Acts of Killing: How Asia Still Struggles with Histories of Genocide By Ishaan Tharoor 17 July 2013
On Monday, a controversial special tribunal in Bangladesh deemed a 90-year-old man a war criminal. Ghulam Azam, the spiritual head of Bangladesh’s far-right Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, was found guilty of “crimes against humanity” for the part he played in inciting and organizing death squads that allegedly slaughtered thousands in the final bloody months of Bangladesh’s 1971 war for independence. Rather than give Azam the death sentence — as it had already ruled for a number of others connected to him — the court sentenced the frail nonagenarian to 90 years in jail. A Bangladeshi state official who hoped for Azam’s execution voiced his disappointment: “Some kind of justice is done but we are not happy.” (read more)
Bangladesh Jamaat leader gets 90 years for genocide By Haroon Habib 15 July 2013
A Bangladesh war crimes tribunal on Monday sentenced Ghulam Azam, former chief of Jamaat-e-Islami, to 90 years’ imprisonment for his role in the 1971 genocide of Bangladeshis who fought the Pakistani occupation army for independence. (read more)
Bangladesh Unrest Seen Intensifying By Syed Zain Al-Mahmood, the Wall Street Journal 30 April 2013
DHAKA, Bangladesh—Protests that have destabilized Bangladesh and challenged its garment industry are expected to intensify next week, as the country's war-crimes tribunal issues a fresh round of verdicts.
Disagreements over the tribunal, meant to heal wounds of a bloody war of independence against Pakistan in 1971, have led to mass street protests and strikes since February. The disturbances have hurt the $20 billion garment industry, which estimates it lost $500 million in orders to India in recent weeks due to street blockades and port shutdowns.
Some of the factories in the eight-story Rana Plaza building that collapsed last week, killing at least 400 people, were facing financial pressures because of lost orders, company executives have said. Rescue work continued Tuesday at the site of the accident outside the capital, with authorities saying the death toll could still rise significantly. (read more)
Marchers in Savar on Tuesday demand a death sentence for Sohel Rana, the owner of the building that collapsed last week, killing about 400. (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)
The police used a baton on a protester in Dhaka on Thursday. (Reuters)
Death Toll From Bangladesh Unrest Reaches 44 By Julfikar Ali Manik and Jim Yardley, New York Times 1 March 2013
DHAKA, Bangladesh — The death toll from violent clashes between protesters and security forces in Bangladesh reached at least 44 on Friday, one day after a special war crimes tribunal handed down a death sentence to an Islamic leader for crimes against humanity committed 42 years ago, during the country’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.
The verdict against Islamic leader, Delawar Hossain Sayedee, a leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist party, resonated across the country. It was celebrated by the hundreds of thousands of young protesters who have taken to the streets in recent weeks to condemn Jamaat and demand justice in the war crimes cases against other party leaders, insisting that those who were convicted be hanged.(read more)
Delawar Hossain Sayedee is facing a death sentence. (Reuters)
The 1971 Bangladesh Genocide
The formation of an independent Bengali state in 1971 was a result of a genocidal campaign carried out by Pakistan during the Bengali liberation movement. The genocide carried out by West Pakistan led to the extermination of close to 3 million people, along with the forced rape of a quarter of a million young girls and women. During the Genocide ten million people fled to neighboring nations to seek refuge and close to thirty million people were displaced within the country.
Photo courtesy: Press Information Dept. (PID), Govt. of Bangladesh (1972)
After India was partitioned as a result of religious conflict in the British Raj, the newly formed state of Pakistan was established with a strong Muslim majority in 1947. The region of Bengal was divided along religious lines. The predominantly Muslim eastern half was designated East Pakistan and became part of the newly independent Pakistan. West Pakistan is the Pakistan we know today.
From the creation of the independent Pakistani state, animosity existed between East and West Pakistan due to linguistic, cultural, and ethnic differences. These tensions grew even stronger as West Pakistan tried to impose Urdu as the sole language of both East and West Pakistan. Urdu was only spoken by 7% of East Pakistan’s population, most of whom spoke Bengali. Bengali students and other citizens strongly resisted such neo-colonialism but their resistance was met with increasing restrictions imposed by West Pakistan in an attempt to wipe out not only the Bengali language but to eliminate what was seen as a “Hindu leaning” culture. Bans were placed on certain words, literature, and music that were deemed too “Hindu leaning.”
As a response to West Pakistan’s attempts to eliminate Bengali culture, Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani along with other East Pakistani leaders created the Awami League to promote Bengali interests. During the1970-1971 elections the Awami League won almost all the East Pakistan seats in the Pakistan national assembly, and would have become the majority party, since East Pakistan had more seats than West. Following the election West Pakistan initiated talks on power allocation. The unsuccessful talks ended in 1971 when the Pakistani President Yahya Khan indefinitely postponed the pending national assembly session and banned participation in the Awami league, which prompted many of it’s leaders to flee to India to seek refuge and set up a government in exile..
In the weeks leading up to the first massacres in 1971, generals in West Pakistan planned a campaign of genocide to crush the Awami League’s campaign for independence of Bangladesh. President Yahya Khan stated that to stop Bengal’s secession from Pakistan, Pakistani troops would have to "kill three million of them (Bengalis)." He called this plan his “Final Solution.”
On March 25, 1971 West Pakistani troops began massacres of unarmed citizens in the capital city of Dhaka. The main targets during the first massacres were students and professors at Dhaka University, the Bengali police force, Bengali Paramilitias, and the Hindu minority. The Pakistani elite believed that the roots of the liberation movement were Bengali intellectuals and Hindu minorities.
The first massacre in Dhaka left 7,000 people dead in a single night. The massacre failed to quell nationalist sentiments. Instead on March 26th Bangladesh declared independence from Pakistan. Nationalist pride grew as the news of the March 25th massacres spread to surrounding areas and an amateur Bengali army was assembled. The small ill-equipped army failed to keep Pakistani troops out of Bangladesh and led to a large number of casualties along with the displacement of many Bengali nationals into neighboring countries. The first six weeks of the genocide was characterized by weak, uncoordinated counter-attacks by Bengali militias and mass slaughter of Bengali civilians by the West Pakistani army.
To combat the larger Pakistani army, Bangladesh increased the number of its guerilla troops and sought external support, especially from India. As the violence intensified, mass rape was used as a weapon of war by the Pakistani army. Women were raped in their homes in front of their families to cause lasting mental and physical trauma. They were also taken to rape camps. It is estimated that 200,000 women and girls, from 8 to 75 years of age, were raped during the genocide.
In the final weeks of the liberation war, India heavily supported Bangladesh. To retaliate Pakistani forces pillaged and destroyed towns and villages. Large-scale massacres were perpetrated by Pakistani troops in the final weeks of the conflict. Intellectuals and professionals were systematically exterminated, using a list of names created by Major-General Rao Forman Ali. On December 16th, 1971 Pakistan surrendered to Bengali and Indian troops, but only after three million lives had been lost and tens of millions of people had been displaced.
After the Bangladesh Genocide there were years of “national forgetting.” While many nations reached out to support Bangladesh after the genocide, Bangladesh government policy was more to cover up and forget the genocide than to seek justice and reparations.
India brought a case against Pakistan to the International Court of Justice for violation of the Genocide Convention (the first legal case ever brought under the Convention), but dropped the case by diplomatic agreement. Bangladesh resisted any action to bring the genocide to the international court.
Women who were raped were left without support of their male family members, were rejected as polluted, and left to support themselves. The rate of suicides following the genocide increased substantially due to feelings of shame and dishonor. The state launched large-scale international adoption and abortion campaigns to “cleanse” the nation of Pakistani children of rape. A national “Marry Them Off” campaign was also launched to marry widows and victims of rape to restore the nation, as part of the campaign of national forgetting.
Successful trials were never held for the war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed by the Pakistani Army. Indeed many of the Generals who led the Genocide were promoted and one even became President of Pakistan.
Send information to: Bangladesh@genocidewatch.org.