By Animesh Paul
Recently the European Parliament organized an event titled ‘The Forgotten Genocide: Bangladesh 1971’. The event was organized to convey the message that the atrocities perpetrated by the Pakistan Army and its local allies 52 years ago cannot be ignored in any way.
Undeniably, the Bangladesh genocide was one of the worst such events in human history. The killings, rapes, and other atrocities became widely known at the time. Yet, just as governments at the time were slow to recognize the democratic legitimacy of a free Bangladesh, the international community has still not acknowledged the genocide. Today the Bangladesh genocide has become a forgotten chapter in history. To remember and recognize the sacrifice, this event is an important step toward international recognition of the genocide in Bangladesh.
The Forgotten Genocide: Bangladesh 1971
The Hague-based international human rights organization, Global Human Rights Defense organized a conference at the European Parliament. At the conference, the organization tried to convince MEPs and the wider community that the time had come to recognize the 1971 genocide. Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Fulvio Martusillo took the initiative and organized the event in the European Parliament.
However, in his absence, his representative, communication expert Giuliana Françoisa, spoke on his behalf. MEP Isabella Adinolfi discussed the brutality faced by Bengali women during the 1971 genocide. While concluding her address, Isabella Adinolfi conveyed Martusciello’s message: “It’s time for the EU to recognize what happened in Bangladesh as a crime against humanity, more than 50 years after the nation was plunged into blood and tyranny,”
In 1971, the death of 3 million people, the rape of 2 million women, the displacement of 10 million people, and the displacement of nearly 30 million people to India shocked the world. London’s Sunday Times recognized this incident as a massacre. 8 months, 2 weeks, and 6 days of horrible scenarios were experienced by the nation. The genocide has had a tremendous effect on Bangladesh as a whole. It is highly necessary to have a comprehensive knowledge of both the past and the present to satisfy the need for recognition.
Revisiting the Past of the Bangladesh Genocide of 1971
The division of Asia’s subcontinent into India, West Pakistan, and East Pakistan (modern-day Bangladesh) came as the British Empire was ending in 1947. It was believed that West Pakistan was the more prominent, ruling faction. As a result, East Pakistan was used as a source of raw materials, funding, and labor to assist West Pakistan.
East Pakistan demanded independence because it would not put up with such oppression. With Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the newly elected Awami League leader, citizens in Bangladesh were given the authority to carry out the task of achieving independence. By their opposition, Chief Martial Law Administrator and former Pakistani army commander Yahya Khan, president of West Pakistan, became concerned. He used dictatorial military methods when working with the then-President of the United States, Richard Nixon.
The genocide in Bangladesh began on March 25, 1971, with the launch of Operation Searchlight. The operation’s initial goal was to keep Pakistan’s dictatorial rule over Bangladesh’s self-determination-minded people, and its targets included activists, academics, and soldiers. They weren’t the only victims, though. As millions of people experienced the traumatic reality of relocation, financial instability, trauma, and death, a humanitarian catastrophe erupted.
An article in the Time magazine, published in August 1971, quoted a US official who referred to the anti-Bengali racism as being the fuel that made the soldiers “willing executioners”. The chilling accounts of Archer K Blood, the US consul general in Dhaka at the time, describe the horrific sight of bodies of women who had been raped, shot, and hung by the heels in the ceilings of Rokeya Hall. There were other foreign correspondents on the ground, such as Simon Dring and Mark Tully, who reported extensively on Pakistani brutalities.
By the beginning of December 1971, Pakistani soldiers had started to retaliate, murdering about 1,000 powerful and intelligent Bangladeshis. But when tensions between India and West Pakistan reached their breaking point on December 16, 1971, West Pakistan’s military forces immediately surrendered, and Bangladesh subsequently got independence. Years after years passed by, but no signs of apology were seen by Pakistan. Even International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh addressed some crimes, Pakistan, the country whose military establishment is accountable for the genocide organization, has neither recognized its responsibilities nor acted to punish the culprits.
Genocide: Unforgotten, Reoccurring, and Unacceptable
It is not acceptable for Bangladeshis to be the only ones who recall the past while everyone else ignores it. The United Nations has made many attempts to acknowledge the genocide of Bangladeshis. Sanchita Haque, the deputy permanent representative in Geneva, has urged that the Bangladesh Genocide of 1971 be officially recognized to make the Pakistani Army responsible for its previous atrocities and fatalities. Since the UN oversees genocidal crime prevention and punishment, the UN may take measures to allay Haque’s worries. This would not only explain one of history’s most horrific occurrences, but it would also reinforce tolerance of human diversity because the past still affects us now.
Cutting it requires extensive diplomatic initiatives and activities. America has recognized the Rohingya genocide. So why is a barbaric chapter of history not recognized on March 25? The United Nations Coffee Annan Commission called it ethnic cleansing. But more than that hundred percent genocide has happened in Bangladesh. There are those reports in the US press. Senators and Congressmen of the time also have statements.
To recognize the genocide, the parliaments of different countries should pass Genocide Day on March 25. World public opinion must be formed. Then the United Nations should proceed with it extensively. And for this, the government, expatriate Bangladeshis, and various organizations must work together. If we want to do this, we have to face the opposition of Pakistan, as well as the countries that were in opposition to the liberation war of Bangladesh.
Although the opportunity to observe International Genocide Day on March 25 has been missed, efforts must now continue to recognize nine months of genocide. International recognition of the 1971 Genocide will certainly be achieved if the Bangladesh government makes a sincere effort and the Ministry of External Affairs takes very strong diplomatic steps accordingly.
At the Brussels event, diplomats, journalists, academics, politicians, and members of the Bangladeshi community in Belgium gathered to hear recognition of the genocide and for an apology from Pakistan for the brutalities committed by its military and local collaborators. They heard testimony and powerful calls and justifications from scholars and survivors, who believe that the case for acknowledging genocide must be made and should be obvious. We hope to end our wait for a hearing, even after half a century as the world must acknowledge this 1971 genocide.