It is a long time indeed. More than half a century has elapsed and we, unfortunate Bangladeshis, could not yet achieve International Recognition for 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 the 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 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 the Muslim League, Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan Democratic Party and their allies were not lagging behind. Some of them were traitors and collaborators of the occupation Pakistan Army during our Great War of Liberation.
Most political parties of West Pakistan, led by the 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.
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 the 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 formal apologizing for the crime of genocide, bringing 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 some solace to victim families. It reduces the trauma experienced by survivors and victims' 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.
In late 2021 and early 2022, three leading International organizations working with genocide studies and prevention all over the world recognized the 1971 genocide targeting Bengalis and carried out by Pakistani authorities and their associates. In their statements, the organizations have also advocated bringing the perpetrators to justice, compensation for the genocide victims and a host of measures to create examples to prevent the recurrence of such Genocides. A scholar on genocide studies whose family is a genocide victim, Tawheed Reza Noor was instrumental in working with the above-mentioned organizations in getting the recognition. Shariar Kabir of Ghatak Dalal Nirmool Committee, renowned historian Prof Muntasir Mamun, Trustee of Liberation War Museum Mofidul Huq, renowned filmmakers Tanvir Mokammel and 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. All these achievements encourage us to work in a more organized and coordinated way to do more to reach our goal.
Diaspora organizations of Bangladeshis have also been conscious of the issue. Though there had not been much of a concerted effort so far, we know of Bengalis living in the Netherlands, the UK, the USA, Germany, 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 the legitimacy of the demand and to muster the support of and create awareness amongst citizens of other countries and of course, amongst new generations 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 in 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 the Pak military started the Genocide on 25 March 1971 by launching the infamous operation searchlight. The statement also calls for trials of the criminals responsible for genocide and 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 Bikash Chowdhury Barua, a Bangladeshi Dutch citizen, takes a keen interest in the overall development of his motherland and is particularly interested in the Recognition of the 1971 Genocide. He, along with his other Bangladeshi European associates, is monitoring the issue continuously.
He has told 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, the 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 the 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.
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 closure to the issue. The 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 of a European delegation (comprising of parliamentarians, genocide scholars, rights activists and journalists) to Bangladesh is a right step in the right direction at a proper time. They are meeting intelligentsia, genocide scholars, civil society activists, victim families, 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 solace to victim families and survivors, pays tribute to the martyrs and ensures justice by putting the perpetrators to trial. This is absolutely necessary. Genocide denial in Bangladesh case or for that matter anywhere else paves the way for further Genocide. This visit gives us hope that we are gathering momentum in our present fight to achieve International recognition of the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide and sooner or later, we will earn it. Justice may be delayed but it cannot be denied.
The writer is a columnist