The case for UN recognition of Bangladesh genocide

Dhaka,  Fri,  21 July 2017
Published : 16 Mar 2017, 20:58:49
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The case for UN recognition of Bangladesh genocide

Shihab Sarkar
To a number of people in the last forty-five years, the 9-month-long Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971 has been little more than a period of 'confusion' --- 'Gondogol' in Bangla. When it comes to the genocide let loose by the Pakistan occupation forces on the unarmed Bengalees, they fumble and try to get away with non-committal murmurs.

A section of people have all along been opposed to the spirit of the Liberation War. They dither about the martyrdom of the Freedom Fighters. In unavoidable circumstances, these people approve of the war, but they have their own interpretation. They have difficulty recognising the announcement of the proclamation of Bangladesh independence and the formation of the war-time government-in-exile on April 17, 1971. Foremost of all, they do not give Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman the credit of declaring Bangladesh independence on March 26. These distressing trends took root after the assassination of the supreme independence leader on August 15, 1975.

In the last four decades, belittling the 1971 genocide by a section of political parties and creating a smokescreen around it by some others became a troubling reality. Many just stopped short of denying it outright. The topic of the genocide that wiped out three million people remained limited to seminars and symposiums. Lately, attempts are being made by some quarters to lighten the extent of the genocide's barbarity. All these and the recent attempts in Pakistan to distort the facts of the genocide have warranted an urgent step by Bangladesh: Getting international recognition for the carnage committed by Pakistan occupation forces in 1971.

Against this backdrop, the Jatiyo Sangsad unanimously adopted a resolution on March 11 to observe March 25 as the Genocide Day. It is a welcome therapy to treat a sort of national amnesia. On March 25 in 1971, Pakistan Army personnel swooped down on the freedom-loving people to begin a nine-month spate of indiscriminate killings. 

While placing the motion, lawmaker Shirin Akter proposed that necessary initiatives be taken to get international recognition for the killing orgy, which has been termed by scores of researchers and historians as one of the most brutal pogroms in history. The Day is set to be observed from this year.

Despite not being recognised by the United Nations and the other regional and world bodies, the 1971 Bangladesh genocide has long found a place among the great war-time tragedies. The global print and audio-visual media did not bypass the brutality. They began giving coverage to the carnage from March 26. It was the very day after the Pakistan occupation army began its notorious Operation Searchlight, a brutal killing mission, obviously to thwart the people's movement to attain liberation. Hundreds of books have been written on the genocide that witnessed the planned extermination of three million people in occupied Bangladesh.

That this hideous crime has yet to be formally and unanimously recognised internationally, especially by the UN and Western powers, is unconscionable. Thanks to the blatant and subtle strategies to wipe out the vestiges of the Liberation War and its spirit in the post-1975 period, an atmosphere of dread was created. The confused nation had to wait until 1996, when the party that had virtually led the Liberation War, returned to power. From that time on, the War and the Freedom Fighters continued to be in the national focus. The media and the progressive intelligentsia have re-enacted the true picture of the Liberation War. The recent parliamentary resolution to observe the Bangladesh Genocide Day annually emerges as a watershed in the nation's history. 

With the observance of the Day beginning from this March 25, and the national campaign to include it in the list of UN-recognised genocides, the events related to the country's birth find their proper place in history. Though belated, the nation has not failed its future generations in keeping them informed of the details of its creation.

 The United Nations on December 09, 1948 unanimously adopted a convention on genocide, identifying it as a "crime committed with the intention to destroy in whole or part of a national, ethnical, racial or religious group." But the Bangladesh genocide has yet to enter the chronicle of the UN-recognised planned slaughters. 

The 20th century civilisation is smeared by a number of brutal genocides. The prominent among them include, apart from the Jew killings in the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, the Cambodian Genocide, the Rwandan Genocide and the Bosnian Genocide. The world body has not failed to recognise these 'crimes against humanity". Since the entry of the word 'genocide' into international laws over six decades ago, the UN has promptly recognised mass slaughters as "crimes against humanity". In 1985, it recognised the killing of hundreds of Armenians between 1915 and 1917 as genocide, as well as the mass murder of Jews by Nazis. It recognised in June 1994 the 100-day killing of an estimated 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis by the Hutu-majority government soldiers and thugs the same year.

A total of 1.5 million Armenians are claimed to have been slaughtered in Turkey in 1915-17. The killing spree followed the invasion of the Ottoman Empire by the Russians with whom the Armenians were alleged to have sided with. Ankara puts the number of the Armenians killed at 300,000 which resulted from a "civil war" during World War-I. 

The Bangladesh Liberation War and the concomitant genocide were free of any haze. In 1971, an all-out Liberation War was fought by the Freedom Fighters against a fully equipped professional army of Pakistan. At stake was the freedom of Bangladesh, then occupied by the Pakistani marauding army. The virtually bogged-down in Bangladesh, the Pakistani soldiers resorted to the killing of innocent people to avert their humiliating defeat. In the nine-month period of March, 1971- December, 1971, three million people were gunned down, burnt or tortured to death. By its sheer extent in volume and savagery, the Bangladesh genocide dwarfs all other planned killings in the 20th century. Many historians liken the Bangladesh genocide to ethnic cleansing. For nine months the whole occupied country remained a land where death stalked everyone everywhere. Hundreds of innocent people were burnt to death mercilessly after their villages or suburban neighbourhoods had been set afire. Thousands others were gunned down. Corpses tied together and dumped into rivers and canals were common sights during the occupation period. It's time the UN recognized the Bangladesh genocide.

shihabskr@ymail.com

 
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