How’s it possible that some people’s wealth increased by 200-300 times: Sultana Kamal

Sultana Kamal speaks as the chief guest at the opening session of the third national conference of the rights activists of ethnic minority communities in Dhaka on 12 December in 2023Prothom Alo

The human rights situation in the country has deteriorated further, remarked rights activist Sultana Kamal, advisor to a former caretaker government, on Tuesday.

Slamming a recent statement of Information Minister Hasan Mahmud, she said, “I want to challenge (them) from this platform about how much of their wealth has increased and how much of the rights activists wealth increased.”

Sultana Kamal was speaking as the chief guest at the opening session of the third national conference of the rights activists of ethnic minority communities in the capital today.

Kapaeeng Foundation organised the conference titled ‘Ensure security of indigenous human rights defenders’ at the auditorium of Liberation War Museum in Agargaon, Dhaka.

Sultana Kamal expressed her grievances about the rights situation, occupation of land of ethnic minorities, torture and rights violation.

“I feel embarrassed when I’m requested to talk about human rights these days. The situation has worsened. Those who run the state have set themselves face to face against human rights. Rights activists should not live in fear in a civilised and democratic country that has a sense of human rights; rather the looters should live in constant fear. Whenever I read newspapers, I ask myself, am I living in the real world! Is this possible! The wealth of some people has increased by 200 times, 300 times, 400 times. We will celebrate Victory Day on 16 December. Independence is our proudest achievement. This is the state of our pride!” she said.

Addressing a programme at Chattogram press club on 8 December, Information Minister Hasan Mahmud said human rights has turned into a “business”.

Taking a dig at the minister, Sultana Kamal said, “The information minister audaciously said human rights has turned into a business nowadays. I want to challenge (him) from this platform about how much of their wealth has increased and how much of the rights activists wealth increased. They cannot protect human rights, cannot ensure safety of rights defenders. They speak aggressively to conceal their failures, and want to keep us under threat.”

“They could say they are pro-liberation war forces. Let them prove that they are pro-liberation war forces by implementing one by one the pledges made during the liberation war. They would claim them as pro-liberation war forces but would not celebrate the spirit - we won’t tolerate this. It’s not that we have leased out the country. The liberation war was a people’s war, not of any special party. Awami League led (the war), Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the leader of our liberation war, there is no scope to raise questions on this.”

She further stated that the people of this country have the responsibility to work to protect human rights. The government is not acknowledging the identity of “indigenous” people.

She urged the people of ethnic minority communities to go on fighting patiently by remaining united to protect their rights.

It was alleged in the programme that the incidents of occupation of the land of ethnic minorities, torture of their women, and filing trumped up cases have increased. Their land is being occupied in the name of development works.

The conference was informed that 37 families in the Chittagong Hill Tracts area and four families in the plain land have lost their land in 2022. Attempts were made to occupy 421 acres and 15 acres of land in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and plainland areas respectively. Corn and rubber fields of 205 families from hill tracts and plainlands have been destroyed. As many as 276 incidents of rights violation including extrajudicial killings, arrests, detentions and torture were recorded. Besides, 21 incidents of sexual harassment, rape attempt, gang rape and killing after rape have taken place. 

Huma Khan, human rights affairs adviser at the office of UN resident coordinator, addressed the programme as guest of honour. She said the ethnic minority communities need an acknowledgement of their identity and protection for human rights.

Huma Khan also stated that they received a message from the Bangladesh government last year that there are no indigenous people here. They did not receive any answer to a letter sent to the government regarding construction of a 5-star hotel at Chimbuk hill and rubber plantation at Lama.

She said it feels good to hear about projects like big bridges and flyovers. The rich people are getting a more comfortable life. But there cannot be any development project that invites destructive consequences for the environment.

Sanjeeb Drong, General Secretary at Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum, said a tough time is going on in this country now for democracy and human rights. The situation is tougher for the ethnic minorities. The amount of wealth of the rulers has increased by several hundreds times. People who were involved with the killing and torture of the people of the ethnic minority communities have again got nomination in the parliament election. Whenever the issue of the rights are raised, the ruling people draw examples of what the preceding ruling people did to the ethnic minority communities and what happens in Myanmar. But we need to compare with the countries where human rights have been established.

Executive Director of Achik Michik society (AMS) Sulekha Mrong also addressed the programme that was inaugurated by Sahebganj Bagdafarm Bhumi Uddhar Committee President Filimon Baske.

Kapaeeng Foundation Chairperson and National Indigenous Parishad President Rabindranath Soren pchaired the seminar.

Kapaeeng Foundation Executive Director Pallab Chakma spoke about the rights situation of ethnic minority communities in the country while the FOundation’s assistant coordinator Helena Talang gave the welcome address. Hiren Mitra Chakma and Hlamaching Chowdhury moderated the seminar.