Author: Wali-ur Rahman
Publisher: Bangladesh Heritage Foundation
Place: Dhaka, Bangladesh
If someone ever asks me how to understand Bangladesh better, my advice is: start by studying its International Crimes Tribunal. I would say this is perhaps the best way to know about Bangladesh contemporary history and politics. That is what happened with me. The International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh tells us a lot about the country’s past and present; about its independence; about its cultural, ethnic and political tensions; and about its struggle to find justice, peace and prosperity. The book “Forgotten War: Forgotten Genocide” was written in 2011 by my good friend H.E. Ambassador Wali-ur Rahman and it is an ideal tool to understand everything about these issues.
From 1947 to 1971 Bangladesh was part of Pakistan and before it was under the British Raj. Bangladesh, or East Pakistan, had a very different culture and language than West Pakistan, which the rulers of Islamabad did not recognize. On the end of 1970, Pakistan held the first general elections in its History and the Awami League party (from East Pakistan, now Bangladesh) won the elections by far, gaining more than half of the parliamentary seats. However, President Yahya Khan refused to hand out the power to the Awami League and, on the 7th of March 1971, its leader Sheik Mujibur Rahman declared in front of 2 million people in Dhaka “our struggle is for our freedom, our struggle is for our independence”. Yahya Khan met with Pakistan Armed Forces and started a terrible crackdown in East Pakistan, which resulted in 9 months of war, ending with the independence of a new country, Bangladesh.
But meanwhile, heinous crimes against humanity were committed and probably the biggest world genocide after the Holocaust happened, causing the death of about 3 million people. As Wali-ur Rahman says in the book,
In the short period of 9 months we lost 3 million people and 2 lac mothers and sisters lost their virginity. It is believed in certain quarters that a figure of three million has its origins in comments made by Yahiya Khan to the journalist Robert Payne on 22 February 1971: “Kill three million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands.” (page 31)
The Pakistani military forces and its local collaborators were particularly brutal and, as ordered,
attacked systematically and on a widespread basis the Bangalees on an ethnic ground; they attacked Hindu Bangalees on a religious ground; they attacked Awami league supporters on a political ground. So it is evident that they made their attacks being discriminated politically, racially, religiously and ethnically and the attack was systemic and widespread if we take into account the occurrences of the attacks during 9 months and the number of victims. (pages 41-42)
From this results that
by September 1972, nearly 41.000 collaborators were arrested and charges were brought against 37.491 collaborators against whom there were specific allegations. Till October 1973, 2.848 cases were heard by the 73 Collaborators Tribunals and 752 were convicted. During the trial, on April 17, 1973 the government issued a Press Release as regards war criminals for the first time. In the Press Release 195 persons were termed as war criminals. (page 35)
According to the book, the religious affiliation of victims during the 1971 war were Muslims (56,50%), but also Hindus (41,44%) and Christians & Others (2,06%). Incidents of History – explained in the book – only allowed Bangladesh to form a fully working tribunal to judge the 1971 crimes against humanity on 2010, almost 40 years later. But it is better later than never. The idea of such a tribunal comes from a considerable tradition of International Crimes Tribunals formed since the 2nd World War in many occasions and places. This is a list of them:
- Nuremberg Tribunals (Nuremberg, 1945-6)
- Tokyo Tribunals (Tokyo, 1946)
- The International Crimes Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia ICTY (Hague, 1994)
- The International Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda ICTR (Arusha-Tanzania, 1996)
- Special Courts for Sierra Leone (Sierra Leone, 2002)
- Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia ECCC (Cambodia, 1997)
- Hybrid Tribunals for East Timor (Dili, 2000)
- International Crimes Tribunal (Bangladesh, 2010 - present)
It is very important for Bangladesh to finally overcome this wound. Present democratic leaders of Bangladesh realized that if impunity keeps triumphing like it did for the last 40 years in Bangladesh, the country would never overcome this wound and punish some of the worse war criminals of the 20th century. It is very important for Bangladesh that the international community supports its International Crimes Tribunal. Proper justice is crucial to gain peace and for the nation to move forward.
I strongly recommend the reading of this book because it helps us to remember the forgotten war and to know why and how the International Crimes Tribunal was formed: for the sake of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Reading this book you will be able to understand the importance of judging these crimes still today, as the impressive Shahbag youth protests in 2013 clearly showed. When this process ends, Bangladesh will be finally able to move forward and embrace exclusively its future. May this beautiful country and its heroic people be blessed with the best things that exist.