43 citizens condemn persecution on Bawm people and detention of women, children in Bandarban

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Hill Voice, May 2, 2024, Dhaka: 43 citizens of the country have issued a statement strongly condemning the oppression on Bawm community, especially the detention of women and children in the name of joint operation against KNF terrorists in Bandarban hill district. Besides, they also made a three-point demand including bringing those involved in the robbery under the law and release of the arbitrarily detained Bawm people.

Today (May 2) the citizens of the country gave this joint statement.

In the joint statement, the citizens said, ‘We note with great concern that various state forces are oppressing the Bawm people in the name of a joint operation following the bank robbery by the armed miscreants of the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) in Ruma and Thanchi of Bandarban on April 2 and 3.

We strongly condemn the arbitrary detention of ordinary citizens, especially women and children, in the name of counter-terrorism.

We want to make it clear that “detaining the wives and children of KNF members for their crime or starving their the entire villagers in the hot day is a grave violation of human rights.”

On April 8, on their way to their village for the New Year and Eid holidays, three Bawm students were detained at the security post on “suspicion” of their involvement in the bank robbery incident, the statement said. On the same day, the joint forces ordered the common Bawm people of Bethel Para village of Ruma upazila to gather in the community center premises and took away the mobile phones of everyone present.

On this day, a total of 54 men and women of the Bawm community were subjected to mass arrest along with their children. According to newspaper reports, an expectant woman was also initially detained, later released.

On April 11, members of the joint forces gathered all the Bawm villagers including women, men and the elderly ones in the open yard of Eden para and subjected them to physical and mental harassment in the hot sun for more than five hours without food or water.

In the operation on April 21, the women and children of the KNF members’ families were detained failing to arrest them. On this day, three people including two women were arrested from Girjapara near Bazar in Ruma Upazila. They were Lal Choi Sang Bawm’s wife Lal Ang Kal Bawm (26), Sushanta Tripura’s wife Lal Ruat Phel Bawm (20). At the same time their four children were also detained.

In this context, the fear of remanding the villagers and taking forced false confessions labeling their involvement in the bank robbery incident is not unreasonable.

For the past 4 weeks (April 3-26) Bawm passengers are being harassed every day at various security checkpoints in Bandarban. We have confirmed from multiple local sources that locals are being forced to show their identity cards while commuting to work and are facing various interrogations. Apart from this, there is a ban by security forces on carrying more than five kg of rice in two upazilas of Bandarban. Because of this, it is not possible for Bawm and other residents of the area to collect daily food traveling long distances. This has led to food crisis to the locals.

The statement also said, ‘We note with deep concern that despite the allegations of human rights violations raised during the continuous joint operation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, these allegations have never been investigated. Rather, the information provided by the law enforcement agencies is disseminated in the media as truth.

We feel that the activities of the law enforcement force paid from public money cannot be above accountability to the people.

In this context, ‘we want to clearly say that peace cannot be established by creating fear in the public mind of Chittagong Hill Tracts including the Bawm community.’

The joint statement outlined three demands. They were-

1. Through a fair and acceptable investigation, those directly and indirectly involved in the bank robbery incident including KNF should be identified and brought under the law as soon as possible.

2. The strategy of collective punishment on the Bawm population should be immediately stopped and the arbitrarily detained Bawm residents should be released.

3. Ensure independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violation and abuses of power by the security forces during joint operations. Those members of the law and order, and security forces inflicted mental and physical abuse on the Bawm community must be brought to justice.

The signatories of the statement were:
1. Prof. Banchita Chakma, Former Member, National Human Rights Commission.
2. Nirupa Dewan, Former Member, National Human Rights Commission.
3. Meghna Guhathakurta, Executive Director, Research Initiatives, Bangladesh; Former Member, National Human Rights Commission
4. Giti Ara Nasreen, Teacher, University of Dhaka
5. Gautam Dewan, President, Chittagong Hill Tracts Citizens Committee and first elected Chairman, Local Government Council
6. Professor Mongsanu Chowdhury, Educationist
7. Shahidul Alam, photographer
8. Ilira Dewan, human rights activist
9. Saheed Ferdous, Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, Jahangirnagar University
10. Kajali Sehrin Islam, Teacher, University of Dhaka
11. Tanjim Uddin Khan, Teacher, University of Dhaka
12. Kabita Chakma, architect, researcher and writer
13. Muktashree Chakma, human rights activist and researcher
14. Maha Mirza, Part Time Teacher, Jahangirnagar University
15. Bithi Ghosh, music artist, chorus
16. Mahmudul Sumon, Teacher, Jahangirnagar University
17. Samina Lutfa, Teacher, University of Dhaka
18. Arup Rahi, writer and musician
19. Amal Akash, Music Artist, chorus
20. Mosahid Sultana, Teacher, University of Dhaka
21. Pavel Pertha, writer and researcher
22. Farzana Wahid Sayan, Music Artist
23. Omar Tarek Chowdhury, writer and translator
24. Shyamoli Shil, President, Nari Samhati
25. Moin Jalal Chowdhury, Teacher, BRAC University
26. Nazneen Shifa, researcher and human rights activist
27. Jannatul Mawa, photographer
28. Marzia Prabha, Activist
29. Iqbal Kabir, political activist and former president, Revolutionary Students Alliance
30. Nasreen Siraj, anthropologist and filmmaker
31. Sayema Khatun, writer and researcher
32. Nasreen Khandkar, anthropologist and researcher
33. Rozina Begum, human rights activist and senior student, Mahidol University, Thailand
34. Maidul Islam, PhD Researcher, University of Petersburg, USA
35. Hana Shams Ahmed, PhD Researcher, York University, Canada
36. Dilshan Parul, political organizer
37. Oliver Sun, Lecturer, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh
38. Dilip Roy, General Secretary, Biplabli Chatra Maitri
39. Ferdous Ara Rumi, poet and rights activist
40. Moshfeq Ara Shimul, Executive Director, Space-A Foundation for Peace and Care
41. Abdullah Al Noman, human rights activist and lawyer, Bangladesh Supreme Court
42. Rani Yen Yen, Human Rights Activist and Adviser, Chakma Circle
43. Saidia Gulrukh, journalist and researcher