Bangladesh is fighting for the international recognition of 1971 genocide even after 52 years of independence. The history of our independence is written with rivers of blood unlike any other nation of the world. In 1971, the then West Pakistani rulers with the aid of their East Pakistani allies conducted the most heinous genocide on the Bangalees. Bangladesh is still fighting for the international recognition of the 1971 genocide. While trying to attain so, we must also adopt some policies to ensure that, the idea is upheld at core by each and every Bangladeshi.
The 1971 genocide, known as the Gonohotta, began on 25 March, 1971 when Operation Searchlight was put into motion by the Pakistani government, which was dominated by West Pakistan, in an effort to repress Bengali movements for self-determination. It is estimated that 30,00,000 people were killed and 200,000 Bengali women were raped during the nine-month Bangladesh Liberation War by members of the Pakistan Armed Forces and supporting pro-Pakistani Islamist militias from Jamaat-e-Islami, Al Badr, and Al Shams, making it the largest genocide since the Holocaust during World War II. In order to save their lives and the dignity of their women, 10 million people were compelled to cross the border into India, abandoning their ancestral houses and material things in the process. Also, over 20 million citizens were internally displaced.
Bangladesh is consistently placing diplomatic correspondence in an effort to have the genocide of 1971 recognized internationally. However, despite our continued efforts, we failed to get such recognition. The UN Human Rights Council has included the demand for international recognition of genocide committed by the Pakistani forces and their associates against the Bangalees during the Liberation War of Bangladesh. The demand is included as item three on the agenda of the 53rd session of the UN Human Rights Council, which runs from June 19 to July 14. This statement was given to Antonio Guterres, secretary general of the UN.
In compliance with ECOSOC resolution 1996/31, the statement was released on May 29 and reaffirmed the need for “International Recognition of the 1971 Genocide.” The demand for the acknowledgement of the genocide in Bangladesh in 1971 was made in a statement that cited historical evidence, scholarly study, and a bipartisan resolution introduced in the US House of Representatives last year. It demanded that the UN General Assembly and other international organizations legally recognize the genocide that occurred in Bangladesh in 1971 in order to give justice to the victims of the atrocities and bring the perpetrators to justice.
All Bangladeshi citizens should acknowledge the genocide of 1971, which we are working to have the world recognize. The 1971 liberation war is our pride. The Bangladeshi government has to pass laws that will make it unlawful for anybody to dispute, exaggerate, or otherwise misrepresent the events of the war in 1971 or to stand up for individuals who have been found guilty of war crimes. The Holocaust denial legislation enacted by Israel and the twelve European countries can be taken as an example. Even in the United States, where the First Amendment ensures the freedom of speech, Holocaust denial-related statements or actions are illegal if they pose a significant risk of violence.
In Bangladesh, there are still people who consciously reject the genocide of 1971, frequently going by the guises of political groups like Jamaat-e-Islami. The government has already detained and found guilty a number of war criminals for crimes against humanity committed during the Liberation War as part of its legal prosecution of war criminals and offenders under the 1973 International War Crimes Tribunal. However, it is still unclear whether we can pass legislation that would make it illegal to deny the genocide of 1971.
Top Jamaat-e-Islami leaders often made ill remarks about the 1971 liberation war and freedom fighters. Deceased Amir of Jamaat Ghulam Azam on multiple occasions said that, they have not done anything wrong in 1971. During the caretaker government’s regime in 2007, Jamaat’s secretary general deceased Ali Ahsan Md Muzahid told that, there was no anti-liberation forces in Bangladesh, there was no war criminals and it was all fake and imaginary. Former Secretary and Jamaat supporter Shah Abdul Hannan during the same time in a talk show said that, we need to confirm if 1971 war was war for freedom or a civil war. The Jamaat leaders even threatened to punish the judges who were involved in the trial of the war criminals. BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia once questioned the number of martyrs in 1971 as she raised her doubts that the number of martyrs is exaggerated. BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir recently said that, people were better off financially and in terms of quality of life under Pakistan’s military regime. Such remarks from any political parties are completely unacceptable.
There is a rift among Bangladeshi citizens if the leaders and supporters of various political parties persistently cast doubt on various accepted facts of the liberation war and freedom fighters. Furthermore, such utterances send the wrong impression to a worldwide audience even if we are calling for international acknowledgment of the genocide of 1971. We cannot expect the world to recognize our loss or struggle if we are not united on the facts of our national events, especially the one relating to our birth.
We can find in different countries around the world that, though there are different political parties and ideologies, in terms of the national root, they hold strong unity. For example; despite different political views, no one question Mahatma Gandhi in India, Abraham Lincoln in the USA, Ho Chi Mihn in Vietnam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Pakistan, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Vladimir Lenin in Russia, Winston Churchill in the UK, Mao Zedong in China, Kemal Ataturk in Turkey etc. Neither none questions the history of their nation’s birth. They all take pride over their nation and its founding fathers. But in Bangladesh, many groups and individual often raises questions over the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and our 1971 liberation war. Holocaust Denial Act can come out as the only solutions to such unpatriotic act.
After Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was brutally assassinated in 1975, topics like the Holocaust Denial Act, global recognition of the 1971 genocide, and even the prosecution of war criminals were taboo for decades. The war criminals’ trials were made possible thanks to Sheikh Hasina, the eldest daughter of Bangabandhu and the current prime minister of Bangladesh. We will hold next national legislative elections early in 2024. The genocide of 1971 may never be acknowledged worldwide, and the Holocaust Denial Act may never be passed, if Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League loses power. Therefore, it is essential that the Bangladeshi government pass the Holocaust Denial Act as soon as possible before the next general election.
Additionally, all the political parties must adopt full acceptance of the 1971 liberation war facts in their party constitution. If any party does not accept the liberation war, the contribution of freedom fighters or the facts about the father of the nation, then that party does not believe in the sovereignty and independence of Bangladesh. Hence, those parties should have no right to do politics on the soil of independent Bangladesh.
A part of our politics is dependent on the religious bias be it of Jamaat-e-Islami, Hefazat-e-Islam, Bangladesh Tarikat Federation or many other parties. Religion is completely different when it comes to politics and democracy in Bangladesh. Every party and every citizen must uphold the values of 1971 liberation war. If we all uphold that value at our core, then it will be much easier to attain international recognition of 1971 genocide as well as to sustain democracy in Bangladesh.
We must step up our diplomatic efforts to have the genocide of 1971 recognized internationally. International acknowledgement of the 1971 genocide may never happen if we do not move swiftly within our borders to enact the Holocaust Denial Act. Our failure in this area will also help anti-sovereignty forces to keep distorting our proud history. Only if all the citizens of Bangladesh can get united on the national facts and events, then only we can achieve the global recognition of 1971 genocide.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Editor at Kishore Bangla