Human Rights Congress for Bangladesh Minorities (HRCBM) organized a virtual Press Conference, commemorating 51 years since March 25, 1971; a day when the Pakistan Army and allied Islamists launched ‘Operation Searchlight’ that eventually resulted in the death of 3 million Bengalis in 10 months.
The virtual press conference was hosted by noted Journalist Adelle Nazarian and included a readout of a statement by Lemkin Institute’s Elisa von Joeden-Forgey and Irene Massimino.
The statement read “We at the Lemkin Institute wish to extend our apologies that we cannot be there with you today. Despite our absence, we want to underscore our commitment to all Bangladeshis to work for the global recognition of the 1971 genocide. We believe that recognition of past genocide is critical to the cause of social justice, sustainable peace, and the prevention of future genocides.
The 1971 genocide against Bengalis demonstrates that genocide is a long-term process of identity destruction. In Bangladesh it began right after British India’s partition along religious lines. Although ‘East Pakistan’ (as Bangladesh was then called) was given to West Pakistan because the majority of people in East Pakistan were Muslim, West Pakistan almost immediately imposed measures aimed at undermining East Pakistan’s national identity, that is, Bengali national identity. The mass killing and mass rape of 1971 was an extension of this hostility towards the Bengali nation, a hostility that was also expressed in religious terms against Hindus – West Pakistan authorities targeted Bengali Hindus and believed that even Bengali Muslims were too influenced by Hinduism to be “true Muslims”. The destruction of the Bengali nation, and the destruction of the Hindu members of that nation, were overlapping parts of a complex and devastating genocidal process.
We hope that growing global recognition of this case of genocide will lead to open discussions of a peaceful path forward in the region for Hindus, Muslims, and all other faiths. Since genocide prevention is our core mission, the Lemkin Institute dedicates itself to helping to foster a climate of positive peace and a roadmap towards sustainable coexistence.”
Priya Saha, Executive Director HRCBM, urged lawmakers at the Capitol Hill to formally condemn the genocide perpetrated by the Pakistan Army and their collaborators in Bangladesh (former East Pakistan), from March 1971 to December 1971. She urged elected officials to condemn statements, actions, and policies that deny or question that the massacres during ‘Operation Searchlight’ constituted a genocide.
Quoting a 2012 case study by Jessica Lee Rehman of California University, 2012, Priya termed rape in 1971 in Bangladesh as an “instance of pure terrorism”. Priya highlighted the work Australian doctor Geoffrey Davis who, was brought to Dhaka by the United Nations to assist with late-term abortions of raped women in May 1971. At the end of the war, Dr Davis believed the estimated figure for the number of “Bengali women who were raped—200,000 to 400,000—was probably too low.”
When asked by a journalist about why there has not been an effort by the Government of Bangladesh to get a formal recognition of the genocide, Priya pointed out that in the past five decades, Bangladesh itself faced military dictatorships and political turmoils. It took 40 years for the government in Bangladesh to institute a tribunal to punish the collaborators of the Pakistan Army. She added that many of the collaborators have been punished in the past decade and global recognition will happen soon.
Dhiman Deb Chowdhury, President of HRCBM, requested the White House and the State Department to recognize the death of the nearly 3 million people, mostly Hindus, killed or executed by the Pakistan Army, along with individuals who endured pain and suffering in 1971, as well as foreign nationals from other countries of the region, who risked or lost their lives. He added that the scale and intensity of the violence was so large that in June 1971, both the American consul-general in Dhaka, Archer Blood and the U.S. ambassador to India, Kenneth Keating, urged the White House to discontinue their support of the Pakistan regime. Archer Blood stated that there was a ‘selective genocide’ in Bangladesh and described it as one of the most intense killing campaigns ever committed in human history.
When asked by Jamie Salazar (of CASA-VA) if any member of the government or the armed forces of Pakistan have been sanctioned on this issue, Dhiman pointed out that any such action would first involve an acceptance of the crime at a global level.
Recalling the work done by Democrat Senator Ted Kennedy, both Saha and Chowdhury reiterated that they will continue to do advocacy at Capitol Hill until the genocide is formally recognized. FULL VIDEO OF EVENT – https://twitter.com/hrcbm/