“Now 70, Delwar…broke into tears several times and trembled recollecting the horror of the night. There was a pin-drop silence in the courtroom when Delwar was telling his experience of the mass killing.”
Warning: The link above contains a graphic eyewitness account of this tragic night in Bangladesh‘s history.
It is difficult for Westerners to appreciate the pain Bangladesh continues to live through as a result of 1971. The War of Independence which saw the birth of this nation, also saw great loss of life and terrible atrocities which is, in part, the reason for the current War Crime Trials making the news in Bangladesh and abroad.
Of course, the politics behind these trials are dubious but then when has that not been in the case? The international media sees trials mired in corruption and young Bangladeshis braying for blood demanding executions in an international world which no longer has the taste for such punishment. The overall impression I get from the international media, is one of disapproval and distaste at such ‘barbaric’ behaviour.
It is not difficult to see the hypocrisy here.
32 of 50 American states retain and continue to use the death penalty to this day. 32 people have been executed this year alone.
Even though William Joyce was the last person to be executed for High treason in the UK in 1946, Britain only abolished its wartime and peacetime capital punishment laws in 2000 and 1998 respectively though effectively other laws superseded them in 1972. Belarus still has the laws in place although it is the only European country left to do so. Many European countries only abolished the laws in the 1990s and 2000s.
But the period of time in Europe most closely related to Bangladesh’s war was, of course, the Second World War. Then, no one seemed to find issue with capital punishment. By my count, 210 Nazis were sentenced to death for their part in World War II. Many sentences were commuted but then other Nazis committed suicide before they could be tried and countless others were, allegedly, murdered by the military – especially in Russia – before they could stand trial.
It is interesting to see how many sentenced to death then had their sentences commuted to life and those were then often shortened to, say, ten years imprisonment – this is exactly the fear the youth have for the current war crime trials. People expect that if the opposition party come to power after the forthcoming elections, all those convicted and sentenced to death or life imprisonment will be released.
The aim of all this preamble is to say the international community is pointing the finger at Bangladesh but has forgotten its own recent past. This article from the Dhaka Tribune (written by my good friend Muktasree Chakma Sathi) serves to remind just a little of why the Bangladeshi public continue to feel so outraged about the war criminals who have never been tried before in the county’s forty-year existence.
December 14th 1971 was a black night in history when the Pak army – knowing they had lost the war after India’s intervention – rounded up as many of Bangladesh’s intellectuals as they could and murdered them en masse. Delwar’s testimony, recounted here, gives just an inkling of what transpired that night.
This commentary on Sathi’s article is not an approval of the death penalty but nor is it disapproval. I hope, instead, it helps explain just a little bit of the injustice and pain still acutely felt here. It isn’t hard, after reading the Dhaka Tribune piece, to see just why so many feel the need for blood to be shed and those of us who live in peaceful times built on the blood shed by our own should remember we felt that same need for justice not that long ago. While these atrocities took place in Bangladesh, it was another sixteen years before Europe finally appeased the need for blood, executing arguably the last Nazi war criminal – Feodor Fedorenko – in Russia, July 1987.