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Dhaka Tribune

Truly honouring the 1971 genocide victims

We owe it to the victims, freedom fighters, and supporters worldwide to extend beyond mere symbolic gestures and seek international recognition of the atrocities committed

Update : 25 Mar 2024, 09:59 AM

Bangladesh National Assembly has declared March 25 as National Genocide Remembrance day. Rightly so, we should start paying our tributes officially to the victims of 1971 genocide. It is for their supreme sacrifice and valiant fighting spirit of our indomitable freedom fighters, assisted by India and the Socialist bloc countries, that we are a proud independent nation. With the passing of the bill by lawmakers, we now observe the day, but are we doing enough? 

Some programs are chalked out formally in some of our government offices. Some of the foreign missions too devote some time to the issue in their Independence Day program. Clarion call is made to citizens to observe one minute complete black-out in the whole country at 9pm on March 25 to symbolize the black events of the genocide starting with “Operation Searchlight” starting approximately at that hour. Symbolic lighting of candles on that evening is also observed to show respect and as a mark of remembrance to the victims of the genocide. I don’t mean to hurt the sentiment, but whatever much we are doing so far, is utterly insufficient.

The atrocities in brief

It is often mentioned that our martyrs, who gave their today for our better tomorrow, are the genocide victims. Our martyrs are of course victims of the genocide, but there are more. There were between 2-400,000 of our mothers and sisters who were mercilessly physically violated during the nine months of genocide. Some of the enemy generals were on record boasting about changing our race through rape. Ten million Bangalis were forced to leave all their properties and belongings, to be looted, burnt, and destroyed and seek asylum in nearby India. There, they had to survive inhuman and unhygienic life in shanties under utter duress. 

Of course, the Indian government led by great leader Indira Gandhi supported our Mukti Bahini (FFs) and refugees to the best of her capacity. Still, the suffering was huge. International NGOs and Bangladeshi diaspora abroad also rose to the occasion and the socialist world accorded moral support. 

On the other hand, the leaders of the Western world and newly emerging communist power, China, were in support of the Pak military goons. The UN too could not act to stop the genocide. Cholera, other infectious diseases, exhaustion and malnutrition, hunger, death during improper childbirth without medical support, have caused hundreds of thousands deaths in the camps and amongst the refugees in transit. All the miseries described above and the resultant deaths come under genocide.

The 1948 UN Genocide Convention defined genocide and fixed it as a criminal offense: An intent or steps taken to destroy -- in part or whole -- a group of people. The group may be national, racial, religious or ethnic.The Convention was passed unanimously in the UN General Assembly and it came into effect in 1951 after 20-plus countries ratified it in their own parliaments. By now, close to 150 countries have done so. Incidentally both Bangladesh and Pakistan are now signatories to the Convention. Thus, Pakistan is bound to abide by the provisions of the Convention.

Both the people of Bangladesh and also Pakistan require closure to this long outstanding issue. Once it is resolved we can move forward together for development

Support from all over

To underscore our self esteem, to achieve our national right and to honour our genocide victims we must achieve international recognition of 1971 Bangladesh genocide. After the criminal killing of Bangabandhu, the efforts to this end dissipated. Wheels of history were deliberately turned back. Fortunately, in recent years civil society organizations, pro-Liberation war forces, Bangladeshi diaspora organizations, and the government have again brought the demand to light. 

Extraordinary efforts by some young and enthusiastic genocide scholars and activists have worked miracles. Seniors too supported them and so far we have succeeded in getting recognition of 1971 Bangladesh genocide perpetrated by Pakistan from four renowned International organizations working worldwide on the subject. They are Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention, Genocide Watch, International coalition for Sites of Conscience and most importantly International Association of Genocide Scholars. The issue could be raised with UNHRC through our diaspora-friendly organization BASUG of The Netherlands.

Conferences and seminars are held on a regular basis at home and abroad under the auspices of our diaspora organizations, civil society organizations, the government and even some foreign NGOs working on human rights. During the current ICJ proceedings of the Palestinian genocide case brought forward by South Africa, Bangladesh genocide has been cited as an example.

All efforts by different organizations should be compiled and coordinated by the government to work out a definite and resolute line of action as to how to get the required recognition from the UN, other international bodies, and most importantly different governments. 

A long fought battle

I have encountered the questions over what recognition will bring after so long. Well, recognition of genocides does not easily come by. Armenians had to fight for more than a hundred years to achieve the recognition of the Ottoman genocide against them. That too only partially. Many genocides have gone into oblivion without ever being recognized or talked about: expeditions of Chengiz Khan; Holodomor in Ukraine; genocides in Indonesia, Timor, Biafra, and Katanga. Nobody talks about them any more. They are forgotten genocides. 

But there are success stories as well. Rwandan, Cambodian, Bosnian genocides drew international attention pretty quickly and actions were taken by the world bodies. The case on Rohingya genocide and Palestine genocide are being heard by ICJ.

We cannot afford to let 1971 Bangladesh genocide be forgotten. We have a lot of unsettled business with Pakistan.

As for what international recognition achieves:

1) Pakistan's leadership will be under pressure to offer unconditional apology for the genocide. This will be the first victory. It will bring some solace to the genocide victims and their families. They will feel that their sacrifice had not gone in vain. It will bring back dignity to them as genocide victims.

2) As a signatory to the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, Pakistan will be bound to bring the perpetrators to justice. It may very well start with the surviving members of the accused list of 195 that Bangladesh was prepared to try, but Pakistan took the responsibility under tripartite Delhi agreement. That will again satisfy the Bangladesh government, genocide victims and their families with justice.

3) Reparations to genocide victims will be on the agenda.

4) Pakistan will have to take back its citizens who are still living in Bangladesh and willing to go back to Pakistan.

5) Bangladesh will be in a position to negotiate its due share of national exchequer as of 1971.

Both the people of Bangladesh and also Pakistan require closure to this long outstanding issue. Once it is resolved we can move forward together for development.

Bangladeshi civil society, organizations imbibed with the spirit of 1971 Liberation war, all freedom-loving progressive citizens, Bangladeshi diaspora organizations and the government of Bangladesh should act in unison and be firm on the issue of International recognition of 1971 Genocide.

Our Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs has very recently announced that a special cell will be opened in his ministry to coordinate the issue. In fact, firm resolve from the side of the government is a must to pursue the issue and it is the government who will have to raise the issue in the international forum. Together we shall have to reach the goal to make the Genocide Remembrance day meaningful and show proper respect to our genocide victims.

 

Pradip Kumar Dutta is currently engaged in the campaign for a global recognition of the 1971 genocide.

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