Press Release, April 29
Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Wednesday expressed serious concern at reports of civilian casualties during operation by the security forces in Lower Dir district.
In a statement, the commission urged the government to ensure that the security forces’ action against Taliban does not add to the woes of non-combatants stuck in the area.
“HRCP is distressed at the unnecessary loss of lives and the continued suffering of innocent civilians in Dir despite, and at times because of, the security forces’ operation.
While the people of Dir had heaved a sigh of relief at the security forces operation that the government had finally decided to reclaim the area from Taliban, the first few days of the offensive have heaped more suffering on the civilian population, including a number of casualties on account of the choice of tactics and weapons by the security forces.
Reports from the area suggest that Taliban militants are hiding in and operating from areas with large civilian populations and the security forces have sought to target them through the use of heavy weapons, including aerial bombardment and long-distance artillery shelling, putting the safety of civilians trapped in the conflict zone at even greater risk.
Tens of thousands civilians have already been displaced and those trying to flee the area find it increasingly difficult to reach safety. The government should have ensured protection of non-combatants before the launch of the operation. It must now meet civilians’ needs and facilitate their flight to safety. It must also meet their needs in line with international humanitarian obligations and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.
The security forces in Dir must learn lessons from the numerous incidents of ‘collateral damage’ in their operation in the Swat valley and immediately cease indiscriminate artillery and aerial attacks in Dir, which are not suited for ousting militants from residential areas with large concentrations of civilian population.
We urge that the same precautions should be taken in the security forces’ operation launched in Buner.
The significance of public backing for such operations cannot be emphasised enough. Civilian casualties would only erode that support. The security forces must ensure that the war against terror and Taliban does not become war against civilians.”