Dhaka Wednesday July 29, 2009

Why the Genocide Conference

Liberation War Museum had organized the First International Conference on Genocide, Truth and Justice in March, 2008 and the Second Conference is going to be held on 30 and 31 July, 2009. In between the two conferences, Bangladesh has witnessed great change in its body politics. In the Parliement election held on December, 2008, the nation overwhelmingly voted for a change upholding the core values of our liberation War. For the first time young voters played a significant role and voted for a democratic, secular, liberal society where the perpetrators of the genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity would be put on trial and the transition of the society would be made from denial of justice to the establishment of truth and justice. The newly elected Parliament in its first session unanimously adopted a resolution calling for the trial of the perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocities. Since Bangladesh has a national legislation titled International Crimes (Tribunal) Act of 1973 it is commonly expected that the trial will be held under this Act. The long and unwavering movement of the people calling for the trial has thus got national and formal recognition. The newly elected Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, expressing the will of the nation, unequivocally expressed her commitment for the trial. She also discussed the issue with Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General and other government leaders as and when she met them. The international organizations and other governments expressed their support for such trial while at the same time pointed out the need to amend the 1973 Act to match international standards. Different civil society organizations also highlighted the necessity to amend the Act. During the budget session of the Parliament an Amendent to the Act was introduced and passed. The nation and the Government is now ready to initiate the trial process by constituting the Tribunal and appointing the prosecutors and investigating agencies.

Thus the Second International Conference on Genocide, Truth and Justice is going to be held at a historic moment for the nation and at the same time it caries great significance for the world community. Bangladesh Genocide became victim of cold war rivalry when the community of nations could not come together to address the issue the way it deserved. There was no united international initiative, neither any UN move to bring the perpetrators to justice. Bangladesh Genocide became a forgotten chapter of history, but the impunity for perpetrators of the genocide had its negative impact. With the end of the cold war a more peaceful world could not be established as was expected; on the contrary, genocide and mass atrocities continued unabated.

The Second International Conference on Genocide, Truth and Justice will address how societies victimized by genocide and mass atrocities can move forward while emphasizing truth and justice and how the world community can prevent such brutality from recurring. The Conference will pave the way to be supportive of the justice initiative undertaken by the Government and get the community involved with the process of the trial.

The conference will also assist in recalling the Bangladesh Genocide back onto the global agenda. Moreover, the Conference will raise awareness amongst citizens of Bangladesh and expatriate Bangladeshis the need for truth and justice initiatives and strengthen the initiative to bring the war criminals of the 1971 war of independence to justice. Further it will highlight the Bangladesh experience in contributing to the national and international fields of genocide and conflict studies. It will also provide impetus to genocide studies in Bangladesh and facilitate the creation of a Centre for Genocide and Peace Studies.

Let everybody join his or her hand to make the conference a success and carry the message forward.

Mofidul Hoque, Member Sectary & Trustee, Liberation War Museum

List of foreign participants

Hong Kong
1. Dr.Suzannah Linton, Faculty of Law, Hong Kong University

2. Dr. Chanwahn Kim, Graduate School of International & Area Studies, Seoul

3. Helmut Scholz, Member, EU Parliament, Die Linke
4. Ms. Halina Wawzyniak, Human Rights Lawyer

5. Professor Ohashi Massaki, Kiesen University, Tokyo

6. Ahmad Salim

7. Dr. David Matas

8. Nafia Tasmin Din, Victims Unit, ECCC
9. Constanze Oehlrich, Legal Advisor, ECCC


10. Nayanika Mukharjee, Faculty Member and researcher, University of Lancaster
11. Ansar Ahmedullah

The proceedings of the Conference will be available live on a streaming video at the website: www.liberationwarmuseum.org/genocide and at www.drik.net. Persons outside of Dhaka who are interested in the Conference can visit this site and participate live in the discussions by sending their questions/comments to the following email address: mukti.jadughar@gmail.com

First Conference on Genocide, Truth & Justice: Summary

As the Second International Conference on Genocide, Truth and Justice closely follows the First Conference held last year, it may not be out of place to take a stock of the proceedings of the First Conference. The basic objective of the First Conference was to revive public memory, both at home and abroad, of the all but forgotten Genocide in Bangladesh in 1971, documenting and archiving that Genocide, creating public awareness about genocides and to prevent the recurrence of genocides anywhere by enforcing the existing International laws against genocide. The Conference was attended by prominent academicians, civil rights activists etc. from Japan, Cambodia, Germany, USA, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The opening ceremony dealt with the basics, informing the participants about the global political exigencies that led to the Bangladesh Genocide being utterly downplayed over the last four decades as well as informing the participants about the objectives behind holding the Conference now. During this session, Asish Nandy, an eminent sociologist from India brought to the surface two startling insights into the nature of genocides in which 225 million people are supposed to have died in the twentieth century alone. First, that secular regimes cannot be considered as safeguards against genocides and secondly, genocides in the past century have occurred within societies which were closely related, like in the case of the partition of India and the Rwanda Genocide. Justice Habibur Rahman narrated his personal experience with a WW II bomber who had taken part in the Dresden bombings and which had left a deep scar in his mind. He felt that it was not desirable that we view the trial of the perpetrators as something emanating out of personal hatred but it should be considered as a means towards the establishment of peace and justice in the society.

The First Plenary session dealt with mapping genocide and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Dr. Mizanur Rahman narrated how the two declarations of Human Rights and The Convention on the Prevention of Genocide, adopted in 1948, established Human Rights as an inalienable concept. He however pointed out that the idea of genocide was not given due importance in the UDHR document, and secondly, although the Genocide Convention failed to provide clear provisions as to the responsibility of the state, it did mention that this responsibility was inherently trans-boundary in nature. Dr. Shahdin Malik pointed out that the Tribunal of 1973 deviated slightly from the above and simplified the provisions which would otherwise be required by the Evidence Act etc. Mr. Zulfiquar Halepoto from Pakistan was of the opinion that any steps taken to destroy the essential foundations of a society, like impositions on culture, language, religion and national feelings should be also treated as genocide. Dr. Rehman Sobhan voiced the belief that it was the duty of the next elected government to complete the unfinished task of holding the trial of the War Criminals.

In the Second Plenary Session, Farina So from Cambodia described how her organization, the DC-CAM was helping potential witnesses from all over the country to file complaints at the court and was collecting documentary evidence. Prof. Massaki Ohashi discussed about the censorships in the history textbooks of schools in Japan, relating particularly to the forced mass suicides in Okinawa on the urging of the government just prior to the US occupation.

The theme of the 3rd Plenary Session was Trauma and Tribulations of the Victims. Dr M. A. Hasan recounted from his experiences as the next of kin of a victim that the restoration to a normal life was impossible and the process of reconcilliation was possible only if the perpetrators are remorseful of their guilt. Dr. Sonia Amin reconstructed the struggle of the poet, Selina Parveen and her torture and murder by the Pakistni Army and their collaborators. At the end of the at-times-heated discussion that ensued, the speakers concluded that although justice should not have a retributional face, the convicted persons of Bangladesh Genocide must be punished instead of extending too far the theory of the psychological trauma of the perpetrator himself.

In the 4th Plenary Session, Mr. Helmut Scholz observed that society must learn to tolerate and respect the dignity of others, whether it was in terms of religion, cast or gender. He also spoke about the holocaust in Germany and how the young people in Europe have begun to take interest in the misdeeds committed during the Nazi genocide. He also felt that to prevent genocides from recurring, intervention from the international community, such as the formation of tribunals must be made mandatory and binding. Dr Shah Alam voiced the opinion that the government should form a special Investigation Commission to elicit complaints from the victims and collect evidence so as to be adequately prepared for conducting the prosecution. In his concluding remarks, Prof. Kabir Chowdhury said that reconcilliation was not possible unless the victims themselves forgave the criminals and reconcilliation without the consent of the victims would be a great injustice to them. He also mentioned that special laws under a tribunal will be required to try the criminals.

The last Plenary Session was devoted to the building of Alliances for Preventing Genocide. International discourse and debates should be initiated through the academia and International human rights organizations. Diplomatic efforts should be made so that Pakistan puts its own officials under trial, which was a clear recommendation of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission.

At the closing session, the Conference Declaration, which clearly recognised that the Bangladesh Genocide had not received the exposure and public scrutiny that it had deserved, was adopted. Highlights of the Declaration:

1. The Conference will promote research on genocide, particularly the Bangladesh Genocide. It will encourage both local and international Universities to undertake academic research on the various issues relating to genocide and encourage genocide studies to be included into different academic curricula and encourage the opening of new centres for genocide studies.

2. It will also attempt to develop linkages, alliances and networks with various international and regional centres of genocide studies.

3. The Conference considers that the trials of the perpetrators of the Bangladesh Genocide is still an unfulfilled but mandatory task of the Bengali nation.

4. The Conference called upon the younger generation to take up the cause of justice because a nation where justice has been denied cannot move forward either politically, intellectually or economically. The struggle for peace and tolerance can only be taken forward if truth is upheld and justice is ensured in all societies.

Tariq Ali, Trustee, Liberation War Museum

The Liberation War Museum - an overview

The Muktijuddho Jadughar embarked upon its journey on a rain-swept afternoon in March, 1996. Rain is supposed to be a good omen for embarking upon a journey in these parts of the world and judging from the endorsement which the museum has received from people from all walks of life over the past 13 years, it must be said that mother-nature did indeed make the correct choice that afternoon when bestowing her blessings. Over the years, the common people of Bangladesh have taken great pride in claiming ownership of the museum and the founders of the museum feel honoured and humbled that 12 years later it has truly become a people's museum.

Conceptually, the museum is cut a bit differently from the run-of-the-mill museums. Although the exhibits do bring forth the glory and the sacrifices of millions in the long road to our economic and cultural emancipation, it does not stop as merely a display, frozen in time, of objects and artifacts relating to our Glorious War. It keeps itself active in the public domain, through the activities and the programmes that it sponsors. The activity aspect of the museum will be further elaborated after the description of the exhibits in the various galleries. At the entrance to the six galleries stands an eternal flame and a stone-tablet reminding the visitor in a few lines suggestive of our folk-literature traditions---and calls to witness, the earth, moon and stars that we have not forgotten and shall not forget the sacrifices of the countless Shaheeds.

Gallery 1 talks about the land, its history, the syncretistic traditions of its people and in particular about the political and intellectual developments taking place in the land during the British Period and ends with the partition of India. Gallery 2 depicts the economic and cultural deprivations which the Pakistani rulers subjected the people of its Eastern Province constituting the majority of its population. It shows the 1952 language movement, the Kagmari Conference, the struggles in 1966 and 1969 and finally the mandate which the people of Bengal gave to the Awami League in the elections of 1970. Gallery 3 depicts the treachery of the Pakistani rulers in making preparations for the Genocide that was to be perpetrated upon the population starting March 25. It also shows the March 7 call for freedom by Bangabandhu and the preparations which the entire nation was making for armed resistance. The gallery ends with the formation of the provisional government on April 17 at Mujibnagar. The fourth gallery lays down in poignant tones the aspirations of some of prominent people--- political, civil and military--- who were brutally killed during the 9 months and includes the blood stained vest of a girl of 4 who was crushed under the boots of the Pakistan army. While Gallery 5 depicts the gradual build-up of various pockets of resistance all over the country, it also shows all of them ultimately coming under the mantle of a unified command of the Muktibahini. Gallery 6 depicts the final thrust to victory, when the Joint Forces of the Muktibahini and the Indian Army overpowers the Pakistani forces and frees the land from their clutches.

It is an interactive museum in that all its programmes strive to establish a linkage between the contemporary world around us and history. The museum tries to design its programmes with special attention to how the younger generation can be encouraged to establish connectivity between history and the lessons that we may draw from that history. One of the most successful programmes therefore, has been the school outreach programme. This programme, with the assistance of the Manusher Jonnyo Foundation, brought to the museum school students from Dhaka city and in a more ambitious extension of this project, took a small fraction of the museum to school students located in the remotest Upazillas of the country. The most rewarding prize which the school programme has given to the nation is an archive---13,000 pieces of eye-witness accounts of days of 1971. Each of these unique pieces of writing demonstrates how deeply did the war touch the lives of the entire population and reinforces the fact that the Bangladesh war was a people's war in the truest sense.

Other on-going efforts of the museum include collection and preservation of artifacts and documents relating to the Liberation War, digital recording and preservation of stories of the victims and other people connected with the War, an International Film Festival of Documentaries on Human Rights and Liberation, Hiroshima Day etc.

The museum has recently acquired a plot of land in Agargaon, Dhaka, where it will move permanently. A nation-wide competition for a befitting building design, articulating the aspirations of the people of Bengal will be held and we hope that a few years hence this new museum will befittingly be able speak about the glory, traditions and sacrifices of the people of Bangladesh which are articulated in the few lines of poetry which lie inscribed in the tablet in front of the eternal flame.

Board of Trustees, Liberation War Museum