Geneva Conference Underscored the International Recognition of 1971 Genocide

Geneva, September 30 (EBF/OurVoice): Speakers at the international conference in Geneva said that ‘the time is right for recognition of 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, Bangladesh genocide has today become a forgotten chapter in the 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, 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 (based in Istanbul, Turkey) Rob Vreeken, Chairman of United Kashmir People’s National Party (UKPNP) Sardar Shaukat Ali Kashmiri, and member of the Genocide victim family Asif Munir 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 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 telecast by the national television channels from Bangladeshand the London-based British Bangla News channel.

It may be recalled that in 1971 Pakistan military and their local collaborators committed one of the worst mass atrocities that the world witnessed in the 20th century. The Pakistani occupation army in 9 months killed approximately 3 million people, violated over two hundred thousand girls and women and forced 10 million people to cross the border and take shelter in India. This number of people killed by the Pakistani Army is the highest in the world in such a short period of time. The 1971 Genocide by the Pakistan Army is well documented and reported in the international media and also in the diplomatic correspondences during that period.

In his video message Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Brando Benefei expressed his total support to the Bengali community which is organising through this event a debate and reflection about human rights and freedom. 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 being we cannot remain silent.

British Member of the Parliament Rushnara Ali in her speech said that her family was affected during the liberation war in Bangladesh and she 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. Moreover, an exhibition with photos and posters was held in the F-Zone in front of the UN Building in Geneva on Tuesday and Wednesday on the brutal killing, rape and torture by the Pakistani soldiers to foil the uprising of the Bangladeshi people for their fundamental rights of liberation and sovereignty in 1971. The exhibition was visited by a host of officials and guests from the United Nations and other international organisations in Switzerland.

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