Bangladesh: a week with the blue berets
Officers of the Bangladesh armed forces recently attended an ICRC-organized “train the trainer” course on international humanitarian law at the Bangladesh Institute of Peace Support Operation Training. This year, for the first time, 10 religious teachers also attended the five-day course, which focused on the means and methods of warfare.
"We are not trained to kill. We don't have a defined enemy. Peacekeepers strive to win the hearts and minds of local people." Lieutenant Colonel Mustafizur Rahman is a senior instructor at the Bangladesh Institute of Peace Support Operation Training (BIPSOT) and served as a peacekeeper in Bosnia during the mid-nineties. Busily typing away on his laptop, he keeps a watchful eye on the training at the other end of the room through his gold-rimmed glasses.
"The belief that nothing is above the law is a core component of religious and humanitarian ethics." Md Abdur Rahim, a young military cleric based in Rangpur, added that he could relate the principles of IHL to the teachings of the Quran. "Hundreds of years ago, our Prophet established the sanctity of life, honour and property in time of war. He forbade the destruction of crops and water sources that people need in order to survive."
Lt Col Mustafiz explained that the religious teachers (RTs) had a duty to nurture moral values amongst soldiers and is quick to point out the enthusiastic participation of the RTs. "They were proud to learn that IHL offers special protection for religious personnel during armed conflicts. RTs have a counselling role within the armed forces, putting them in a key position to disseminate the laws of war at all levels of the chain of command."
Bangladeshi forces first participated in UN peacekeeping operations in 1988, and since 2010 the country has been the largest contributor to these global assignments. Bangladesh has participated in 54 of the 60 peace missions in the history of the UN, sending 115,163 peacekeepers to 39 countries.
Major Anwarul Kabir, an instructor at BIPSOT and a guest facilitator at the “train the trainer” course, points out that the blue berets’ responsibility for protecting relief convoys and aid agencies leads to their working closely with humanitarian agencies in conflict and post-conflict situations. While serving in Sudan as a military observer, the veteran soldier accompanied ICRC delegates who were visiting POWs and refugee camps. During his mission as a member of the Bangladesh Battalion that constituted the UN Protection Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kabir witnessed the ICRC's mediation in the exchange of bodies between the Serb and Bosnian forces
The 1999 UN Secretary-General’s Bulletin makes the fundamental principles and rules of IHL applicable to UN forces when they are actively engaged in situations of armed conflict. These rules are also pertinent in enforcement actions and in peacekeeping operations, where the use of force is permitted in self-defence and in the defence of the mission mandate.
As part of its universal mandate, the ICRC regularly conducts training sessions for peacekeepers to ensure that they fulfill their obligations under IHL. Since 2010, the ICRC delegation in Bangladesh has conducted four “train the trainer” courses jointly with the BIPSOT.