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Doing justice to history, a powerful call in Brussels for recognition of the 1971 Bangladesh genocide

On March 25, Bangladesh celebrates Genocide Day. This is the anniversary of the brutal suppression campaign by the Pakistani army in 1971, which claimed three million lives. International recognition of the genocide committed against the Bengali people by mass murder, rape and torture is now a strong campaign. The Bangladesh Embassy organized a special event in Brussels to mark the anniversary. This was an important step forward, writes Nick Powell, Political Editor.

The Bangladesh genocide was one the most horrific such events in human history. At the time, the killings, rapes, and other atrocities were well-known. There was widespread support in 1971 from the global public for the struggle for freedom for the people of East Pakistan. The international community still has not recognized the genocide, even though the governments of the time did not recognize the democratic legitimacy and freedom of Bangladesh.

The Brussels Press Club was a gathering of diplomats, journalists and academics as well as politicians and members from the Bangladeshi community of Belgium. They heard a compelling case for Pakistan to recognize the genocide and offer an apology. The group heard powerful testimony from survivors and scholars, and was able to hear compelling calls for and justifications for genocide.

Genocide Watch’s founder, Professor Gregory H Stanton warned that recognition is essential for healing. He noted that the United States government has yet to recognize the Bangladesh genocide. In 1971, the US Administration of Nixon–Kissinger was also silent, refusing to offend its Cold War ally Pakistan.


Professor Stanton suggested that the US should recognize the genocide as an act of genocide. He also claimed that the US should acknowledge the stance taken in Dhaka by Archer Blood, its Consul General, who destroyed his diplomatic career and sent to the State Department a letter signed by several American officials, refusing to close their eyes to the events.

Bangladesh Ambassador Mahbub Hassan Saleh

They wrote that “our government has demonstrated what many will consider moral bankruptcy”. Even 2016, Mahbub Hassan Saleh, the Bangladesh Ambassador, said to the audience in Brussels that Henry Kissinger, then President Nixon’s National Security Adviser, admitted that Pakistan had “resisted violently” and “committed gross human rights violations 45 years after his complicity in the 1971 genocide.

The Ambassador noted that Pakistan’s military were not only waging war against the Bengali population, but also against the man who won such a huge election victory in East Pakistan, that he was the legitimate Prime Minster of the entire Pakistani nation, Bangabandhu Shaikh Mujibur Rahman. He was able to declare independence on the legal basis, but he waited until last minute before the Pakistani military began their genocidal war.


Anthony Mascarenhas’ brave reporting brought the truth to the surface. His account was simply headlined “Genocide” in the Sunday Times. Professor Tazeen Mahnaz Mudshid read the quote from a Pakistani commander at the Brussels Press Club. “We are determined that East Pakistan is free from the threat of cessation once and for all, even though it means killing two millions people and governing it as a colony of 30 years.”

Professor Tazeen Mahnaz Murshid

Professor Murshid was a genocide survivor herself and brought out the true nature of this crime against humanity. It was an attempt at imposing a final solution. This was a dehumanizing culture of impunity, supported by the moral bankruptcy international. India was the exception to this rule, which hosted millions of refugees and had to endure ‘pre-emptive ‘Pakistani’ raids on its airfields. India sent its troops to East Pakistan after being attacked. This ensured victory in the liberation struggle for Bangladesh and the birth of Bangladesh.

The targeting of intellectual, cultural and political leaders was another sign of genocidal intent. Shawan Mahmud, daughter of Alaf Mahmud, a martyred composer, lyricist and language activist, recalled her father’s death in a brief, emotional statement.

Irene Victoria Massimino from the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention was another contributor. She believes that recognition of genocide, the acknowledgement of victims’ sufferings, accountability, and justice are key components of prevention of genocide. Paulo Casaca, a former Member in the European Parliament and founder of the South Asia Democratic Forum, expressed regret that Pakistan has not yet to apologize for the grave crimes it committed in 1971.

In his closing remarks, Ambassador Saleh stated that acknowledging the Bangladesh genocide would do justice to history and provide some comfort to survivors and families of those who were hurt. He asked, “How can there be closure without recognition by the international community and an apology from Pakistan’s perpetrators?”

He said that while his country has no reservations or hatred about any people from Pakistan, it was fair to admit that Bangladesh deserves an apology. He expressed hope that international recognition of the Bangladesh genocide will be embraced and understood by more people. He hoped that the European Parliament would soon pass a resolution in support of the genocide.

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