Harry van Bommel, Dr. Anthonie Holslag and Bikash Chowdhury Barua
At the initiative of the United Nations, the International Day for The Remembrance and Dignity of Victims of Genocide and for the Prevention of This Crime is observed on December 9th. Recognition of genocide is of great importance for the prevention of this crime and for the remembrance of the victims. For that reason, it is justified to pay attention to one of the largest genocides of the twentieth century, the one in Bangladesh in 1971.
During World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill described Germany’s actions in Europe as “a crime without a name.” After the war, that crime was given a name with the United Nations’ adoption of the ‘Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide’. This convention defines genocide as “acts committed with the intent to target a national, ethnic, religious group, or destroy, in whole or in part, a group of a particular race as such.’ This definition of crimes is included virtually unchanged in the statutes of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Court.
International recognition of genocide is not easily acquired. The genocide of the Armenians in 1915 is recognized by a number of countries and the Dutch parliament has also spoken out about this. The Dutch government is guided in its judgment by rulings of international courts, unambiguous scientific research and conclusions of the UN, as stated in the coalition agreement of the third Rutte cabinet of 2017. The House of Representatives is charting its own course and in early 2021 declared that genocide is taking place in China against the Uyghur minority. In July of that year, the House labelled the acts of IS against the Yazidi population as genocide.
Bangladesh’s independence, declared on March 26, 1971, followed 25 years of exploitation and the denial of self-government from the indigenous people. The secession of East Pakistan from the western part was accompanied by genocide committed by the West Pakistani army. Ten million people were displaced, more than 1.5 million people were murdered and some 300,000 women were raped. The international community knew about these crimes but ignored them. Pakistan was an ally of the US and had a bridging role in normalizing diplomatic relations with China. The US therefore continued to support Pakistan militarily. Moreover, Washington feared India’s close ties to the Soviet Union. In doing so, the Bangladeshis indirectly became victims of the Cold War.
The issue whether Bangladesh’s independence was accompanied by genocide is hardly controversial. Three renowned institutes come to that conclusion: Genocide Watch, the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention and the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. They call on the international community, and by extension the UN, to recognize the genocide of Bangladesh in 1971. We call on the Dutch House of Representatives, and other Parliaments to join this plea and to formally declare that there was genocide in Bangladesh.
The Netherlands would not be the first Western country to pay political attention to the genocide of Bangladesh. In October, U.S. Congressmen Steve Chabot (Republican) and Ro Khanna (Democrat) submitted proposals for recognition of genocide. In February of this year, it was proposed in the British Parliament to come to recognition. It would be to the credit of the Netherlands to strengthen its early involvement in the fate of the Bangladeshis with recognition of the genocide. On February 11, 1972, our country was one of the first countries to recognize the independence of Bangladesh. Unfortunately, that independence was accompanied by indescribable suffering for the Bangladeshis. That should not be forgotten, but should be recognised worldwide.
Harry van Bommel, former Member of Parliament
Bikash Chowdhury Barua, President, European Bangladesh Forum (EBF)
Dr. Anthonie Holslag, Anthropologist and member of the International Association of Genocide Scholars