Bangladesh is on the verge of 52nd anniversary of its independence. After a nine-month violent conflict, the nation gained its freedom in 1971. During the nine months of war, the West Pakistan Army and their collaborators in East Pakistan mercilessly murdered more than 3 million Bangalees and violated more than 2 lac women. Thousands of houses were set ablaze and mass lootings were conducted by the West Pakistani occupant forces. It was one of the deadliest genocides of the world history. Unfortunately, Bangladesh has not yet received international recognition for the 1971 genocide, despite the presence of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Recently Bangladeshi Prime Minister told at the national parliament that, they are trying to achieve international recognition of 1971 genocide. Bangladesh is continuously conducting diplomatic correspondence in this regard. AKM Mozammel Haque, the minister for the Liberation War, stated in September of last year that even after 51 years, there has still been no international acknowledgement of the genocide committed by Pakistani invasion troops against the people of Bangladesh who sought their freedom. The government of Bangladesh is attempting to secure international acknowledgment of the genocide of 1971, according to statements made on numerous times by its foreign minister, AK Abdul Momen. But despite our ongoing efforts, we were unable to win such recognition.
The Pakistani occupation forces unleashed a sharp, targeted attack on the night of March 25, 1971. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the undisputed leader of the Bengali nation, was taken into custody at midnight and transported to Pakistan for imprisonment. Nevertheless, he declared Bangladesh’s independence early on March 26 before leaving. Bangalees instantly reacted to Bangabandhu’s powerful message to fight back against foreign occupation, genocide, crimes against humanity and war.
Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jewish refugee lawyer, devised the term “genocide” in 1943 to characterize the annihilation of a people or ethnic group. A definition of genocide within the 1948 Convention was formally adopted on December 9, 1948, by the international community. Academics have questioned whether the Convention has accomplished what it set out to do, focusing on three of its major failures. First, when atrocities occur, the term “genocide” is used too slowly and cautiously; second, the international community fails to successfully combat genocides; and third, only a small percentage of perpetrators are really found guilty of these crimes.
Since the 1948 Convention and its ratification in 1951, numerous genocides have taken place, but only three have been recognized and given cause for legal proceedings under the Convention: Rwanda in 1994, the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, and Cambodia under the Pol Pot regime from 1975 to 1979. The genocides carried out in Iraq against the Kurds from 1988 to 1991 under Saddam Hussein and the genocide carried out against Bangladeshis in 1971 by West Pakistan forces have also been mentioned by political scientist Adam Jones.
For three reasons, the UN should give priority to acknowledging the genocide committed against Bangalees in 1971. First of all, between March and December 1971, West Pakistani forces killed much more people in then-East Pakistan than the three UN-recognized genocides combined. Second, the genocide in East Pakistan was not simply confined to random executions but also included targeted killings such as the assassinations of intellectuals, widespread sexual assault, and arson. Finally, the Pakistani army, which has subsequently been recognized by the US and NATO as a valuable ally in the fight against terrorism, committed this genocide rather than militants.
The UN must acknowledge the genocide in Bangladesh in 1971 if it hopes to reclaim its credibility and expose a military institution that the West views as strategically significant. The least the West, particularly the US, can do is to formally recognize the genocide that occurred in Bangladesh in 1971. They can hold the Pakistani army responsible for depriving Bangalees of their right to life during the Liberation War by acknowledging the genocide of 1971. Recognition of both the 1971 genocide and the 2017 Rohingya genocide will help call out and expose two evil military institutions who threaten democracy and dignity of life.
The 1971 liberation war is our pride. It is time for the Bangladeshi government to enact legislation that will make it illegal for anybody to deny, contest, or embellish the facts of the war of 1971 or to defend those 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 USA, where the First Amendment guarantees freedom of expression, Holocaust denial words or activities are prohibited if they represent a serious threat of violence.
There are still individuals in Bangladesh who consciously deny the genocide of 1971, often donning the masks of political organizations like Jamaat-e-Islami. As part of its legal prosecution of war criminals and offenders under the 1973 International War Crimes Tribunal, the government has already arrested and convicted a number of war criminals for crimes against humanity committed during the Liberation War. But the question remains if we can adopt law or legislation like in various European countries, which would criminalize the denial of the 1971 holocaust.
The Liberation War of 1971 established our nation. Regardless of their political, religious, or cultural beliefs, every Bangladeshi must show respect for the events of 1971. People who support the 1971 genocide or are in denial about its reality essentially work to either earn public sympathy for the war criminals on trial, undercut Bangladesh’s legitimacy, or sow doubt about their own actions during the war.
Following the violent assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, issues like the Holocaust Denial Act, worldwide acknowledgement of the 1971 genocide, and even the prosecution of war criminals remained taboo for many years. Sheikh Hasina, the current prime minister of Bangladesh and the eldest daughter of Bangabandhu, overcame significant political and diplomatic obstacles to enable the war criminals’ trial. Early in 2024, we will hold another national parliamentary election. If the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League loses control of the government and another political party takes its place, the genocide of 1971 may never be recognized internationally or the Holocaust Denial Act passed. Therefore, it is crucial that the government take significant action in this area.
Before the upcoming general election, the Bangladeshi government must enact the Holocaust Denial Act. Political organizations like Jamaat-e-Islami must be banned. Along with that, 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.
We hope Bangladesh will soon receive international recognition for the 1971 genocide from the UN as it was one of the worst atrocities that the world has ever seen. The UN must do so to protect its credibility and integrity. Additionally, we hope that the Holocaust Denial Act will be passed shortly to safeguard our independence and heritage. Only if we can secure our history, we will be able to move forward proudly and 1971 liberation war will always remain our base of identity.
– The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, BangabandhuShishu Kishore Mela