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Genocide 1971: The inexplicable UN silence!

  • Geopolitics
  • 10 Months ago
  • 7 min read
Genocide 1971  UN silence

© NatStrat

Haroon Habib
Haroon Habib - Bangladeshi Freedom Fighter, Writer and Journalist

While the United Nations (UN) has remained silent over one of the major atrocities the world has encountered in the past century, Bangladesh, the victim nation, observes March 25 every year as National Genocide Day in remembrance of the millions who were butchered and raped in 1971.   The UN has recognized over a century-old Armenian genocide, and also the Bosnian, Cambodian and Rwandan genocides, but not the Bengali genocide, even though the massacre of civilians and mass-rape, perpetrated by the marauding Pakistani army and their local militia groups, occurred with the sole intention of suppressing and exterminating the population whose political, social and cultural rights were suppressed during the Pakistani era.

Recognizing the intensity of the terror, the then UN Secretary General U Thant has commented on June 3, 1971, in a letter to the UN Security Council that “The happenings in East Pakistan constitute one of the most tragic episodes in human history. Of course, it is for future historians to gather facts and make their own evaluations, but it has been a very terrible blot on a page of human history.”

The ‘forgotten genocide’ began on the intervening night of March 25-26, 1971, when the Pakistan Army, some 18,000 troops aided by tanks, jet fighters, combat helicopters and several thousand paramilitary forces swarmed the city of Dhaka. Code-named ‘Operation Searchlight’, it began with the clear genocidal intent to silence the Bengali uprising for democratic rights under the leadership of Bengali nationalist leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, whose Awami League party secured the mandate to rule Pakistan in its first-ever general elections held in December 1970.

Death squads roamed the streets of Dhaka, killing thousands, according to an eyewitness report filed by noted British journalist Simon Dring. He managed to hide as the military forcibly expelled all foreign journalists from the city before the cruelty began.

Ordered by military president General (Gen.) Yahya Khan, the genocide was commanded by several generals led Gen. Tikka Khan, who had vowed to “ reduce the majority to a minority …” While speaking with a group of journalists in western Jessore, Gen. Tikka had said, "Pehle inko Mussalman karo" (First, make them Muslim).  His remarks show that in the highest echelons of the Pakistani Armed Forces the Bengalis were perceived as being “not true Muslims.”

From March 25, 1971, the brutal military aggression continued for more than eight months. Not in Dhaka and other cities alone, the army spread  its brutal wings in the villages as quickly as they could.  In Chuknagar of Khulna’s Dhumuria, it exterminated an estimated 10,000 people in broad daylight alone. The victims were the majority Hindus, many Muslims, children and women; they were preparing to cross the border into India.

In recent years, two leading international bodies – the US-based Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention and the Genocide Watch – have come up with strong observations detailing the atrocities and demanding recognition by the United Nations of the heinous crimes. A bill was also placed in the US Congress seeking its recognition of the 1971 genocide.

The premier genocide study center said: “Given the lack of a broad international recognition, the Lemkin Institute calls upon the international community, including the United Nations, to urgently recognize the Bengali genocide as a way to pay tribute to the victims and to hold perpetrators accountable.” The Genocide Watch concludes:  “Throughout  the nine months of their anti-independence occupation of East Pakistan, the Pakistani Military Forces persecuted, tortured and murdered representatives of Bengali culture and identity including poets, musicians, journalists, physicians, scientists, writers, film makers… These crimes constituted the crimes against humanity”.

Even belated, the public positions of the two global genocide study groups are welcoming  because  the victims – all unarmed civilians – who fell prey to the brutalities seeking   democratic rights but got bullets and bayonets in return. And the world body is maintaining an inexplicable silence over the genocide!

The mass murder and mass rape in 1971 are well-planned, and, therefore, genocide under the purview of the UN genocide convention of 1948. The barbarity is well-covered by international media as researchers described the massacre as one of the major human slaughters in the post Second World War-era, when an estimated three million people were killed and up to 400,000 Bengali women were raped. The atrocities also drove ten million terrified people to flee their homes to the bordering Indian states.

The terror displaced a further 30 million people within the territory. Unfortunately, no international action was taken in the past half a century against the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity, and nor did the UN officially recognize the crime.

Like that of other international media, Time magazine had provided details of the massacres on August 2, 1971. It quoted a senior US diplomat stationed in Dhaka as saying, “it is the most incredible, calculated thing since the days of the Nazis in Poland”. Noted American political scientist and professor R J Rummel had said: “These ‘willing executioners’ were fueled by an abiding anti-Bengali racism, especially against the Hindu minority. ‘Bengalis were often compared with monkeys and chicken …. And the soldiers were free to kill at will.”

Most studies paralleled the Bengali massacre by the Pakistani Army with the genocide of Christian Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, Japanese rampages in China and the Nazi genocides in Europe during World War Two. The intent of the killers was clear.  “Kill three million of them, and the rest will eat out of our hands”, noted researcher Robert Pyne quoted military president Gen. Yahya Khan, while Gen Tikka Khan had said, “I want the land and not the people.”

In 1981, a report of an international body had stated:  “Among the genocides of human history, the highest number of people killed in lower span of time is in Bangladesh in 1971.”

The Pakistani Army and their local cohorts conducted genocidal rape, torturing thousands of   Bengali women. These rapes led to thousands of pregnancies, births, abortions, even suicides. Rape was conducted in a systematic manner with the aim to change the race of the Bengalis.

R J Rummel had written:  the Pakistani Army looked upon the Bengali Muslims as "subhuman" and that the Hindus were "as Jews to the Nazis, scum and vermin that best be exterminated".  This racism was then expressed in that the Bengalis, being inferior, must have their gene pool "fixed" through forcible impregnation.

 Noted researcher Adam Jones had said one of the reasons for the mass rapes was to undermine Bengali society. The International Commission of Jurists concluded that the atrocities carried out by the Pakistan Armed Forces "were part of a deliberate policy…".  The highly-regarded Indian writer Mulk Raj Anand has said: The rapes were so systematic and pervasive that they had to be conscious Army policy, "planned by the West Pakistanis in a deliberate effort to create a new race" or to dilute Bengali nationalism".  Amita Malik, reporting from Bangladesh following the Pakistan’s historic surrender in Dhaka on December 16, 1971, quoted one West Pakistani soldier as saying: "We are going, but leaving our seed behind".

The new-born Bangladesh faced a major problem with the high number of unwanted pregnancies. The Centre for Reproductive Law and Policy gave the number of 250,000 war babies. Most victims also contracted sexual infections, many suffered from feelings of intense shame and humiliation or committed suicide. Dr. Geoffrey Davis, an Australian abortion specialist who worked for the programme of rape victims, estimated that there had been about 5,000 cases of self-induced abortions.

It is also said that Pakistani officers not only allowed their men to rape but enslaved women. Acclaimed researcher Susan Brownmiller wrote: “200,000, 300,000 or possibly 400,000 women were raped. Eighty percent of the raped women were Moslems, reflecting the population of Bangladesh, but Hindu and Christian women were not exempt .... The Pakistanis, in their failed attempt of Islamization in Bangladesh, adopted this particular cruel and anti human approach of cleansing the followers of particular faith.”

In an interview in 1972, Indira Gandhi, then the Indian prime minister, justified the use of country’s military intervention in aid of the Bengali freedom fighters, saying, "Shall we sit and watch their women get raped?" The events were discussed extensively in the British House of Commons as John Stonehouse, Member of Parliament (MP), proposed a motion supported by 200 MPs condemning the atrocities.

According to the confession of a Pakistani soldier, one of the 93,000 prisoners of war who returned home safe after India, Bangladesh and Pakistan signed the 1974 treaty: “We were told to kill the Hindus and Kafirs.” The Guinness Book of Records lists the Bangladesh Genocide as one of the top five genocides in the 20th century. Anthony Mascarenhas, a courageous Pakistani journalist, gave a graphic picture of the genocide committed by the country’s army in London’s Sunday Times on June 13, 1971.

However, Pakistanis were not allowed to know about the tragedy that was unfolding in the former eastern wing of the state. The poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and others who knew were humiliated and imprisoned.

Jalladkhana of Dhaka’s Mirpur, one of the scores of slaughter-houses across Bangladesh, still bears the marks of the violence that took place in 1971. The countless names collected from various such locations across the country written on the gravestone-like pillars in the triangular courtyard gives disturbing proof of the extent of the massacre committed. “Every mass grave is an ocean of blood and tears,” said Dr M.A. Hasan, Convener of the War Crimes Facts Finding Committee. “The killing was not limited in Dhaka but spread all over. Not even infants and the elderly were spared. In some cases, the victims were dumped by the dozen in a 15-20 foot area with mutilated bodies. Most marshy land, drains and canals in Mirpur were full of bodies”, said Hasan.

Scores of noted secular intellectuals were murdered and dumped at docksides in Dhaka.  Strikingly similar and equally hellish scenes are described in the case-studies of genocide in Armenia and the Nanjing Massacre of 1937. “For month after month in all the regions of East Pakistan the massacres went on,” writes Robert Payne, the acclaimed author and researcher.

Although Pakistan has expressed “regret” over the “excesses” committed in 1971, they have always denied the allegations of genocide. But its position does not have many takers.

The UN which has declared 9th December as International Genocide Day, has not provided rational reasons for its continued failure to recognize the Bengali genocide.

An excuse given by certain quarters is the Bangladesh genocide took place in the context of the then US-Soviet Cold War, when Washington sided with Pakistan while Moscow supported India and the creation of Bangladesh. But one must admit that recognition of a genocide is not political, but a question of crimes against humanity.

The fight for humanity is to enrich human civilization, and therefore, the recognition of the 1971 genocide is not merely a demand, a formality or revenge but a loud pronouncement of the conviction that no such crimes against humanity should happen again. It is a struggle to awaken consciousness across the world and deter such heinous crimes from repeating elsewhere.

(Exclusive to NatStrat)


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