Echoes of silence: unveiling the Bangladesh genocide

As we reflect on the past, it's crucial to acknowledge the complicity of certain nations and institutions in perpetuating the suffering of our people

Tawheed Reza NoorTawheed Reza Noor
Published : 24 March 2024, 10:42 PM
Updated : 24 March 2024, 10:42 PM

Mar 25 holds a profound significance for Bangladesh, marking a solemn day of remembrance ingrained in the nation's collective consciousness, recalling harrowing experiences etched in history. Since 2017, Bangladesh has solemnly observed this day as National Genocide Day, a poignant acknowledgement of the atrocities inflicted upon its populace during one of its darkest epochs. The origins of this day trace back to the grim events of Mar 25, 1971, when the Pakistan Army launched Operation Searchlight, a ruthless crackdown on the Bengali nationalist movement, unleashing a wave of violence, mass killings, and systematic atrocities to quash the independence aspirations of East Pakistan, known today as Bangladesh. This ruthless campaign left a trail of devastation, claiming countless innocent lives and tearing apart the fabric of Bengali society.

In recognition of this profound tragedy and the unwavering resilience of the Bangladeshi people, the government designated Mar 25 as National Genocide Day. The observance of this solemn occasion encompasses a myriad of activities and ceremonies, aimed at honouring the memory of the victims, educating future generations, and reaffirming the nation's steadfast commitment to upholding human rights. Central to the commemoration is the solemn homage paid to the martyrs who made the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of independence. Across the nation, memorial services are held, where individuals gather to offer prayers, lay wreaths, and illuminate candles in remembrance of the fallen heroes, serving as poignant reminders of the sacrifices made in pursuit of freedom.

The significance of National Genocide Day extends beyond mere remembrance, serving as a catalyst for fostering national unity and raising awareness about the imperative of human rights. Moreover, it provides a crucial platform for educating the youth about the profound impact of the Liberation War and the enduring importance of safeguarding democratic principles and justice. Through seminars, discussions, and exhibitions organised by educational institutions and cultural bodies, the memory of the genocide is preserved, ensuring that future generations grasp the value of freedom and the imperative of resisting oppression.

In addition to its commemorative aspects, National Genocide Day serves as a forum for global advocacy against genocide and human rights violations. Having endured the horrors of genocide firsthand, Bangladesh emerges as a vocal advocate for international peace and justice. On this solemn day, the government and the citizens of Bangladesh reaffirm its unwavering commitment to combatting genocide, fostering reconciliation, and pursuing accountability for past atrocities, leveraging diplomatic channels and participation in global forums to amplify its voice for the oppressed.

However, while Bangladesh commemorates its tragedy, the international community's response has often fallen short. For many around the world, Mar 25 may hold little significance, overshadowed by competing global events. Yet, the events of 1971 in Bangladesh were not mere political conflicts but systematic acts of genocide, leaving behind a scarred nation and a silenced narrative. Amidst reflections on the past, it becomes imperative to acknowledge the complicity of certain nations and institutions in perpetuating the suffering of the Bangladeshi people, confronting uncomfortable truths to pave the path for healing and justice.

As we reflect on the past, it's crucial to acknowledge the complicity of certain nations and institutions in perpetuating the suffering of our people. During a time of great turmoil, the US openly aligned with Pakistan, the perpetrator state, thereby prolonging the agony endured by the Bangladeshi populace. The Bangladesh genocide stands as a stark reminder of the international community's failure to intervene in the face of mass atrocities. Despite overwhelming evidence of systematic violence, including mass killings and rape, the UN refrained from officially recognising the plight of the Bangladeshi people as genocide.

Between December 2021 and April 2023, through my advocacy efforts, three prominent international organisations – the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention (LIGP), Genocide Watch (GW), and the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) – formally acknowledged the egregious crimes committed in Bangladesh as genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Additionally, facilitated by the Liberation War Museum of Bangladesh, the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience issued a formal declaration acknowledging the genocide in Bangladesh. The recent recognition of Bangladesh's genocide by these institutions underscores the urgency of addressing this issue.

It is time for the United States to confront its past actions, reckon with their consequences, and extend a long-overdue apology to the people of Bangladesh. Just as President Joe Biden's administration acknowledged the Armenian genocide, America must also acknowledge its role in the atrocities perpetrated against the Bengali population. For far too long, the voices of the victims have been silenced, and their suffering relegated to the margins of history. As citizens of a nation founded on principles of justice and equality, it's incumbent upon us to stand in solidarity with those denied the rights and freedoms we cherish.

Again, only through acknowledgement and recognition can we begin to heal the wounds of the past and pave the way for a more just and equitable future. We urge the United Nations to acknowledge its past inaction during the Bangladesh genocide and to take concrete steps to address this historical injustice. The UN Genocide Prevention Desk must incorporate the Bangladesh genocide as a case study, alongside other well-documented atrocities, to enhance education and awareness.

Additionally, we appeal to European nations to formally recognise the Bangladesh genocide. As we commemorate 53 years since the tragic events of 1971, the absence of official acknowledgement from these countries remains glaring. By recognising the atrocities committed against the Bangladeshi people, European nations can reaffirm their commitment to truth, justice, and human rights, standing in solidarity with victims and survivors while advocating for accountability and remembrance.

We implore the perpetrator state, Pakistan, to confront the dark chapter of history and acknowledge its role in the 1971 genocide. The truth of the atrocities inflicted upon the people of Bangladesh cannot be denied or overlooked. Pakistan must take responsibility for the grave injustices perpetrated against innocent lives during that period. Furthermore, we call upon Pakistan to demonstrate genuine dedication to justice by fully cooperating in the pursuit and trial of those individuals still alive who bear responsibility for orchestrating and executing these heinous crimes.

By demanding an apology and recognition from the countries and entities, we are not seeking to assign blame or revisit old grievances. Instead, we aim to honour the memory of those who perished and give voice to the countless victims whose stories have been silenced by time. We must confront the uncomfortable truths of our history and strive for a world where such atrocities are never allowed to happen again.

[Tawheed Reza Noor is a Genocide Scholar and son  of martyred journalist Serajuddin Hossain.]