Will Bangladesh acknowledge its rape history?

The NYT reports: “As the 40th anniversary of the 1971 war approaches, the Bangladeshi government has set up an International Crimes Tribunal to investigate the atrocities of that era. But human rights advocates and lawyers fear that the mass rapes and killings of women will not be adequately addressed.”

This particular site and time of rape being used rampantly as a war crime was first brought to many Western feminists’ attention through Susan Brownmiller’s 1975 book Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, in which she wrote that 200,000 women–at the least–and more likely up to 400,000 women had been raped during the 1971 war.

There are many events planned for the 40th anniversary commemoration, but it’s still unclear if the epidemic of rape during that time will be acknowledged. The UN reports that rape during war time has been occasionally and productively integrated into reconciliation proceedings in places like Rwanda and South Africa, among other sites. It’s not only a legal matter, but one of visibility:

It has been argued that justice, accountability, and healing for women, whose human rights are violated, are not necessarily achieved only through the justice system. With appropriate and just standards and tools in place, healing through quasi-judicial and non-judicial systems can also be achieved through public acknowledgement of the violation, by allowing the victim to testify and break the silence surrounding violence, and other attempts to restore the person’s sense of control over herself and her life.

Irene Khan, the former secretary general of Amnesty International an an expert on Bangladesh, told the NYT:

Yes, we talk often of the hundreds of thousands of women who were raped, forced into sexual slavery, sexually attacked, but rarely are there any names or faces or individual stories. A conservative Muslim society has preferred to throw a veil of negligence and denial on the issue, allowed those who committed or colluded with gender violence to thrive, and left the women victims to struggle in anonymity and shame and without much state or community support.

There is some hope. The first English-language translation of an important oral history, Women’s 1971, is set to be published later this year.  Of the 19 testimonies contained within it, 9 include stories of rape and sexual assault.

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