Prominent Buddhist social activist Rani Yan Yan, who campaigns for human rights and indigenous women's rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region of Bangladesh, was among six social activists recognized in Washington, DC, at the first ceremony annual Secretary of State Award for Global Champions Against Racism on Wednesday.
Rani Yan Yan is a prominent social activist who advocates for indigenous human rights and women's rights, especially for her ethnic community in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region of Bangladesh. A leader of the predominantly Buddhist Chakma and Marma communities, respectively the largest and second of the 11 ethnic groups in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the majority of which practice Theravada Buddhism, Yan Yan's work has drawn international attention to the struggles of his community and violence against minority groups in Bangladesh, sometimes at great personal risk.
“As the leader of the Chakma Circle,* Yan Yan actively advocates for vulnerable populations facing government-sponsored discrimination, land grabbing, violence and the adverse effects of climate change,” the Department of Health said. American State. “As a direct result of Yan Yan's activism, the international community has gained a new awareness of the violence committed against indigenous communities and minority groups in Bangladesh. Throughout her career, Yan Yan has advised national and international organizations on climate resilience and gender equality, researched indigenous women's political participation, and mentored young activists on diversity and gender equality. social inclusion. Yan Yan has become a fearless voice and a strong advocate for equal rights and justice, despite immense discrimination and even violence. (U.S. Department of State)
The Global Anti-Racism Champions Award is an international award recognizing individuals in civil society who have demonstrated exceptional courage, strength and leadership in working to advance the rights of people from racialized communities. , ethnic and indigenous marginalized. Recipients are selected from outstanding civil society leaders and activists who are nominated by U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the world.
“Seventy-five years ago, nations around the world adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, affirming that every human being is born free and equal in dignity and rights. It meant, and still means, people of all races and ethnicities, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted in his remarks at the inaugural awards ceremony yesterday. “Yet we all know that for far too many individuals there continue to be challenges when their basic rights are violated or denied because of their race or ethnicity. Some are beaten and harassed, deprived of employment, deprived of education. Some bear the brunt of crises such as climate change and epidemics, but are often excluded from decisions about the issues that affect them most and deprived of the support they need to bear the impact. . . .
“If entire communities are denied opportunities, it hampers the economic potential of an entire nation. When certain groups do not have access to vaccines and treatments, it hampers our ability to prevent, detect and respond to global pandemics. When individuals do not see themselves reflected in the governments that are meant to represent them, it undermines trust in the system and in our democracies. In other words, racism, discrimination – these are not just morally wrong; they make our world less secure, less stable, less prosperous. . . .” (U.S. Department of State)
In addition to her fearless advocacy for Indigenous rights, Yan Yan, a practicing Buddhist who was once ordained as a female monastic, was a finalist for the United States Institute of Peace's Women Building Peace Award for her efforts to empower indigenous women and promote peace in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. She is an alumnus of the University of New South Wales Diplomacy Training Program and a graduate of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Feminist Legal Theory and Practice of the Forum on Women, Law and Development.
Here is an excerpt from Yan Yan's speech at Wednesday's awards ceremony in Washington, DC:
I am both honored by this recognition and honored to receive this award on the occasion of the International Day of Indigenous Peoples. On this day, we celebrate the diversity of peoples. We recognize the continued marginalization and racial discrimination against Indigenous peoples within their nation states. And we aim to promote and protect the rights of Indigenous peoples.
Distinguished guests, militarization of our territory; the state-sponsored settlement of hundreds and thousands of non-indigenous peoples on our lands; the continued land grabbing by politically backed individuals, entities and security forces; arson and communal community attack, impunity for perpetrators of violence against indigenous women and girls; and the criminalization of rights defenders are just a few examples that bear an uncanny resemblance to what Indigenous and racially marginalized communities face elsewhere in the world.
In this context, my work as an indigenous human rights defender has focused on raising awareness of (the) systematic marginalization of indigenous peoples, facilitating the creation of networks and alliances between communities and organisations, and the mobilization of indigenous communities to defend their right to land. I have seen and experienced firsthand how intersecting identities pave the way for further marginalization of Indigenous women.
This is precisely why a significant part of my work is dedicated to empowering Indigenous women, specifically rural Indigenous women, to become agents of change, worthy leaders and protectors of our rights. We were able to initiate appointments of female village chiefs in a traditional all-male system, thanks to the chief of the Chakma Circle, Raja Devasish Roy, for whom I am the adviser. And the number has continued to grow since its inception eight years ago, as have the contributions of these Indigenous women leaders.
Once upon a time, I was a youth full of aspirations, new ideas, hopes and dreams for a better and just world. And now, 10 years later, I'm older but no different from the me I had. But very few young people from our Aboriginal communities have been and still are as lucky as I am. The lack of opportunities, the crisis of leadership and the denial of access to spaces to express their opinions have created despair among these young people, despite the fact that they have all the potential to contribute or even to lead this movement against racial discrimination. Creating conducive environments for these young people, bridging the generational gap between elders and young people, building solidarity and facilitating collaboration between young people of different ethnicities have been my priorities since my beginnings as an advocate.
Dear guests, the global scourge of racism and xenophobia cannot be eradicated instantly, any more than we can hope for a just world in a number of years. This endeavor is an ongoing work in progress that my fellow awardees understand all too well. To move forward, however, we must ensure that the rule of law prevails in our countries through open and democratic governments that are accountable to citizens. And in increasingly constricted civic spaces in many countries, activists face the impact of restricted free speech and press freedom that reduces our ability to communicate and amplify take conscience on these pressing issues. This Global Anti-Racism Champions Award is therefore important in this regard, as it amplifies each of our voices and will be integral to raising the profile of our unique yet interconnected struggles to achieve equity and racial justice.
And on that note, before I end my speech, I would like to state that no one – and absolutely no one – can become a champion without (the) efforts of countless others and without their support, big or small. For me, this prize is not a testimony of my success, it is a recognition of our collective effort, of our achievements. Therefore, I dedicate this award to all my fellow human rights defenders – old and young – and to the rural indigenous villagers of Bangladesh, the most genuine and resilient people I have been blessed with. to work, to interact with who supported me until the end.
Ladies and gentlemen, claiming rights as a person from racially discriminated communities is a challenge, but claiming rights as a woman from these communities poses greater challenges, which I, like other women defenders of human rights in the world I constantly try to overcome. The road to justice is never meant to be easy, and efforts are made to silence our voices again and again. Yet here I am, we stand firm and are determined to strengthen and uplift the next generation of leaders and champions in solidarity with all those around the world who fight against racial discrimination and structural injustices to build a better world and a just world for all.
Thank you all.
Buddhism is a minority religion in Bangladesh, practiced by only 0,61% of the population, according to 2022 census data. Muslims make up 91,04% of the population, Hindus 7,95%, Christians 0,3, 0,12% and the others XNUMX%. hundred.
The majority of the 11 ethnic groups in the Chittagong Hill Tracts practice Theravada Buddhism. The region has been plagued by conflict and oppression for decades, amid tensions with Bangladesh's Muslim-majority population and minority communities reporting widespread persecution by the government and security forces stationed there.
“In 2018, while translating for two indigenous teenage girls who had been sexually assaulted by security forces, the police violently assaulted (Rani Yan Yan). ** observed Blinken. “If they hoped to discourage his plea, they failed. Just two months after the attack, Rani Yan Yan participated in the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, showing indomitable personal courage. She said, and I quote: “Since I have the means and the ability to amplify the voices that are not heard, I think I have to act accordingly. I am simply fulfilling my responsibilities as a citizen. What an incredibly powerful message for all of us. (U.S. Department of State)
Yan Yan is one of six recipients of the 2023 Global Champions Against Racism Award. His fellow recipients are:
• Kari Guajajara, an indigenous leader from the Brazilian Amazon who works as a legal advisor for indigenous representative organizations, promoting the rights of indigenous peoples, combating gender-based violence and protecting the environment.
• Oswaldo Bilbao Lobatón, an Afro-Peruvian activist who has spent more than 40 years fighting for the recognition and rights of Afro-Peruvians, one of the least visible and disadvantaged populations in Peru.
• Saadia Mosbah, a Tunisian activist who has dedicated her life to fighting racial discrimination and prejudice, and defending the rights of black Tunisians.
• Sarswati Nepali, social activist in Nepal, president of the Dalit Society Development Forum and defender of the human rights of the marginalized castes, the handicapped and the poor.
• Victorina Luca, human rights lawyer and founder of the Roma Awareness Foundation, and champion of racial equity in Moldova for more than 15 years.
* One of the three hereditary chiefdoms of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
** Protesters gather in Bangladesh over alleged sexual assault of sisters from the Minority Buddhist Community (BDG) and rising tensions in Bangladesh after the alleged sexual assault of two sisters from the Minority Buddhist Community (BDG)