The Hague, 26 March (EBF/OurVoice): The celebrated former Pakistani diplomat and writer Husain Haqqani at an international conference at the Leiden University in the Netherlands said that after the increasing international recognition of the Armenian genocide, almost a hundred years after the genocide had been committed, a lot of people in my country of birth Pakistan, have tried very hard to try and see if they can either minimize or deny what happened in 1971 in Bangladesh. What happened in Bangladesh is a crime, said Haqqani the former ambassador of Pakistan in Washington adding, the atrocities that took place in 1971 in what is now Bangladesh needs not only acknowledgment but also a collective apology by the state and government of Pakistan so that this chapter at least if cannot be closed, but can be brought to some kind of closure.
Other speakers reiterated the demand for international recognition of 1971 genocide in Bangladesh committed by Pakistan. They said, it is of great importance and an absolute necessity to honour the victims of Genocide and their descendants through recognition. To achieve the goal of peace and justice after committing such crimes, it should have been widely acknowledged at the time. Bangladesh is still waiting for an apology and has been looking to other countries to recognise what happened in 1971.
They were speaking at the conference titled ‘Bangladesh: Justice after genocide’ at the Hague faculty of Leiden University. The conference, which is a follow-up of the last event on ‘International Recognition of Bangladesh Genocide in 1971, was organized by the Europe based Bangladeshi diaspora organization European Bangladesh Forum (EBF) in collaboration with the Leiden University UNICEF Student Team, the Hague and Southeast and South Asian (SESA) Club by Community of International Relations and Organisations Students (CIROS).
A total of around 72 participants, mostly university students from different universities in the Netherlands joined the conference and took part in the discussion during the two question and answer sessions. The conference was addressed by the visiting former Pakistani ambassador to the USA and currently Director, South and Central Asia, Hudson Institute, Washington, Dr. Wolfgang-Peter Zingel, South Asia Institute (SAI), University of Heidelberg, Germany, Mahjabeen Khaled, former Member of the Bangladesh Parliament, Dr. Tommaso Virgili, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at WZB Berlin Social Science Center, Berlin, Germany and Chris Blackburn, Communications Director, Swiss Inter Strategy Group; ‘Friend of Bangladesh’ Award Recipient, London. Rohan Sharman of Leiden University International Studies and Head, Southeast and South Asia Club gave the welcome address and Bikash Chowdhury Barua, President of EBF chaired the sessions. Manju von Rospatt of Leiden University College, Liberal Arts and Sciences and General Volunteer Coordinator and Board Member of the UNICEF Student Team and Mai Li Julienne of Nijmegen University conducted the two Question and Answer Session. Mahjabeen Khaled and Chris Blackburn took part in the conference virtually. A 10-minute documentary film titled; ‘War Crimes 1971’ was also screened on the day. The conference was live telecast by the London-based British Bangla News.
Speaking on the day Dr. Wolfgang-Peter Zingel, who is also an expert on Bangladesh, said, ‘initiatives like this conference are needed to keep up the memory. So, what else could be done, he questioned saying, a first step would be that historians and other researchers from Bangladesh and Pakistan and/or representatives of the civil society meet personally on neutral ground and together examine historical evidence. This, he continued, will be not easy, but easier now, after none of the major actors are still alive.
In her speech former Member of the Bangladesh Parliament Mahjabeen Khaled shared her personal story saying,‘that topic is very personal to me and my family’ and ‘The war of liberation defines me and what I am today’. She further states, ‘1971 liberation war has narrated thousands of personal stories’ and Mahjabeen Khaled said ‘We will hope that in the 21st century the global community will stand alongside with Bangladesh, not just to remember, but also to recognise the Bangladesh Genocide of 1971’
Paying rich tributes to Bangabandhu, founder of Bangladesh, the former ambassador of Pakistan in USA said, ‘had he lived, I am certain he would have supported the idea of a formal apology from Pakistan for the tragedy inflicted on the people of Bangladesh during their war of liberation. This demand is supported by fair-minded people, like Pakistani dissidents like me, the Pakistan diplomat said adding, collective apologies help heal wounds and enable nations to deal with past wrongdoing. Bangabandhu’s life and struggle make him a hero for the people of Bangladesh and other nations but in a fairer world, he would not have had to face the repression and injustice that he fought at great cost to himself and his family, Haqqani further said.
War crimes have been brought to Europe again. This city of international justice is watching current events with great trepidation. The Netherlands is still haunted by the ghosts of World War II. The Nazi Occupation and the death of thousands of Jews, like Anne Frank, are woven into the national fabric. We can’t forget the dehumanisation, gas chambers, and the barbarity. We shouldn’t forget they continue to happen again and again. We are told ‘never again’, but we know real politik and selfish national interest get in the way. Profit and power before people. The Balkans are still raw because of the ethnic cleansing of the 1990s and today Ukraine is under intense bombardment.
In his video message from London Chris Blackburn said, ‘the issue of recognition for the 1971 genocide is very important. We need to keep reminding people of this genocide issue. Pakistan is labouring under guilt and lies, Blackburn said adding, it hasn’t learnt any lesson from 1971 because it has never been made accountable for its behaviour. A new generation of Afghans, Balochis, and others are the direct victims of global failure to hold Pakistan to account. I believe we need to make them pay, he concluded.
Speaking on the day Dr Tommaso Virgili said, in 1971 Bangladesh was born as a secular state, but this character was progressively lost in time. In 1975, Jamaat e Islami was made legal again. In 1977 the reference to God Almighty was introduced in the Constitution, and secularism deleted (before being restored in 2010); in 1988 Islam became the state religion.
In the question and answer sessions the participants wanted to hear more about the next steps needed for the recognition of the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide. Haqqani pointed out how important small events are, to keep the memory and gain in depth information from the people who remember this Genocide, as Dr. Wolfgang-Peter Zingel said. Dr. Tommaso Virgili agreed and indicated the importance of Recognition for the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide “Memories are used to make justice”, he opined.