July 21, 2003 a Guardian article on the
issue had the sub-heading "Rape and torture empties the villages," and the November 29
issue of the The Economist article on the issue had its heading as "Bangladesh's Religious
Minorities: Safe only in the departure lounge" And, of course, if the exodus continues in
the existing rate the remaining 15 million people will be eliminated in the next 3 decades as has been the case in Pakistan.
The extremist Islamic nationalists with the Pakistani army murdered 3 million progressive Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians of the country, raped 250,000 girls, and drove 10 million people out of the country. They have gained so much power that on April 2, 2002 the Wall Street Journal ran an article about the alarming rise of militant Islam in Bangladesh with the caption, "In Bangladesh, as in Pakistan, a Worrisome Rise of Militant Islam," and on April 4, 2002, the Far Eastern Economic Review described Bangladesh in its
cover page article as a "Cocoon of Terror."
What is the solution to this huge problem? Some secular Muslims have suggested that we fight to over throw the "Islamic hardliners" from power, and that our problem will be automatically solved once the secularists return to power. We did just that from 1952 through 1971, but as I mentioned before, upon assuming power the secularists betrayed the country's minorities by refusing to repeal the anti minority law of Enemy Property Act, and
failing to return the Ramna Kali Temple to the Hindus. They did not stop sending Muslim settlers to evict the indigenous people in Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Similarly, upon returning to power in 1996, the secularists did not return the Ramna Kali temple until faced with world wide vigorous protest. They did repeal the Enemy Property Act
but it was a joke because no provision was made for the true losers of land or their heir to regain control or donate or sell it (By the way, this has been reversed by the ruling Islamic hardliners). However, they did not even try to repeal the 5th and 8th Amendments through which Islam was made the state religion. Obviously, the secularists will never solve our problem.
Ladies and gentlemen, the present government has flouted all the appeals made by the EU, U.S. legislators to stop the carnage. Similarly the government has flouted all the recommendations made by the Amnesty International. So no relief can be expected by making appeals to the government or the perpetrators.
We are left with only one option, which is to find a permanent solution through international intervention, like we have seen in the Kurdish region in Saddam Hossain's Iraq, Bosnia, or East Timor or in the Bible-belt of the Sudan which is being negotiated now under American supervision. We urge you to act without delay in the same manner to protect the minorities of Bangladesh.
On November 28, 2003, Bangladesh Hindu, Buddhist & Christian Unity, USA based in
New York has urged the ruling Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to implement the 1997 treaty thus resolving the Chittagong Hill Tracts problem, and open a dialogue with the leaders of the minority community to solve the problem of the rest of the minorities by adopting one of the available models. But she hasn't even acknowledged receipt of this memorandum.
Ladies and gentlemen, It is our obligation to protect the innocent minorities from rape, torture and extortion. We are here to do the right thing, and not the easy thing to make Bangladesh a secular, democratic, pluralistic and religious tolerant state. Therefore, it is only
you who can help solve the problem permanently of the minorities of Bangladesh. Without your assistance they will be eliminated in a matter of three decades.
Honorable ladies and gentlemen, thank you for kindly listening to me. I hope you will extend your helping hand forward to protect them.
Thank you all.
Niranjan Ray, President
Bangladesh Hindu, Buddhists and Christian Unity Council, Los Angeles, USA Nray@cyberhotline.com