Karuna Moy Chakma
Fellow Since 1998
This profile was prepared when Karuna Moy Chakma was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
The New Idea
Karuna Moy Chakma applies specific legal remedies to challenge the human rights violations sustained by the indigenous people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in southeastern Bangladesh during nearly 25 years of armed conflict in the region.When Karuna first started his litigation program, the local tribal society strongly believed that government actions, especially military actions, could never be challenged. Community members felt that taking legal action would only increase the suffering of the victims of government abuse. Karuna's work, however, has fostered legal awareness amongst the Hill Tracts people, thereby breaking down the barriers to accessing the legal system. Instead of following the traditional public law route in Bangladesh, where lawyers wait for victims to approach them before bringing grievances against the government, Karuna Moy Chakma actively seeks victims, educates them about their rights and encourages them to bring their cases to court. He has employed tactics which, although common in other areas, had never been used in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. For example, Karuna has used the writ of habeas corpus to successfully challenge detentions in this area, thereby changing the way that the indigenous people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts think about their relationship to the law. Most importantly, he has begun to show local indigenous groups how their own experiences can have an impact on nationwide legal reform. With his considerable success in fighting for civil rights, Karuna has begun to establish land titles for the Hill Tracts people who have either been displaced or forced from their lands. Karuna's long-term goal is protect indigenous people's heritage and way of life by ensuring that they know about their civil rights and do not feel threatened on their own land.