Geneva conference to recognise Bangladesh genocide

AHM Abdul Hai

 Geneva: Speakers at an international conference in Geneva said that ‘the time is right to recognise Bangladesh genocide committed by Pakistan in 1971’. They said it is of great importance and an absolute necessity to honour the victims of genocide and their descendants through recognition. Recognition also implies that we are able to define which party committed the crime. Unfortunately, the Bangladesh genocide has today become a forgotten chapter in history and we know the common phrase, ‘Justice delayed, justice denied’.

They were speaking at the international conference on ‘Recognition of 1971 Bangladesh Genocide’ at the Geneva Press Club, Switzerland on 30 September 2021. Organized by the Europe-based Diaspora organisation, European Bangladesh Forum (EBF) in collaboration with Switzerland Human Rights Commission Bangladesh, the conference was addressed by the Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Brando Benifei, Member of the British Parliament Rushanara Ali MP, former Member of the Dutch Parliament Harry van Bommel, Director Programs for Asia, Programming of Deutsche Welle (DW) Germany Debarati Guha, Professor of Amsterdam Vrije University Dr Anthonie Holslag, Dutch journalist of de Volkskrant, Rob Vreeken, Chairman of United Kashmir People’s National Party (UKPNP) Sardar Shaukat Ali Kashmiri and member of the victim family Asif Munier from Bangladesh. The conference was also addressed by President of EBF UK Ansar Ahmed Ullah, Director of Switzerland Human Rights Commission Bangladesh Rahman Khalilur Mamun and EBF Netherlands President Bikash Chowdhury, while Dr Mojibur Doftori, a writer and senior researcher from Finland, presided over the conference.

A documentary film by Shahriar Kabir titled ‘War Crimes 1971’was screened at the start of the conference. Earlier in the morning, a demonstration was organized in front of the Broken Chair at the UN building, Geneva, where members of the Bangladeshi diaspora, European politicians, academics, researchers and human rights activists took part. Both the demonstration and the conference were live telecasted by the national television channels from Bangladesh and the London-based British Bangla News channel.

In his video message, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Mr Brando Benefei expressed his total support. He said, ‘EBF, which is organising this conference during the 48th Human Rights Council Session of the UN is crucial as it helps to raise awareness among the European citizens. He thanked the organizers for their continued efforts in this regard and said, ‘We need to learn from history, we need to understand the mistakes made in the past, in order to build a better world for our next generation, in Europe, all over the world including Bangladesh. Your action goes exactly in this direction and I want to reiterate that I want to support you. Today we face social injustice all over the world and as politician and human beings, we cannot remain silent.’

In her speech, British Member of the Parliament Rushanara Ali MP said that her family was affected during the Liberation War in Bangladesh and has a spiritual connection with the liberation war. She strongly criticized the sexual abuse and rape of women during the liberation war and demanded strict action against it. She called upon all political parties in Bangladesh to work together for the trial of war criminals and for international recognition of the genocide.

Former Member of the Dutch Parliament Harry van Bommel said, ‘the denial of the Bangladesh genocide is not unique, not even surprising. There are many other convincing examples of genocide and mass atrocities that are subject to public debate, both historical, political and legal debate, he said, adding, ‘I don’t need to mention the Armenian genocide of 1915 or the crimes in recent years committed against Yezidis and Uyghurs. The important difference with the 1971 Bangladesh genocide is the fact that for various reasons, this genocide has largely slipped out of public awareness.’

In her paper titled, ‘Genocide’ in Asia: Lessons from Bangladesh, China and Myanmar’, Debarati Guha, Director, Programs for Asia, Programming of Deutsche Welle said, in the early 1970s, approximately three million people were killed in present-day Bangladesh by the Pakistani army. The systematic annihilation of the Bengali people by the Pakistan Army during the Bangladesh Liberation War also targeted Hindu men, academics, and professionals. The Pakistani military also reportedly raped and enslaved at least 400,000 women. Eventually, the Pakistani military surrendered to the Indian forces, thus ending the “genocide” on December 16, 1971. But the question about the Pakistani military’s ‘intention’ to exterminate a group of people, or a large number of people for racial, ethnic or religious reasons, remains unanswered. Can we determine the ‘intention of the Pakistani forces so that their atrocities be dubbed genocide? Will the ICJ recognize it, she questioned.

Earlier, the demonstration was addressed, among others, by community leaders and Bangladeshi Diaspora members from the UK, Germany, Belgium, Finland, Netherlands, France and Switzerland.

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