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US Resolution On 1971 Genocide: Opportunity To Rectify Wrong Policy Towards Bangladesh – OpEd

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On October 15th a bipartisan R esolution 1430 was introduced in the US House of Representatives in an effort to formally recognize the crimes against ethnic Bengalis by the Pakistani armed forces in 1971 as “genocide” and “crimes against humanity.” The resolution urges the Pakistani government, among other things, to apologize to the Bangladeshi people for the atrocities that occurred in 1971. This is a significant breakthrough in the effort to get global recognition of the 1971 massacres as genocide.

Unforgotten memory of the millions

The genocide against Bengalis is perhaps one of the most horrific crimes against humanity committed in the 20th century. After several years of efforts, two US lawmakers Steve Chabot, and Ro Khanna for the first time, were able to table such a resolution in the House.

In particular, the resolution expresses compassion for the victims of Bangladesh’s nine-month Independence War and explicitly calls attention to it. Numerous Bengalis including all religious and ethnic minorities, secularists, and nationalist organizations were massacred during the infamous “Operation Searchlight”. Poets, singers, teachers, journalists, doctors, scientists, writers, and filmmakers were among the Bangla cultural and identity representatives who were persecuted, tortured, and killed by Pakistani military forces. 3 million people were thought to have perished in the crimes (an official figure of the Bangladesh government). Rape was used as a weapon of war against nearly a few hundred thousand people. Up to 50% of the population was internally displaced and nearly 10 million people fled the deadly conflict and sought protection in camps along India’s borders. Over 6 lakh individuals died in camps in India during the liberation war. 

The resolution, which is eight pages long and titled “Recognizing the Bangladesh Genocide of 1971,” calls on the US government to recognize the genocide committed by the Pakistani military during the brutal birth of the country in 1971. Additionally, it demands that Pakistan’s government acknowledge its role in the genocide, apologize formally to the government and people of Bangladesh, and prosecute, in accordance with international law, any perpetrators who are still living. 

Genocide Watch and the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention, two non-governmental organizations with headquarters in the United States, had earlier pushed for the international recognition of the atrocities as ‘genocide’. 

Americans oppose government policy

The Blood Telegram by American diplomat Archer Blood is arguably the most accurate chronological account of what transpired on that heinous March 25th night to date. On March 28, 1971, he sent a telegram to Washington with the subject line “Selective Genocide,” in which he wrote “Moreover, with support of Pak[istan] military, non-Bengali Muslims are systematically attacking poor people’s quarters and murdering Bengalis and Hindus. Streets of Dacca are aflood with Hindus and others seeking to get out of Dacca…”

50 years later, Congressman Steve Chabot, co-chair of the Bangladesh Caucus and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, tweeted, “There was a genocide [in Bangladesh]. We must not let the years erase the memory of the millions who were massacred. Recognizing the genocide strengthens the historical record, educates our fellow Americans, and lets would-be perpetrators know such crimes will not be tolerated or forgotten.”

The US government took a radically opposed political position during the liberation war in 1971 actively backing General Yahya Khan, the dictator of West Pakistan. Even though the American people disagreed with their government’s policies at the time, it supported Pakistan and even provided military assistance to kill Bengalis. The American people however supported Bangladesh’s liberation war and even brought a resolution to the US Senate to recognize Bangladesh after independence. However, the USA recognized Bangladesh in April 1972.

US Senator Edward Kennedy played a crucial role in our struggle for liberation. The International Herald Tribune published a story on August 17, 1971, titled “After Visiting Refugees in India Kennedy Hits Pakistan Genocide,” in which Senator Kennedy condemned Pakistan’s military crackdown on East Pakistan as genocide. This report was based on his visit to the refugee camps for Bengalis in India. As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he submitted a report on November 1, 1971, stating “Nothing is clearer, or more easily documented, than the systematic campaign of terror—and its genocidal consequences—launched by the Pakistan army on the night of March 25th.”

After that, so many years have passed. This time anyway, bringing a resolution to the US House of Representatives regarding the genocide has obviously reawakened the same passions in the American people toward Bangladesh, which is very appreciating. This initiative undoubtedly has touched the emotions of the people of Bangladesh.

Road to genocide recognition

Scholars and historians frequently engage in heated discussions on what constitutes genocide, persecution, atrocities, and massacre. Bangladesh argued that the Pakistan military committed genocide with an “intent to eliminate” a race, language, culture, heritage, traditional practices, and of course religion. The attempt to eliminate ethnic minorities and the rape of women constitute crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. 

The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, signed on December 9, 1948, declares that genocide “means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” and “The following acts shall be punishable: (a) Genocide; (b) Conspiracy to commit genocide; (c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide; (d) Attempt to commit genocide; (e) Complicity in genocide.”

The resolution has a lot to recommend it. Pakistan will come under pressure from the world community to unconditionally apologize to Bangladesh for the atrocities committed by its army during the 1971 Liberation War if the resolution is adopted by the US senate and signed by the US president. Similarly, Bangladesh’s attempts to get this genocide recognized internationally will be louder, bolder, and faster. Bangladesh might approach the global benchmark institutions like the British Houses of Parliament, the UN in Geneva, and the European Union parliament in Brussels to request acknowledgment of the genocide that occurred in 1971. Once UN recognition is gained, Bangladesh will have solid justification to demand bringing the perpetrators of the 1971 genocide to trial in a similar manner to the World War II criminals. 

In addition, recognizing the genocide in Bangladesh would allow Pakistan’s “military establishment” to stop the ongoing ethnic persecution of Sindhi and Baloch people, enforced disappearances, and the forced conversion of Hindu girls in the unrest-plagued provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. The resolution also presents a chance for the US administration to atone for the guilt of complicity in the massacres perpetrated by the Pakistan Army in Bangladesh by providing direct assistance and military coordination.

The fact that the USA took more than 50 years to realize what Pakistan had done in 1971 is surprising. But it is hoped that the American people won’t pass up this chance to undo the error that their government committed 51 years ago. In the same spirit that they supported Bangladesh’s struggle for freedom, they would stand by the families whose members were ruthlessly murdered by the Pakistani army in 1971. It will not only give relief to the people of America but may also reassure the safety of the people of other countries in the world.

Kamal Uddin Mazumder, Researcher and Strategic affairs analyst, Dhaka, Bangladesh

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