Exclusive Interview

'Genocide a very political crime'

Kamal Ahmed | Update:

Irene Victoria MassiminoIrene Victoria Massimino is a professor of law at Argentina’s National University of Lomas de Zamora. She carries out research on law and justice of genocide.

She came to Dhaka to take part in a public lecture organised by the Centre for Study of Genocide and Justice of the Liberation War Museum.

Professor Irene Victoria Massimino spoke about trials on genocide and ways to tackle genocide, in an exclusive interview with Prothom Alo. The full text is given below:

Prothom Alo: As a specialist on genocide, where would you place the 1971 genocide in Bangladesh in terms of its gravity and crime gradation?

Irene Victoria Massimino: Yes, as a specialist and researcher in genocide, I've studied, reviewed and investigated a lot of genocides in the world, especially in the 20th century. A lot of issues related to imperialism and colonialism created the conditions for genocide in different countries, such as in Bangladesh. I wouldn't give a higher importance to any genocide, because they are all of high, incredibly high importance in the sense of the consequences genocide has on a nation. One of the main consequences of genocide is the death of the people, the tortures, the sexual slavery, the slavery itself, the labour slavery and the destruction of the national identity. The purpose of the genocide is to destroy the social bond of the people and the problem is that it takes so much time to rebuild those social bonds. In the case of Bangladesh in particular, the amount of deaths was so high that of course the consequences of destruction of social bonds and identities are even higher than in other cases. For example, the case of Argentina where about 30,000 people died and disappeared. So it is difficult to compare numbers.

P Alo: But we haven't seen much research or international interest in the genocide that happened in Bangladesh till today.

IVM: Yes.

P Alo: What is the reason for that?

IVM: I can only give you my opinion. My suspicion is that genocides usually have a lot of impact in the international arena when they are international organisations and governments with certain interest on it. Bangladesh is carrying out own local trials, without any international help, except for the investigations abroad for the connections. It is exceptional that a country like Bangladesh or Argentina and other countries in Latin America, like Guatemala for example, carry out their own trials without the help of international bodies because we know better our interests than other countries do. So I think it's of extreme importance and I think also probably that is the reason why international society hasn't taken a deep interest in the genocide and its consequences.

P Alo: But isn't strange apart from the trial process which is a very recent,  for more than three decades, no significant research has been carried out by either academia or political groups or anyone from abroad?

IVM: It is very interesting. I was in Cuba for a conference. The world is quite divided. The developed countries have higher importance than the developing countries that we belong to. So, the impact of death and struggle, and harm and conflict in countries that do not have such an international impact and is always left aside. I think that is one of the reasons nobody is interested even today with what happened over forty-five years ago in 1971.

Argentina in Latin America has quite a strong visibility as a country, so that's why we have an impact. We joined forces with other countries, but Bangladesh seems still quite isolated, and that's why there will be a struggle to get the international community recognise what happened. If there is no economic interest in this world, then there is no social interest in that country. That's my modest opinion.

P Alo: But isn't it an irony that the world remembers 9 December for the international remembrance of victims of genocide and also prevention of further genocides across the world. The genocide convention it was approved in 1948.

But isn't it very strange that no one has any pro-active interest in the ‘71 genocide in Bangladesh?

IVM: Yes, it is extremely strange, but it does make sense in a very polarised world where economic interest is the most important thing. If the country does not have the importance given by the so-called international society led by imperial and colonial powers till today, a different form of colonialism, but still colonialism, as understood in the most traditional way, it will continue to happen, and that's the problem. Global impunity continues to happen in many many countries that are not relevant because of the opinion of the powerful countries. So, I think that's the job, the duty we have of those who work, as myself in this field to get what happened known, to get the process of justice, memories and truth known around the world, and to connect as much as possible in between different experiences such as the Argentina and Bengali experience.

In Argentina we had an important conference last year organised by the Ministry of Justice and the National University and invited judges and members of civil society here to speak about the Bengali genocide and the trials currently happening. So it is evident, it will be the work of social movement and individuals and not the work of government, in the sense of powerful governments to get to know the genocide.

P Alo: Beyond Bangladesh, if you look at the situation of Myanmar, while civil society organisations are labeling it as genocide, the former UN secretary general is still shying away from using the term genocide. Why do you think these standards are applied differently? What are the variables?

IVM: I think there are two variables actually. One is to recognise a genocide and the other is not to recognise a genocide, and it always comes to the fact that genocide is a very political crime. When the convention was signed and ratified and passed in the United Nations, they took political groups. Every genocide has some political relation. So when we look at the history of the convention and we look at the history of the different genocide, there some recognised by some countries. I think it is because it is a very political crime. If we recognise it, if the international society recognises it, it would probably a recognisation we have not been able to do anything as a global society to prevent this from happening. Genocide is a very strong word, and its meaning is quite powerful, it's the intention to eliminate a group physically and intellectually, and the identity of that group, so the meaning of it strong and fortunately it's extremely sad, and I think we couldn't done much to prevent, because every year we hear genocides happening. We've never thought probably Europe would have been another genocide after the holocaust, and in the 90s we have the Balkan's genocide. So, they happen all the time and unfortunately, the international organisations, specifically, the UN, who is in charge of the genocide convention and monitoring this conflicts, have not been doing much to prevent them and to recognise them. And unfortunately I do not put too much hope in the United Nations as we've seen they have quite a few years of existence and conflicts around them keep on happening around the world permanently with the authorisation of the United Nations in many cases.

We have a conflict in the Middle East that is absolutely destroying the Middle East. You mentioned Myanmar, we have in Central America an internal conflict as well. Fortunately South America has gone on a path of peace, but we do not know for how long since there are always external interests trying to switch. It happened in Brazil by the removal of Dilma Rousseff. The different political movements, the international interests through the powerful countries do prevent us doing deeper work on genocide prevention and conflict prevention.

P Alo: So what's the ideal way to prevent genocide happening again?

IVM: The main tool for the prevention of future genocide in a country that already had a genocide, is for example what is happening in Bangladesh, or what's happening in Argentina -- the recognition of genocide, the trials, make the perpetrators sit in trials, and the research for the truth, not only through the justice system, but also through the different civil society organizations. Create memory within the population that a genocide existed, but that we were able to overcome that period of history, and more than anything, create tools for nondiscrimination. Because discrimination is a creation of a difference in the other, so when we create the other, the other is different, the other is not part of our group, the national group, the whole nation, then we are in the process of been able to commit a genocide in the future. When we discriminate against others, we take particular features of those people in a negative way and in a negative connotation. So we set the field for genocide. So I think those briefly are the tools, of course there are many tools, study in universities, educating people, educating children about the history of the country about the process of justice etc. And the tool we have as nations who have suffered such conflicts and genocide and other state crimes.

P Alo: International human rights organisations and governments raised various questions centering this trial process in Bangladesh. Why do you think those questions have been raised?

IVM: This happens when you carry a trial within your territory, with your own courts, without the intervention of any international organisation, you create some sort of resentment of those organisations which are indirectly a representation of colonialism, so they go to a country, they impose a particular trial with their laws, without knowing the actual social situation of the country, without the knowing the history, in a very patronising way. So, I think that obviously creates an area of conflict between the organisations and international society represented by the organisations and the country is carrying trial. We have the same situation in Argentina and even internally we have people who are opposing to the trial saying the trials are biased or not carried out in a proper way. It happens a lot. And I think, any issue that is conflicting will bring some sort of confrontation and debate, but I think the debate is necessary. It also makes the trials to follow more procedures, to follow more guarantees, to follow different laws, so the trials are not criticised as strongly as we wouldn't follow the procedures. It is normal and something we have to face.

P Alo: What is the Argentinian experience? How did the country handle the internal conflicts?

IVM: Just as in Bangladesh, we had our dictatorship begin in 1976 and end in 1983. We've started the trials in actually 2006, we had a long process of trials, impunity, an overall process of thirty years searching for justice, finally in 2006 we started with the trials. I've had oppositions in Argentina, but overall, since we've followed different rules of law, we've respected the rules of law and we've continue with the trials and the society finally realising that the truth is now coming out, of what has happened of the many disappeared, of the many children, etc. Now the trials are strong, they are strongly set in the territory, they are overall mostly accepted in the society and by the civil society organisations and also by different members of society who have no relative either disappeared or tortured in prison, etc. So overall, I think it is a positive situation. We the people decided to stand for the trial, and to continue search for that memory of that truth.

P Alo: Thank You.

IVM: Thank You.

The piece has been transcribed by Ayesha Kabir and Sitesh Kumar Saha.

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