European Delegation's visit to B'desh enhances possibility  of 1971 Bangladesh Genocide recognition

Pradip Kumar Dutta

It is a long time indeed. More than half a century has elapsed and we, unfortunate Bangladeshis, could not yet achieve International Recognition of the 1971 Genocide, inflicted upon us by the armed forces of Pakistan. Of course, they were  collaborated by almost the whole gamut of non- Bengali refugees (commonly known as Biharis) who fought along with All India Muslim League for the creation of a separate country for the Muslims of the subcontinent. They shifted mostly from Bihar and UP and also in lesser numbers from other areas of India to the two wings of Pakistan. The ones domiciled in East Pakistan (of course with a very few exceptions) understandably sided with the Pak authorities to prevent the birth of our beloved motherland, Bangladesh. A section of Bengalis who were staunch supporters of Muslim League, Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan Democratic Party and their allies were not lagging behind. Some of them made the highest quality of traitors and collaborators of the occupation Pakistan Army during our Great War of Liberation.

Most political parties of West Pakistan, led by Pakistan People's Party also rendered their support to the ruling military junta in carrying out the bloody Genocide on a part of their own country.

Genocide is defined as the intent to partly or wholly destroy a group of people who are unified by  nationality,  race, ethnicity or religion. Tools of Genocide are mass killings, violation of chastity of women folk, destroying property, looting, arson, driving people away from their homestead as refugees with the target of their destruction, conversion of  children of a group into another group and such other heinous activities. These activities may be bracketed under crime against humanity and carrying out such activities during a battle or war (as in the case of our War of Independence in 1971) tantamount to War crimes. As is well known to us, under the UN convention, Genocide is a punishable crime. Readers may note that all the brutal acts mentioned above were carried out by the heinous Pak army and their cronies during 1971 Bangladesh War of Liberation. Unfortunately, the demand for International Recognition of the same to the UN, other world bodies and individual States could not be properly raised during this long period. Though Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took steps towards this end(like appealing to UN and the world powers for  taking into cognizance the atrocities of the Pakistani army and help in bringing the perpetrators of the Genocide to justice,asking the citizens of Bangladesh to report all genocidal crimes committed during the War of Liberation, prepared a list of 195 Pak military officers to be tried,enacting law and establishing ICT. Every effort came to a dead stop after his brutal assassination.  Some  patriotic, self-respecting individuals and certain organizations had always been working towards this goal.The  efforts fell short of a well-orchestrated forceful demand that could make some headway. We will try to get consoled by the fact that many cases of Genocide took much more time to attract sympathy of the world. An example at hand is Armenian Genocide that took over a century to achieve International recognition, albeit partially.

However, there were some others like Rwandan and Cambodian genocides that got recognition pretty quickly. The genocides in erstwhile Yugoslavia also could draw International attention promptly. Some Serb generals guilty of war crimes were tried in the International Court of Justice. Recently, the US government has termed the atrocious treatment of Rohingyas by the Myanmar authorities as genocide. On the other hand, one of the bloodiest genocides in Congo by the Belgians has not yet been recognized, though during the recent Belgian King's Congo-visit, he expressed regrets for the misdeeds of his countrymen during the reign of his great grandfather, King Leopold. Analyzing all above cases of Genocides (there are many others, and the writer seeks apology for not being able to bring too many cases into consideration to reduce the length of the article) we may say that the time limit and success in raising the demand of recognition of genocides and redress varies a lot from case to case. But one thing is clear: such demands for justice are never time-barred. Together with recognition, comes the issues of asking for formally apologizing for the crime of genocide, bringing in the perpetrators to justice, proper reparations and compensation to the victims. Recognition of a Genocide pays tributes to the martyrs and other victims and brings in some solace to victim families. It reduces the trauma experienced by survivors and victim families. In the case of the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide, the time, though late, has come to raise the issue boldly and strongly at all levels, be it National or International. Luckily, the ball has started rolling. We see light at the end of the tunnel.

End-December,2021 and early 2022 three leading International organizations working with genocide studies and prevention all over the world, namely, Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention, Genocide Watch and International Coalition for Sites of Conscience have recognized the 1971 genocide targeting Bengalis and carried out by Pakistani authorities and their associates. In their statements, both the organizations have also advocated bringing the perpetrators to justice, compensation for the genocide victims and a host of measures to create example to prevent recurrence of such Genocides. A scholar on genocide studies whose family is a genocide victim, Mr Tawheed Reza Noor was instrumental in working with the above-mentioned organizations in getting the recognition. Mr Shariar Kabir of Ghatak Dalal Nirmool Committee, renowned historian Prof Muntasir Mamun, Trustee of Liberation War Museum Mr Mofidul Huq, renowned film makers Mr Tanvir Mokammel and Mr Kawser  Chowdhury, eminent writer and poet Syed Shamsul Huq and Dr Sarwar Ali and many other individuals and organizations in Bangladesh and abroad have been working relentlessly to highlight the 1971 Genocide and to achieve International Recognition for the same.  All these achievements encourage us to work in a more organized and coordinated way unitedly under a common umbrella to do more to reach our goal.

Diaspora organizations of Bangladeshis living abroad have also been conscious about the issue. Though there had not been much of concerted effort so far, we know of Bengalis living in the Netherlands, Germany, UK, USA, Finland, Canada, Switzerland, Belgium and many other countries working in this direction. They have been organizing meetings, seminars, demonstrations, human chains with posters, signature campaigns, etc. all to emphasize on the legitimacy of the demand and to muster support of and create awareness amongst citizens of other countries and of course, amongst new generation of Bangladeshis. Recently, a Netherlands-based Bangladeshi Diaspora organization BASUG, holding Special Consultative Status (ECOSOC) in the United Nations has submitted a statement to the United Nations Human Rights Commission at Geneva. The statement demands recognition of the 1971 Genocide carried on in Bangladesh by the scorched earth policy of the occupation military of Pakistan after Bangladesh's founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared Independence of our motherland in the face of Pakistani conspiracy of denying transfer of power to the legitimately elected political party in 1970 General Elections of Pakistan (Awami League). He waited till Pak military started qthe Genocide on 25 March 1971 by launching the infamous  operation searchlight. The statement also calls for trials of the criminals responsible for genocide, proper reparations for the victims and includes other related demands. The statement has been received and acknowledged by the Secretary General.  The Chairman of BASUG Mr Bikash Chowdhury Barua, a Bangladeshi Dutch citizen takes keen interest in the overall development of his motherland and is particularly interested in the Recognition of 1971 Genocide. He, along with his other Bangladeshi European associates, is monitoring the issue continuously. He has informed that the statement comes under the purview of Agenda No 3 of the UNHRC sessions. So far,the statement has been accepted as agenda no 3 in three consecutive sessions(50th to 52nd) of UNHRC but unfortunately was not taken up for discussion in any of the sessions. To get it on the agenda for active consideration, a lot of efforts are to be made. Bangladesh Government has a pivotal role to play in this respect.

To set the stage for this very important issue to come up for discussion in UNHRC,  leading role of the MOFA in pursuing the issue further,is required.The following steps by civil society will definitely  help: awareness- building inside the country, especially amongst the new generation, publication of booklets in different languages for spreading details of 1971 Genocide in other countries, making documentary films and other possible audio-visual materials to make the world aware of the atrocities committed during the Genocide, enactment of Genocide Denial Act in the country, organizing Genocide museum, preservation of Killing Fields,documentation and recording of testimonies from genocide survivors and victim families, etc.

Simultaneously with the UNHRC move,Bangladesh government has to prepare grounds through its diplomatic channels to approach different friendly governments and the UN for the same recognition. If the UN and other influential States start according  recognition,other States will follow suit. It is not an easy task,at the same time,not unachievable either. We should remember that during our War of Liberation most of the western governments and Chinese leadership were on Pakistan's side because of various geo political reasons. Fortunately,public opinion in many countries was in our favour. India gave us all out support and the then socialist world led by USSR has supported us. Cold war was still on. US and China were inching closer to each other with Pakistan brokering a deal of good relationship between them. Bangladesh war of Liberation had suffered due to the prevailing geo political issues. UN played a rather passive role. No endeavour to stop the ongoing Genocide was seen.Still we came out victorious as our cause was justified and the Nation fought resolutely for freedom. Now that the aforesaid organisations of international Genocide Scholars including IAGS have formally stood in our favour,it’s time for keeping the efforts on for UN recognition of 1971 Bangladesh Genocide. This time too we will come out successful.

 There perhaps is a long way ahead to  cover.All self-respecting patriotic Bangladeshis should rise to the occasion to demand the long-overdue international recognition of the 1971 Genocide on the population of emerging Bangladesh. A formal apology from Pakistan, bringing the perpetrators of the Genocide to justice and proper compensation to the victims of genocide are the bare minimum to bring a closure to the issue. Mere utterance of the old proverb Forget and Forgive is not good enough to appease the sentiments of the victims. The sooner the closure comes, the better.

The current visit to Bangladesh of an European delegation(comprising of parliamentarians,genocide scholars,rights activists and journalists) organised by EBF(European Bangladesh Forum) and supported by Aamra Ekattor and Projonmo Ekattor is a right step in the right direction at a proper time. They are meeting intelligentsia, genocide scholars,civil society activists,victim families and visiting killing fields and collecting details of the Genocide. The delegation members would raise the issue of Bangladesh Genocide Recognition in different European parliaments. They are convinced that Genocide has occurred here in occupied Bangladesh by Pakistanis,their Bihari consorts and local Bengali collaborators.  Genocide recognition brings in solace to victim families and survivors, pays tribute to the martyrs,ensures justice by putting the perpetrators to trial. This is absolutely necessary. Genocide denial in Bangladesh case or for that matter anywhere else paves ways for further Genocides.This visit gives us hope that we are gathering momentum in our present fight to achive International recognition of 1971 Bangladesh Genocide and sooner or later,we will earn it. Justice may be delayed but it can not be denied.