The International Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission demands the protection of civilians’ lives in Bandarban
The International Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission (CHTC) is deeply concerned about the ongoing unrest in Bandarban and demands that civilians are protected. According to media reports1, on 8 May 2023, 3 Bawm men were allegedly killed at Paingkhong Para of Rwangchari Upazila by the same vigilante group that killed another 8 Bawm men last month on 6 April 20232. Local leaders informed the media that none of the deceased had any affiliation with any armed groups3, and one of them, Nemthang Bawm (43), was the president of Number Five Ward of the Awami League (the current ruling party of Bangladesh), Rwangchari4.
On 17 May 2023, the Inter-Services Public Relations Directorate (ISPR, the public relations division of the Bangladesh Armed Forces), in a press statement, stated that on 16 May 2023, two soldiers were killed and an additional two army officers were injured by an IED explosion and sudden gunshots from the Kuki Chin Army (KNA) during a military operation against KNA. The CHT Commission expresses its deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the deceased army persons as well as the deceased civilians.
Local media reported that an indigenous Tripura, Jewel Tripura (26), was also killed, and Abraham Tripura (35), was injured during the military operation5. Both of them are civilians. Unfortunately, there is no mention of them in the ISPR report.
In two separate press statements, an Agartala-based human rights organization, Humanity Protection Forum, and CHT-based political organization UPDF brought the allegation that the killed and injured civilians were being used by the military as human shields. According to their press releases, and information from local media, on 15 May 2023, the military took a total of 32 Mro civilians from Pasing Para and M T S Para of Remakri Prangsa Union, Ruma; 10 Marma civilians from Mong Yu Para of 2 No. Ruma Union and 22 Tripura civilians (Jewel Tripura and Abraham Tripura were part of this group) of Sobsang Basiram Para under Remakri
Prangsa Union of Ruma6. Also, on 17 May 2023, the military took another 10 Marma civilians from Chaipo Village of 2 No Ruma Union and another 10 Marma civilians from Lungchiri village of Ruma Bazar to participate in their raid against the KNA7. Their whereabouts are still unknown. On 18 May, in a live talk show aired on a popular TV channel Ekattor TV, a prominent journalist from Bandarban further alleged that Jewel Tripura was killed and Abraham Tripura was injured while they were being used as porters by the military during their raid against KNA.
If these allegations are indeed true, this requires urgent attention from the government of Bangladesh and the military. Bangladeshi military forces cannot use civilians as human shields during military operations, which is specifically mentioned under Article 51(7) of the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. The Fourth Geneva Convention further forbids either party to use threats or force against civilians in order to make them comply with commands. Additionally, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court considers the use of human shields a war crime under Article 8(2)(b)(xxiii).
The safety and protection of civilians must always be a top priority during military operations. The CHT Commission strongly urges the authorities to launch a prompt, impartial, and effective investigation into the allegations, the release of civilians taken for military operation immediately, and the use of all feasible precautions to avoid and minimize civilian harm. The CHT Commission further urges resolving the ongoing issues in Bandarban peacefully and politically.
On behalf of the CHT Commission,
2 For more details, please refer to Commission’s last press release: https://www.scribd.com/document/647012998/CHTC-statement-12-April-2023
Tags: Human rights