The concept of considering Genocide as a Crime has been established very strongly by the end of the twentieth century when Yugoslavian, Cambodian and Rwandan genocides were on the agenda.
by Pradip Kumar Dutta
It had to come some day. It has just started coming. We are discussing an important but sensitive topic. At the same time its a difficult to achieve target. Yes,as the headline clearly mentions,it is the demand raised by the Government and people of Bangladesh about the henious crime of Genocide on them carried out by the atrocious Pak armed forces and their cronies and collaborators in Bangladesh during the Liberation War in 1971. It has finally started coming.
The USA based Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention has issued a statement on the last day of the previous year 2021 acknowledging and recognising the said Genocide. The institute acted upon a petition made by Mr Tawheed Reza Noor,a citizen of Bangladesh and the son of a Martyred Intellectual Mr Serajuddin Hossain,who happened to be a famous journalist with progressive ideology. Though the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and many progressive organisations/individuals were working on the subject for quite some time now,it was Mr Tawheed,who brought the subject up with the pioneering organisation working on Genocide,War crimes and Crimes against Humanity all over the world. Mr Tawheed definitely deserves Kudos for this great job,very well done. The recognition came at a very appropriate time. It could not be any better than the closing day of the year in which Bangladesh was observing the Golden Jubilee of Independence and also the Birth Centenary of the country’s founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
In the statement,the Institute recognised the Crime of Genocide towards the Bengali Nation of the then East Pakistan during their War of Independence in 1971. It was observed that the West Pakistani ruling class treated the Hindus of East Pakistan (and of course the Indian Hindus as well) as their enemies. It also was observed that the Pak authorities considered the Bengali Muslims to be highly influenced by Hindus and India,so they were not ‘true Muslims’.The Pak government tried to establish to their citizens that Bengalis were a different ethnic,national and religious group trying to destabilise the country. So,they had to be treated as they deserved. On they went to destroy the National and Cultural identity of the Bengalis to make them true Pakistanis; the statement continued. Hindus,Bengali Intellectuals,Nationalistic and Progressive Bengalis were targeted and a reign of terror was unleashed upon the Bengalis that tantamount to Genocide, War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity. The statement also observed that the Crime of Genocide was carried on by indiscriminate mass killing of 3 million people,violation of chastity of 300000 women,chasing mainly Hindu but also many Muslim citizens out of their homestead to India as refugees and destruction of all forms with the clear intent of extinction of the Bengali population of East Pakistan. The Bengalis,being exploited by their West Pakistani counterparts since the creation of Pakistan in 1947, slicing colonial British India into two independent countries, revolted in 1971 and declared their Independence after being subjected to Operation Searchlight by Pak military junta on the night of 25/26th March,1971 flagging off the Genocide.
In the statement,the Lemkin Institute accorded recognition to the Genocide to pay Tribute to the victims and also called for holding the perpetrators accountable. The statement also mentioned that the citizens and countries of the world should come forward to assist Bangladesh and Pakistan to come to a reconciliation in the light of Truth and Justice. This first recognition by this prestigious institution will presumably pave the way for many more similar recognition from other International Organisations and States. But to achieve that,Bangladesh has to strive further. They have still many miles to go and many sleepless nights ahead. Rome was not built in a day. The Armenians had to keep fighting for International recognition of the Armenian Genocide for more than a hundred years to achieve partial success in the recent years.
I presume that many of my readers are aware of this recent encouraging development. I am sure that many of them also know about the Lemkin Institute’s activities towards prevention and trials of the Crime of Genocide, Mass killings, War crimes and Crimes against Humanity a in different corners of the world. It will not be out of place to introduce the great Genocide scholar Mr Raphael Lemkin and the Institute for the benefit of those,who have not yet had a chance to know them.
Raphael Lemkin was born in a Jewish family in present day Poland which was then under the occupation of Tsarist Russia. He himself was a sufferer and victim of War atrocities in both the World Wars. Being a Jew,he and his family were victims of the Nazi Holocaust too. During the first world war when their area was occupied by the invading Germans,they were subjected to all sorts of war crimes and had to abandon their destructed house to take shelter in the jungles under the threat of starvation. Though he survived the catastrophic situation,not everyone in the family, neighbourhood and the country was as lucky. Before the war,he was home tutored by his intellectual mother. After the war he went to educational institutions to study Languages. He wanted to be a Linguist and studied to become a polyglot,learning nine languages and speaking a few more. Soon he changed his mind and switched over to Philosophy. In his formation years,he studied at home and abroad and finally settled for studying Law and became a lawyer. From childhood,he was a voracious reader under the influence of his intellectual Mom. History was his specific interest and atrocities to different people and Nation during different times interested him the most. He took intense interest in atrocities towards Jews in Europe,Armenian Genocide,Mongol invasion, Assyrian Genocide(Simele massacre) and similar historical events. He found out that such atrocities as mass killing, molestation of womenfolk, destruction of properties, plundering of national wealth and such other activities were not punishable by any International law,decorum,protocol or convention. The perpetrators all went scot free by a vague idea of State Sovereignty. His choice of Law as his field of interest and professional life was guided by his intention and desire to work for some redress to the victims or sufferers of such criminal activities.
As a lawyer he attained a height so as to be a part of International meets on the subject and contributed to such assemblies rather than being a silent participant. When WW2 broke out,his native country Poland was caught up in the frenzy of war and was sandwitched between war monger Nazi Germany and the USSR. Nazi Holocaust of Jews was underway and he decided to flee from Warsaw in 1939. He made a difficult journey through the pre Baltics to Stockholm where he had a short stint as a Law Professor. By 1941 his associate in academic field Mr McDermott arranged for documentations for Lemkin to arrive in the US . Lemkin had,during his escape from Poland and stay in Sweden, accumulated enough German Government documents issued prior to and during the War which he studied and thoroughly researched after his arrival in the US. This study enabled him to establish that the Nazi leadership of Germany under under their Fuehrer Hitler planned and executed wiping out of Nations and Races to create new living space for the Germans. Hitler considered Germans as belonging to superior Race and as such other inferior Races were to perish or to serve the Germans. During this period,his studies yielded some results of his long cherished desire of doing something for the victims of wars,invasions and conquests. In 1943/4 he coined the term Genocide and brought the importance of Genocide studies to light. By now,the whole world knows that Genocide is the intent to destroy in whole or a part of any Nation,Race,Clan,Ethnic/Religious group. This may be done by atrocities like mass killing, violation of chastity of women,destruction of their property/business/homestead,causing deliberate serious bodily or mental harm to members of a group,imposing measures to prevent birth within a group,forcibly transferring children of a group to another group and such other activities of evil design. The world seemed to acknowledge his work and accept his ideas. He was chosen as an advisor to the US Judge deputed to the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. After the war was over,Lemkin dedicated his time to Genocide studies,teaching and writing on War Crimes,Crimes against Humanity and Genocide. Amongst many of the books published by him one of the most pertinent ones is Axis rule in Occupied Europe. In that book he has portrayed the totalitarianism of Axis powers leading to terrorising and mass violence to achieve their goals which led to Genocides.
During this time he drafted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which was presented to the UN assembly in 1948. The charter was ratified by 20 countries within 3 years and the Convention was adopted. Slowly the process of more and more countries ratifying the Convention grew and by now,more than three fourth of UN member countries have mulled and ratified it. The concept of considering Genocide as a Crime has been established very strongly by the end of the twentieth century when Yogoslavian, Cambodian and Rwandan genocides were on the agenda. UN and International Bodies recognised those Genocides and perpetrators were held accountable and tried/punished in Tribunals. Genocides will no longer go unpunished in any context,be it State Sovereignty or it is a sectarian violence. For establishing Genocide,War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity; the victims and the whole world will acclaim and remember Raphael Lemkin.
It will not be out of place to recount here some of the Genocides which are widely known. There have been so many others in the history of mankind that it is not possible to count those and reproduce a list without mistake. In fact,it will require an exclusive and vivid research. In fact Mr Lemkin embarked on compiling a history of all known Genocides,an ambitious project by any standard. But he could not finish this invaluable work in his lifetime which ended in 1959 after his 59th birthday. Here goes an incomplete list of widely circulated Genocides with estimated number of victims who lost their lives. Number of other victims like injured,raped,rendered shelterless,deprived of properties have not been mentioned:
Nazi Holocaust (5 to 7 million), Nazi Genocide of Polish (2 to 3 million), Ukrainian Holodomor(3 to 8 million), Cambodian Genocide (2 to 3 million), Armenian Genocide (1.5 to 3 million), Rwandan Genocide (roughly 1 million), Mongol conquests (1.5 million in the 1200s). Besides Bosnian Genocide by the Serbs had caused death of about 4% of the Bosnian population. By the definition of Genocide,we can safely mention that the destruction of Aztec,Mayan and Inca civilisations were Genocides too.
Coming back to the topic of the day,we can very well understand how much important is this first ever recognition by an International organisation, specially the one which is an authority on Genocide studies, for Bangladesh. Government of Bangladesh,leading Organisations in Bangladesh Society and progressive citizens of the country have a long way to go. Genocide on Bengalis in 1971 is well known all over the world and enough documented evidence are available in libraries,museums and archives in many countries. People of Bangladesh,a section of Pakistani Intelligentsia and progressive people in all countries of the world want a proper International recognition which may still take a long time and quite some endeavours. Armenian Genocide by Ottomans during the WW1 took relentless pursuit of the Armenians for a century and they have got partial recognition in recent years. Similarly Bangladesh as a country and all Bangladeshi citizens should remain rigidly united and ready for a rugged struggle in the International arena for the recognition of 1971 Genocide. Pakistan has not yet even apologised for their misdeed in 1971. Such cases of Genocide and related offences are never tome barred. We find stray cases of apprehension of WW2 War crime perpetrators and their trials even until recently. Unless we receive the International Recognition (By UN Bodies and different countries) we can not rest our case. The baton of the race must be handed over to newer generations until we achieve an official apology from Pakistan for the Genocide and the established War criminals are held accountable in suitable courts. We can hope that the modest beginning of the required recognition by the prestigious Lemkin Institute will bring forth the sought for recognition by others.