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Genocide for spice

Syed Mahbubur Rashid | Published: May 31, 2019 21:34:17


Genocides were perpetrated, are being perpetrated and will be perpetrated as long as the mankind exists. Genocide is an international crime perpetrated with the intention to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic or religious group.  In the history of mankind there would not be dearth of occurrence of this kind of crime. However United Nations convention for genocide formally declared and defined genocide in 1948. It was first proposed to the League of Nations in 1933 and revived after the Nazi attempt to destroy the jews during world war II, the convention was ratified by enough nations to go into effect in 1951. The United States senate, fearing the convention might infringe on national sovereignty did not ratify it until 1985. After a provision was added allowing the United States, should it change to do so s to exempt itself from the jurisdiction of the world court in any genocide case brought against it. The UN convention on genocide could not stop the genocide committed from time to time. In 1971 the Pak Army committed genocide in Bangladesh killing 3.0 million Bengalis with the intention of destroying the Bengali nation. In perpetrating this international crime Pakistan got the support of the USA. So the then president of the USA Richard Nixon, if not the US government, was the passive perpetrator of genocide. The above case explained why the USA took so much time to ratify the UN convention on genocide.

In Cambodia hundreds of thousands of people perished under the brutal communist leader Pol Pot. The perpetrations of this genocide are now being tried at the International Criminal Court set up under the provision of UN convention. Genocides were committed in Ruwanda and Sudan, Bosnia, Herzegovina. In 2015 the United Nations declared December 9 as the International Genocide Day.  This was declared on the demand from  Armenia where the Turkish government killed between 10,00,000-15,00,000 during the first world war. In almost all cases genocides were committed for political reasons mostly for conquest of the land. But in 1621 a genocide was committed for controlling the prodecture of two spices. Islands of the Moluccan Archipelago in Modern Indonesia were the producers of various spices, cloves, mace and nutmeg. Of those, nutmeg and mace grow only in the Barda Islands, the southern part of the Archipelago. Inhabitants of these island produced and exported these rare spices in exchange for food and manufactured goods coming from the island of Java, from the entreport of Malakka on the Malaysian Peninsula and from China, India, and Arabia. This situation did not continue long. The Europeans were attracted by the spice trade and the presence of the European surged there. The Dutch were more aggressive. They quickly realised that monopolising the supply of the valuable spice of the Moluccas would be more profitable than competing against local or other European traders.

In 1600 they persuaded the ruler of Ambon to sign an exclusive agreement that gave them the monopoly on the clove trade in Ambon. With the founding of the Dutch East India Company in 1602, the Dutch attempts to capture the entire spice trade and eliminate their competitors, by hook or by crook, took a turn for the better for the Dutch and for the worse for southeast Asia. The Dutch East India Company was the second European joint stock company, following the English East India Company, major landmarks in the development of the modern corporation, which would subsequently play a major role in European industrial growth. It was also the second company that had its own army and the power to wage war and colonise foreign lands. With the military power of the company now brought to bear, the Dutch proceeded to eliminate all potential interlopers to enforce their treaty with the ruler of Ambon. They captured a key fort held by the Portuguese in 1605 and forcibly removed all other traders. They then expanded to the northern Moluccas, forcing the rulers of Tidore, Ternate, and Bacan to agree that no cloves could be grown or traded in their territories. The treaty they imposed on Ternate even allowed the Dutch to come and destroy any clove trees they found there. The Dutch also took control of the Banda Islands, intending this time to monopolize mace and nutmeg.

But the Dutch could not find a single authority in Bande Islands with whom  they could make an agreement regarding the production of mace and nutmeg. Absence of an agreement would mean the competition with others.

Their initial plans of setting up a monopoly of mace and nutmeg dashed, the Dutch governor of Batavia, Jan Pieterszoon Coen, came up with an alternative plan. Coen founded Batavia, on the island of Java, as the Dutch East India Company's new capital in 1618. In 1621 he sailed to Banda with a fleet and proceeded to massacre almost the entire population of the islands, probably about fifteen thousand people. All their leaders were executed along with the rest, and only a few were left alive, enough to preserve the knowhow necessary for mace and nutmeg production.

The Netherlands is now a highly developed country and member of the EU. It is a great protagonist of human rights and provides funds for humanitarian works. Very recently it has promised to provide finance for the International Criminal Court for the trial of the perpetrators of genocide. Is it a penance for the sin of the forefathers?

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