Bangladesh genocide 1971


History demands that we never stand aside as any peoplefaces violence but it seems that we never learn from history. In recent times oneonly has to look at what happened in Bosnian, Rwanda,Sudan to name a few and Bangladeshwhere I come from.

In 1971 when the Bengalis demanded independence & decidedto break away from Pakistan,its military unleashed a vicious war on the civilian population of Bangladesh (then EastPakistan). The war resulted in the creation of today's Bangladesh.  During the Liberation War of Bangladesh,widespread killings of civilians and other atrocities were carried out by theoccupying Pakistani forces and their local collaborators. The localcollaborators included a number of Islamist groups, namely Jamaat-e-Islami,Nezam-e-Islam and the Muslim League.

Ethnic cleansing

The war only lasted 9 months, from March 1971 - Dec 1971. In that period3million people were reportedly killed, 30 million were dislodged from theirhomes and 10 million had to take refuge in neighbouring India due to theethnic cleansingoperation. The minority Bengali Hindus were a "special focus of brutality" forthe Pakistanis.[1]The Sunday Times described a Pakistani conspiracy to eliminate all Hindu's fromEast Pakistan. Hindus were sought out andkilled on the spot. As a matter of course, soldiers would check males for theobligated circumcision among Muslims. If circumcised, they might live; if not,sure death.

The genocidal killings and atrocities were fuelled by anti-Bengali racism, especially against the Hinduminority. "Bengalis were often compared with monkeys and chickens. Toquote a PakistanGeneral, Niazi said, 'It was a low lying land of low lying people.' The Hindusamong the Bengalis were as Jews to the Nazis: scum and vermin that [should]best be exterminated. As to the Moslem Bengalis, they were to live only on the sufferanceof the soldiers: any infraction, any suspicion cast on them, any need forreprisal, could mean their death. And the soldiers were free to kill at will.The journalist Dan Coggin quoted one Punjabi captain as telling him, 'Wecankill anyone for anything. We are accountable to no one.' This is the arroganceof Power." (Rummel, Death by Government, p.335)

Rape of women

Estimates of the total number of victims of sexual violencerange from 200,000-400,000.[2]In October of 1971, Time Magazine described how 563 young Bengali women,allthree to five months pregnant, were being held captive inside Dhaka'smilitary cantonment. They had been seized from Dhaka Universityand private homes and forced into military brothels.[3] After the conflict, the crimesagainst women were notorious enough that Great Britain sent a medical teamto perform abortions.

Many women were raped by Pakistani armed forces andauxiliary forces under cover of military operations, and indeed, severalhigh-rankingofficers were accused of rape and other sexual crimes. Despite the widespread practice, itappears that the army took no effective steps to stop it.[4]Typical was the description offered by reporter Aubrey Menen of one suchassault, which targeted a recently-married woman:

Two [Pakistani soldiers] went into the room that had beenbuilt for the bridal couple. The others stayed behind with the family, one ofthem covering them with his gun. They heard a barked order, and thebridegroom's voice protesting. Then there was silence until the bride screamed.Then there was silence again, except for some muffled cries that soon subsided.In a few minutes one of the soldiers came out, his uniform in disarray. He grinnedto his companions. Another soldier took his place in the extra room. Andso on,until all the six had raped the belle of the village. Then all six left,hurriedly. The father found his daughter lying on the string cot unconsciousand bleeding. Her husband was crouched on the floor, kneeling over his vomit. (Quotedin Brownmiller, Against Our Will, p. 82)

The rapes of women were justified by the misuse of religion.In accordance with the Islamic principles, the women were Pakistani sex-slaves,and it was their duty to reproduce Islamic Pakistani babies, of Pakistanisoldiers, of course. The women were also seen a war booty for the victorioussoldiers.  

The women suffered further after the war ended. Suicides,abortions were common due to fear of being ostracized by the society. Manywomen left their homes and towns as families refused to accept them. Thesocietyfailed to integrate them and the new state failed to address the violence theyfaced. These women are suffering in silence for the last 38 years.

None of the generals involved in the genocide has ever beenbrought to trial, and all remain at large in Pakistan,in the UKand other countries.

As per global ranking, the Bangladesh genocide is second tothat of Nazi genocide. The UN Human Rights Commission in its 1981 reporton theoccasion of the 33rd anniversary of the Universal DeclarationofHuman Rights (UNHRC) stated that the genocide committed in Bangladesh in1971 was the worst inhistory. The UNHRC report said even if a lower range of 1.5 million deaths wastaken killings took place at a rate of between 6 - 12 thousands per day,through the 267 days of genocide.


The trial of alleged collaboratorsand the perpetrators responsible for murder, rape, loot and arson duringtheWar of Liberation was started by the first government of thecountry, headed by SheikhMujibur Rahman.

Bangladeshwas one of the first Muslim majority country to ban politics based on(sectarianism) religion under its constitution and in fact had secularism enshrinedin the constitution as one of its founding principles. On November 4, 1972 allreligion-based sectarian communal politics were abolished as per Sections 12and 38 of the Bangladesh Constitution of 1972.

Unfortunately, the assassinationof Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975 by a right wing reactionary coup haltedthe processwar crimes. As a result various governments since 1975 have been unableto prosecute or punish perpetrators of war crimes.

In addition to political unwillingness the reluctance to prosecutewar criminals could relate to the fact that the civil administration hasbeeninfiltrated by the Islamists. It is also said the Jamaat-e-Islami haveinfiltrated the army, police and other law enforcing agencies. They haveset uptheir own NGOs providing social service similar to Hamas and Hezbollahoperating in Palestine and Lebanon. Furthermore,Jamaat-e-Islami also has powerful allies in the MiddleEast.

In 1992, once again the issue of war crimes was brought intothe Bangladesh'smainstream political agenda under the leadership of Jahanara Imam, a mother whohad lost her son and husband during the war and family members of personskilled by the Pakistani army or their collaborators during the war.

Recent developments -UK/Europeaneffort

Irene Khan, ex Secretary General of Amnesty International ona visit to Bangladesh in2008 mentioned the possibility of war criminals from the 1971 conflict beingtried because there's been an international movement, an anti-impunity movementhappening in Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone.[5]

The issue of trying the war criminals had been discussed invarious international forums including the UN Human Rights Commission but thisis the first time in 37 years since Bangladesh's independence that thegovernment officially informed the UN. Bangladesh's current government hasalready sought and got the assistance of four UN experts and is moving
as per aresolution passed by parliament in February 2009.[6]

The United Nations said that some of its top war crimesexperts would advise Bangladeshon how to try those accused of murder and rape during its bloody 1971liberation struggle. "We have suggested the names of some topinternational experts who have experience in how war crimes tribunals operateacross the globe," head of the United Nations in Bangladesh, Renata Lok Dessallien,told AFP. "This is the first time Bangladesh is conducting war crimestribunals and it is important it understands how other countries have heldthem.

Furthermore, prior to this the EuropeanParliament passed a resolution on Bangladesh on the 13 April 2005 expressingits support for the demand of the trial of  Muslim political forces in Bangladesh known tohave participated in the massacre of Bangladeshi citizens and other war crimesduring the Bangladeshi liberation war of 1971.[7] The present Bangladesh government is seekingEuropean Union's assistance in its effort to initiate war crimes trials.[8]


In Europe (Germany,Sweden, France, Holland, Norway, Italy,Russia and the UK) the local European Bengali community hasbeen demanding the trial of war criminals in solidarity with groups in Bangladesh.In the UKthe local Bengali community has been vocal against the presence of allalleged war criminals andtheir associated Islamists groups and institutions.

Since 1992 and soon after the War Crimes File TV documentaryscreened on Channel 4 the UK Bengali community have been campaigning andlobbying UK government tohold trial of the alleged in the UK under Geneva Convention.

Ignoring the issued of war crimes has encouraged a cultureof impunity for which as a nation Bangladesh is still paying theprice. This immunityhas led to the rise of Jamaat-e-Islami and other extremist Islamist groups. Ithas also led to institutionalizing of violence. In fact Redress in its 2004report stated that, torture by public officials date back to the periodimmediately following independence, and they have become a regular feature in Bangladeshsince then. It appears that torture has become institutionalised, a practice that isperpetrated regardless of the government in power. It is not possible toestablish rule of law without holding the perpetrators accountable for theircrime committed at the very beginning of Bangladesh. The fact that Bangladeshas a nation has so far not provided satisfactory reparation has left manyvictims of the war, disillusioned with the country.

And,finally as resistance, progressive and secular networks already exists in theUK and Europe what is needed is the strengthening of relationships between all thecampaigning groups in Europe to ensure justice for all the victims of all thegenocides. Only our collective response will bringabout any meaningful changes.

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NB: UK Islamist connection

Soon after the independence of Bangladeshin 1971 some of the alleged Jamaat-e-Islami war criminals fled Bangladesh and took refuge in various Arab countries,Pakistan and the UK. AChannel 4 Dispatches programme aired on 1995 exposed such 3 alleged warcriminals. The Bangladeshi Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami in the UK, Germany,Italy & France has beenoperating under various charities and religious organizations.

[1] U.S. Consulate (Dacca) Cable,Sitrep: ArmyTerror Campaign Continues in Dacca;Evidence Military Faces Some Difficulties Elsewhere, March 31, 1971,Confidential, 3 pp

[2] Brownmiller, Susan, "Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape", at81.

[3] East Pakistan: "Even the Skies Weep," Time Magazine, October 25, 1971 availableonline at,9171,877316,00.html.












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