Bangladesh: Sazzad Hussein of Odhikar on Women's Rights

Stine Eckert, Pulitzer Student Fellow

With just eleven paid staff members and an army of 200 volunteers, Dhaka-based NGO Odhikar has been monitoring the violation of human rights in Bangladesh since 1994. Its monthly and annual reports are used by foreign embassies and media to also keep track of violations such as extra-judicial killings, torture as well as rape, dowry, and acid crimes. In 2008 the U.S. State Department honored Odhikar, which means rights in Bengali, with the runner-up prize of its Freedom Defenders award. One of the foci of Odhikar, which rejects donations to stay independent, are violations of women's rights. Odhikar Program Coordinator Sazzad Hussein says it's good that with Sheik Hasina for the Awami League and Begum Khaleda Zia for the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) two females lead the major parties in the country, but being a woman doesn't mean that politics change for the rest of the female population. Despite repeated attempts to initiate projects to advance women little has changed in politics over the past 15 years he says in an interview (part 1 of 3).

"Acid crimes are a common phenomenon in Bangladeshi," says Sazzad Hussein, program coordinator of human rights watchdog NGO Odhikar. But acid violence is also one of the crimes that has decreased over the past 15 years, along with rape, because he says, awareness campaigns by NGOs and some government effort helped to raise the voices of the people against these kinds of violence.

Whereas in 2002 Odhikar counted a total of 400 acid crimes, the number dropped to just 133 attacks in 2008. During the first half of 2009, 44 people got attacked, among them 31 women and girls. Sazzad Hussein says it's the duty of the government to control the sale and use of acids. If the governmental committees on acid control work, numbers decrease as he saw happening in two areas (part 2 of 3).

Despite the decreasing number of acid crimes over the past years, for the victims who suffer from such violence there is still little chance to have the perpetrator punished by law, Ohdikar program
coordinator Sazzad Hussein explains. (part 3 of 3)