A call for international recognition

The mass killings of the intelligentsia of Bangladesh and bloodbath of the citizenry in 1971 are yet to be formally acknowledged globally as genocide

Evidence abounds from the past, including the Holocaust (1941–1945) and subsequent genocides in some nations like Bangladesh (1971) and Cambodia (1975–1979), showing that the "intellectuals" have been singled out and persecuted as a distinct subset of society.

During World War II, Adolf Hitler exemplified intelligenzaktion pommern, a Nazi German operation intended at eliminating intellectuals who had become a symbol of Polish resistance. The Germans, notably Adolf Hitler, were concerned that these individuals could inspire the Polish people to defy their new German overlords and sabotage German occupation efforts in Europe. As a direct consequence of this, between 1930 and 1940, they were responsible for the deaths of more than 0.1 million intellectuals and elites in Poland.

This scenario appears to be a depiction of the operation liquidation that took place in 1971 and was carried out by the Pakistani Army and their local collaborators (eg Razakar, Al-Badr, Al-Shams). At the outset of any genocide, the criminals often take their anger out on the country's brightest minds. It is also known as eliticide or elitocide, which implies the murdering of the leadership, the educated, and the clergy of a group.

From the outset of the Liberation War, the occupying Pakistani army had tried a systematic extermination of the country's intelligentsia. On March 25 and December 14, 1971, the greatest number of assassinations of intellectuals took place. Professor RJ Rummel, a prominent expert on genocide, noted that “In East Pakistan [General Agha Mohammed Yahya Khan and his top generals] also planned to murder its Bengali intellectual, cultural, and political elite.”

The Bangladesh government published an incomplete list of 1,111 Bengali intellectuals slain during the war in 19 districts of the country in December 1972, including 991 academics, 13 journalists, 49 physicians, 42 lawyers, and 16 writers. The Bengali intellectuals were murdered in order to turn Bangladesh into a talentless state -- a tactic used in earlier genocides around the world.

The Bengali intellectuals who were slain during the genocide in Bangladesh have not received a great deal of attention, because the genocide in Bangladesh is still largely ignored on a global scale. Those responsible for the atrocities committed against the Bengali people throughout the conflict also committed rapes against Bengali women and destroyed cultural artifacts in an effort to erase the history and traditions of the Bengali people.

Professor RJ Rummel has observed, "These 'willing executioners' were fuelled by an abiding anti-Bengali racism, especially against the Hindu minority. Bengalis were often compared with monkeys and chicken… and the soldiers were free to kill at will."

After a war that lasted for nine months, the Bengali people finally gained their freedom; nevertheless, this victory came at the cost of the most horrific atrocities and genocide in the chronicles of human history, which led to the deaths of three million people. In the Bangladesh genocide, both the mass killings and the destruction of property were carried out on purpose and in a methodical manner.

Prominent academics acknowledge that what occurred in Bangladesh qualifies as genocide. However, only a minority of countries have taken the initiative to officially recognize it.

Genocide Watch made a plea to the member states of the United Nations, specifically the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and Pakistan, to classify the atrocities committed by Pakistani Military Forces in Bangladesh as genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Furthermore, it insisted that any remaining genocide leaders be brought before international tribunals with jurisdiction.

On March 24, the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience gave its official recognition to the Bangladesh genocide. Concern was voiced by the group about the fact that, 50 years after the Bangladesh genocide, no Pakistani war criminals have been brought to justice as a result of the absence of formal international acknowledgement of the atrocity.

The 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide established the term "genocide" as a crime punishable by international law. The genocide in Bangladesh is the first genocide that has occurred in contemporary times that was the direct outcome of a policy that purposefully contained the democratic aspirations of the people. Other atrocities committed in the name of racism, religion, language, or ethnic hatred occurred as a direct consequence of existing tensions.

By failing to recognize the genocide for what it was, we would be grossly disrespecting the victims and martyrs of that event. For decades, human rights organizations, families of the victims, and governments in Bangladesh have worked to have the United Nations' official recognition of genocide that occurred in 1971.

The international community is largely mute on the issue, despite having acknowledged the Armenian genocide in recent years and taken strong action in response to the genocides in Bosnia, Cambodia, and Rwanda.

The demand for acknowledgment of the 1971 genocide committed by Pakistan was raised in October by the Deputy Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations in Geneva, Sanchita Haque. To this day, 51 years later, Pakistan has neither apologized to Bangladesh for the atrocities committed by its troops, nor has it brought to justice the 195 war criminals recognized by Bangladesh in 1972.

The acknowledgement from the United Nations is significant not only for the families of the victims, but also for the aggrieved nation, which has now reached the age of 51 and is also an important member of the United Nations.

Maisha Tabassum Anima is a Criminology student at the University of Dhaka,