Background of 1971 Liberation War
After the independence of India in 1947, two new states emerged – India and Pakistan. Pakistan was divided into two wings – East and West Pakistan. The people of East Pakistan – who were predominantly Bengali – increasingly felt economically and culturally oppressed by West Pakistan. In 1970, the political party Awami League representing the aspirations of those in East Pakistan, who sought greater autonomy, won the election for the whole of Pakistan. However, West Pakistani leaders refused to establish the Parliament handing over power to the Eastern leaders, and on the night of 25 March 1971 its army initiated a military crackdown named “Operation Searchlight” in Dhaka, killing thousands of people in the city including students in Dhaka University campus. This was the beginning of the war that resulted in the creation of Bangladesh out of what was East Pakistan. It is known as the Bangladesh Liberation War or War for the Independence of Bangladesh, which lasted for nine months from 26 March to 16 December, until the surrender of Pakistani forces. The people of Bangladesh waged armed struggle to free the country from military occupation by Pakistani army eventually resulting in the emergence of a free and independent People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
During the conflict, Pakistani army units targeted Bengali civilians, students, intelligentsia and ordinary people who demanded military regime, then in power in Pakistan, to adhere to the results of the first ever democratic election held in Pakistan in 1970. The Pakistani military junta decided to launch massive armed attack on civilians and began committing crimes all over the country against unarmed civilians, not seen since the end of the second world war.
The long military operation led by the Pakistani military with direct participation, support and collaboration of an ideologically motivated small Islamist minority, in the end succeeded in killing three million people, committing more than 300000 rapes, and deporting 10 million people to neighbouring India, and half of 75 million population internally displaced. The crimes committed in 1971 in Bangladesh in terms of brutality, atrocity and heinousness is regarded as one of the major human rights tragedies since Holocaust. In perpetrating these crimes, the occupying Pakistani army and their auxiliary paramilitary forces (e.g., Razakar, al- badar etc) did not regard the minimum norms and standards of international war laws (jus in bello).
The perpetrators of these unprecedented crimes enjoyed decades of impunity and remained unaccountable until now while the victims suffered in agony and lack of justice. There were however nationwide campaign for justice over these years and in the General Election in 2008, the Awami League-led 14-party alliance promised to end this culture of impunity and to initiate legal process to try those responsible for committing international crimes in 1971. The Awami League government that was formed following a landslide electoral victory, set-up the International Crimes Tribunal on 25 March 2010. The Bangladesh government is pledge-bound to its people and to the world to end impunity to those who committed crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity and other international crimes in the territory of Bangladesh.
Crimes perpetrated during the war
During the war, there were widespread killings of the civilians and other atrocities in which the invading West Pakistani army was aided by local collaborators including newly formed militia wings like Razakar, Al-Badar and Al-Shams Forces. The war resulted in systematic killings of nearly 3-million civilians, according to most estimates. In one of the most tragic human exodus of mankind’s recent history, over 10-million people were displaced from their homes, who took shelter in neighbouring India as refugees. The number of women raped during this period exceeded over 200,000. Towards the end of the War, a prominent section of the intellectual community of East Pakistan were systematically abducted and murdered, allegedly by the surrendering army and its collaborators.
In recent World-history, by all standards, 1971 represents one of the gravest human rights tragedies as a result of the genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes against peace that were perpetrated in Bangladesh.