Desk report, September 22: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has sought expeditious UN and global interventions to protect all civilians in Myanmar’s Rakhine State irrespective of religion and ethnicity and take effective steps for a permanent solution to the protracted Rohingya crisis.Addressing the UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday afternoon (this morning in Bangladesh), the premier urged the UN secretary general to immediately send there a “Fact-Finding Mission” and suggested several other steps to stop the ethnic cleansing.
“Firstly, Myanmar must unconditionally stop the violence and the practice of ethnic cleansing in the Rakhine State immediately and forever,” she said in her address at the UN headquarters.
Sheikh Hasina reiterated Bangladesh call to create “safe zones” under UN supervision in Myanmar for the protection of all civilian population irrespective of religion and ethnicity and unconditional implementation of the Kofi Annan Commission recommendations to resolve the crisis.
She called for ensuring “sustainable return” of all forcibly displaced Myanmar Rohingyas in Bangladesh to their homes saying these people must be able to return to their homeland in safety and securely with dignity.
The Bangladesh premier said it was the 14th time she was addressing the UN General Assembly, but this time she came to New York with a heavy heart just after seeing the “hungry, distressed and hopeless Rohingyas” who took refuge in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar fleeing their home to evade atrocities.
“Hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas from the Rakhine State are entering Bangladesh to flee violence. As estimated by IOM, in last three weeks over four hundred thirty thousand Rohingyas entered Bangladesh,” she told the UN’s annual meet.
Sheikh Hasina added: “This forcibly displaced people of Myanmar are fleeing an ‘ethnic cleansing’ in their own country where they have been living for centuries.”
The premier said currently Bangladesh was sheltering over 800,000 forcibly displaced Rohingyas of Myanmar while the ongoing atrocities and human rights violations in the Rakhine State “once again aggravated the situation at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border”.
“We are horrified to see that the Myanmar authorities are laying landmines along their stretch of the border to prevent the Ronhingyas from returning to their native homes,” she said.
Sheikh Hasina simultaneously condemned all kinds of terrorism and violent extremism in Myanmar saying her government maintains a ‘zero tolerance’ policy against terrorism in any forms and manifestation.
Sheikh Hasina thanked the UN Security Council members and also the UN secretary general for their proactive attempts to denounce the atrocities on Rohingya people in Myanmar and call for bringing in peace, and stability in Rakhine.
“We don’t want war. We want peace . . . we want people’s wellbeing – not destruction of humanity. We want sustainable development. Let this be our collective goal,” she said.
The prime minister recalled Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s very first speech in UNGA in 1974 expressing Bengali nation’s commitment towards peace and justice.
“I know that the souls of our martyrs join us in pledging that the Bengalee nation fully commits itself to the building of a world order in which the aspirations of all men for peace and justice will be realized,” she quoted Bangabandhu as telling the 1974 UNGA.
Sheih Hasina reiterated Bangladesh’s firm commitment to the peace and democracy saying “since our birth as a nation, we have pursued peace-centric domestic and foreign policies”.
With that spirit, she said, Bangladesh took the lead in tabling the resolution on ‘Culture of Peace’ every year in the General Assembly since 2000.
The Bangladesh premier put emphasis on resuming the Middle East Peace Process and called for ending all forms of hostilities and iscriminations against the brotherly Palestinian people.
Sheikh Hasina said UN had a potential role in developing a peace-building architecture while Bangladesh awaited “bold and innovative proposals” from the UN secretary general on financing for ‘sustaining peace’.
The Bangladesh premier renewed her call to stop weapon supplying to the terrorists and terror financing and settlement of all international disputes peacefully as terrorism and violent extremism posed a major threat to peace, stability and development.
“Terrorists have no religion, belief or race . . . having been a target of a number of terrorist attacks myself, I personally empathize with the victims of terrorism and appreciate their need for protection,” she said.
The prime minister also urged the UN to address the growing threats emanated from the cyber space to prevent money laundering, terrorist financing and other transnational organized crimes.
Sheikh Hasina reiterated her call to the international community to recognise the barbaric atrocities of Pakistani occupation force on the Bengalis in 1971 as “genocide” and March 25, 1971 as the “International Genocide Day”.
“Collective actions are needed to prevent recurrence of any such heinous crime in anywhere and anytime in the world,” she said justifying her demands.
The premier reminded the international community that the Bengalis endured an extreme form of genocide in 1971 while during the nine-month Liberation War against Pakistan, three million innocent people were killed and more than 200,000 women were violated.
Sheikh Hasina said the Pakistan military launched the heinous ‘operation searchlight’ on March 25, 1971, which was the beginning of the 1971 genocide which was featured by targeted elimination of individuals on the ground of religion, race and political belief.
“The intellectuals were killed brutally. To pay homage to the victims of the genocide, our national parliament has recently declared 25th March as the Genocide Day”, she said
The premier said recognition to the ’25th March and past tragedies were expected to guide the world to a situation when such atrocities would take place “never again”.
In this regard, she pointed out her government’s daunting task to bring the perpetrators of the genocide to justice through Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal.
Sheikh Hasina once again denounced the use of religion to justify violent extremism saying families, womenfolk, youth, media and religious leaders at the community level should be involved to offset the spread of violent extremism.
She said as a major troop and police-contributing country, Bangladesh underscores the importance of upholding effectiveness and credibility of UN peacekeeping operations.
“We shall maintain our own capability readiness, remain open to further smart pledges, enhance the scope of our peacekeeping training, and deploy more female peacekeepers,” she said.
The premier also reaffirmed ‘zero tolerance’ approach of her government to any allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against any member of peacekeeping force.
“As an endorser of the ‘Voluntary Compact on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse’, I have committed myself to the Secretary General’s ‘Circle of Leadership’ to combat this scourge,” she said.
The premier announced Bangladesh’s token contribution of US$ 1,00,000 for the UN Peace Building Fund (PBF) and contribution of another USD 100,000 to the ‘Victim Support Fund’ established for the victims of sexual exploitation and abuse.
In her speech, the premier also highlighted her government’s position on different global issues like safe migration, refugee crisis, climate change, SDGs and socioeconomic development.
“We believe in promoting safe, orderly and regular migration. Last year, we proposed developing a sound migration governance framework through the ‘Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration’,” she said expressing her pleasure on a UN move for delivering on formation of the compacts for migration and refugees.
“I can feel their pain as I, along with my younger sister, had been a refugee for six years after my father, Father of the Nation of Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and almost all members of my family were assassinated in 1975,” she said.
On climate change issue, Sheikh Hasina said the Paris Climate Agreement remains “our bastion of hope for climate justice (and) by recognising the climate vulnerability, we are building resilience against the grave impacts of climate change”.
“We believe in the potentials of Green Economy in advancing the conservation and Blue Economy for sustainable use of the ocean and seas,” she said.
Pointing out Bangladesh’s socio-economic development under the stewardship of her government, Sheikh Hasina said the country has achieved exemplary success in building resilience against flood and other disasters.
“Crop intensification and invention of water resistant crops have helped us achieve self sufficiency in food. We have efficiently responded to the massive flood that has stricken the entire south Asian region this year,” she said.
The prime minister said as a member of the High-level Panel on Water, she attached high priority to implement its comprehensive Action Plan.
“Bangladesh has ensured access to safe water for 87 percent of its population by 2015, and we aim full coverage of our population by 2030,” she said.
Sheikh Hasina said she firmly believes that there are close interfaces between peace and stability, and development. She also shared the conviction that alleviation of poverty, hunger, illiteracy, unemployment and inequalities is crucial for building peaceful, just and inclusive societies.
In view of this, the premier said her government is fully committed to implement the SDGs as those goals complement the government’s vision to transform Bangladesh into a middle-income country by 2021 and a developed one by 2041.
The government has adopted a ‘whole-of-the-society’ approach to this end, she said, adding that even before the adoption of the SDGs, her government has initiated unique social programmes that reflect the themes of the SDGs.
These include Ekti Bari Ekti Khamar (One Household One Farm); Community Clinic, Ashrayan (Shelter project), Digital Bangladesh, Education Support, Women Empowerment, Education for All, Social Safety Net, Environment Protection and Investment and Development, she said.
“Our ‘Voluntary National Review’ presented to the UN this year showcased our progress and commitment for achieving the SDGs, the PM said.
Sheikh Hasina said in 2016-17, Bangladesh’s economy posted a GDP growth rate of over 7.24% and its foreign currency reserve reached USD 32.1 billion.
“The level of poverty came down from 56.7% in 1991 to 23.2% today while per capita income was projected to rise to USD 1,602 by the end of the current fiscal year, which was only USD 543 in the FY 2005-06,” she said.
The prime minister said life expectancy of the people increased to almost 72 years and these figures, indeed, are indications of Bangladesh’s inclusive development, in which no citizen is left behind.
“To ensure inclusive growth, promote investment and employment opportunities for all, we have taken an initiative to develop 100 special economic zones around the country,” she said.
Sheikh Hasina said extensive social safety net measures give coverage to many vulnerable segments of Bangladesh’s population, including elderly people, persons with disabilities, victims of domestic violence, and vulnerable mothers under economic hardship.
The prime minister said special emphasis has been given to unlock the potentials of physically challenged children and people. Some 103 services and care centres along with 32 mobile therapy vans attend to the needs of persons with disabilities, including those affected by autism, she said.
She said around 18,500 community clinics are playing a pivotal role in extending healthcare services to the rural people.
Mentioning that youngsters of Bangladesh are the main movers in realizing her government’s vision for a knowledge-based ‘Digital Bangladesh’, she said Bangladesh would launch its first satellite ‘Bangabandhu Statellite-1’ to the orbit in December next.
“Now, our government is working towards creating an environment to allow the youths to pursue transformative education, find decent jobs, and turn into truly global citizens,” she said.