The President of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Volkan Bozkır, paid an official visit to Bangladesh on May 25-26 upon invitation of the government. This was his second visit to Bangladesh and he found it absolutely an obligation to come and pay his respect; and give a message to the world on what Bangladesh is doing and what are the problems.
In Dhaka, he discussed the plight of the Rohingya people, the situation in Myanmar, the impact of climate change, the importance of human-centred development, gender equality and women’s empowerment, culture of peace and peacekeeping.
On May 25, President Bozkır met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and visited Bangabandhu Memorial Museum on the occasion of the 100th birth year of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The President also met separately with Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen and the topics of discussion included the situation of the Rohingya, climate change, the COVID-19 response, LDC graduation, South-South Cooperation, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
While in Dhaka, President Bozkır also delivered the sixth lecture of the Bangabandhu Lecture Series at the Foreign Service Academy of Bangladesh, which was focused on Bangladesh and the United Nations. This event was hosted by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh.
On May 26, the President travelled to Cox’s Bazar, where he met with the representatives of the Rohingya people. He was joined there by Shah Rezwan Hayat, Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, Mia Seppo, UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh, and camp authorities.
In his interactive interaction with the Rohingya representatives, the President emphasized that the world has not forgotten the plight of the Rohingya people and that the United Nations General Assembly is determined to ensure a better future for them.
Appreciating Bangladesh’s leadership on the climate front, President Bozkir has said 2021 amid COP26 presents another important moment for Bangladesh as a global leader on climate action.
“COVID-19 is the story of 2020 and 2021, but the existential threat of climate change remains. You are on the front line,” he said.
The UNGA President said Bangladesh’s efforts to draw attention to the need for urgent global cooperation, including through Bangladesh’s leadership of the Climate Vulnerable Nations’ Forum, are noteworthy.
He said an increase in global warming of just 1°C globally risks flooding that would displace 40 million Bangladeshis by the end of the century.
“I welcome the Government of Bangladesh’s plans for low-carbon industrialization,” said the UNGA President, adding that recent announcements by large carbon emitters of improved climate change commitments give hope that this year will see the course correction they need.
Bozkir said Bangladesh is an active and influential Member State in the UN and he is delighted to visit here, on only his second overseas trip since assuming the Presidency last September.
There are many synergies between his priorities in this 75th session of the UN General Assembly and the work interests of Bangladesh, whether in relation to the situation of LDCs and LDC graduation; COVID-recovery and the attainment of the Sustainable Developments Goals, gender equality and women’s empowerment, and humanitarian action, he said.
Vaccines for All
On vaccine issues, he said there really is no more pressing issue facing this region and the world. “From the earliest days of my Presidency, I have emphasized the importance of fair and equitable distribution of vaccines.”
Bozkir agreed with Bangladesh and others that COVID vaccines should be treated as a global public good.
Indeed, he said, this was the focus of a dedicated panel during the special session of the General Assembly on COVID-19, which he convened last December. “A lot has happened since then. Yet, much more remains to be done.”
Bozkir said they have seen countries and companies from across the world come together to invest in, develop, and bring to market multiple proven vaccines.
Billions of dollars have been provided to multilateral mechanisms to procure and distribute vaccines. And yet, he said, the fact remains that only 0.3% of all vaccines have gone to low income countries.
Bozkir said from the health worker in an LDC, to a teacher in a refugee camp, to the elderly in care facilities across our countries, we must all be covered. “The most vulnerable groups – people on the move, in conflict zones, and those already marginalized – must be prioritized.”
He said Bangladesh has promoted solidarity throughout the COVID-19 response, engaging actively in multilateral initiatives and helping its neighbors as well.
“With disruptions to commercial supply, it is clearly important that Bangladesh be included in the multilateral vaccine response. We are not safe until we are all safe,” he said.
Bozkir said Bangladesh has demonstrated pride in its achievements and is a model for other countries seeking to move up the value chain, while continuing to invest in people. “I am looking forward to your much anticipated graduation, with appropriate safeguards to reflect the vulnerabilities of COVID-recovery and climate change.”
On peace and security in the United Nations, Bozkir said, Bangladesh is also a leader as the number one contributor of police and troops to UN peacekeeping missions.
Of the 175,000 personnel deployed to 54 peacekeeping missions across five continents since 1988, currently 6,608 Bangladeshis are serving in nine missions around the world, including, Central African Republic, Mali, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lebanon, Yemen, and South Sudan.
“These brave men and women leave their families behind in order to protect communities in need. I pay particular tribute today to those peacekeepers who paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving under the blue flag of the United Nations,” Bozkir said.
He said peacekeeping remains one of the most innovative responses provided by multilateralism to the maintenance of international peace and security. “Under the primary purview of the Security Council, peacekeeping also has an important track in the General Assembly.”
He commended the engagement of Bangladesh in the General Assembly, where it has advocated for the importance of increased participation of women in the field of peace and security, including in senior positions, for smooth transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding and to sustaining peace.
“You were an early advocate and supporter of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda and you walk the talk,” Bozkir said.
He said in September this year, he will convene a High-level Forum on Culture of Peace, as requested by the membership.
He hoped it will address the rise of hate speech and discrimination, which has increased significantly during this pandemic, as well as reinforce what they know, which is that gender equality and women’s empowerment are fundamental to building and sustaining peaceful societies.
“I look forward to Bangladesh’s participation in this event, and I trust that as foreign service officers you will work to promote the spirit of a culture of peace – there is no more noble goal than the pursuit of diplomacy for peace,” Bozkir said.
He said this is clear in Bangladesh’s mission-driven approach to service, particularly at the United Nations in New York, where Ambassador Rabab Fatima, is an active and highly respected Ambassador.
“Those of you who have worked with Ambassador Fatima know that she brings a dynamism and unique insight to all of her endeavours. When Madame Ambassador speaks, all in the room pay attention,” Bozkir said.
He said, “As we contend with a multitude of challenges, including the parallel threats of COVID-19, climate change, and conflict around the world, I trust that you will take a leaf out of her book and pursue an energetic, entrepreneurial style of diplomacy for peace.”
In conclusion, he said, the dictum of Bangladesh’s foreign policy is friendship to all, malice to none.
“At a time of great contestability and geostrategic rivalry, this positive and independent outlook should serve you well; you should cherish it, and use it to forge a peaceful and prosperous path for your country, region and the world,” he said.
Bangabandhu and UNGA
Bozkir remembered Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as a world leader committed to peace, human rights and sustainable development.
“I am reminded today [Tuesday] of the statement he delivered to the General Assembly….he outlined the importance of peace, human rights and what is now known as sustainable development – the core pillars of the United Nations,” Bozkir wrote in the visitors’ book after visiting Bangabandhu Memorial Museum in Dhanmondi. Bangabandhu delivered the historic speech at the UNGA on September 25 in 1974.
He said it is a great pleasure to visit Bangabandhu Memorial Museum and pay his respect to the Father of the Nation in this centenary year of his birth. The UNGA president placed a wreath at the portrait of Bangabandhu at the museum.
“It should be kept in mind that only through the united and concerted effort of the people, we’ll be able to reach our specific goal to build a better future,” Bozkir wrote in the book.
“These issues are more important now than ever before. I count on the continued support of Bangladesh to achieve our shared goals,” he wrote.
Bozkir has highly appreciated Bangladesh's efforts for Rohingyas in Bhashan Char, saying it will be another example to the world on how to deal with the refugee issues.
“I really applaud the work done there – the quality of buildings and also taking all the precautions. I think this will be another example to the world on how to deal with refugee issues,” he said.
Bozkir hoped that this would work well for the Rohingya people, giving them a better condition in Bhashan Char.
In a joint media briefing at the Foreign Service Academy with Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen, the UNGA President said he could not visit Bhasan Char but he saw a video on it and acknowledged the high-level of works there, including precautions and safety measures.
Bozkir appreciated Bangladesh’s role in the peacekeeping operations and sacrifices of the Bangladeshi peacekeepers for the peace and security of the world.
The UNGA President said he has admiration for Prime Minister Hasina for her political and humanitarian thinking and saluted the hospitality and courage that Bangladesh has shown to the Rohingya people.
President Bozkir has said the General Assembly has not forgotten about the Rohingya people. "To the people I met, I will uphold my promise to share your stories back in New York," he tweeted after visiting Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar district.
The UNGA President said, "I came face to face with resilience today in Cox’s Bazar. We often speak about the Rohingya in UNGA - but today I spoke with them."
He said basic rights, including citizenship, and the creation of conditions conducive to the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of all Rohingyas must be respected.
“The safety and security of the Rohingya and other minorities must be secured,” he said while delivering his keynote speech at the Sixth Lecture of the Bangabandhu Lecture Series at Foreign Service Academy.
Bozkir said he firmly believes they cannot speak on these issues from afar. “The United Nations must continue to reach out to the people we serve.”
Turning to the issue of human rights and humanitarian action, he commended Bangladesh for offering shelter and protection to the Rohingya fleeing persecution and unspeakable crimes in Rakhine State.
Bozkir mentioned that Bangladesh stepped up at a moment of crisis to uphold the principles of the United Nations when most vulnerable neighbours endured their darkest hour.
“Please allow me, on behalf of the United Nations General Assembly, to thank you. History will define your actions as heroic,” he said.
Bozkir said he remains “deeply concerned” about the humanitarian implications of the military’s recent actions in Myanmar. “I join calls for an immediate end to the violence.”
A year ago, he said, the International Court of Justice ordered Myanmar to do everything possible to prevent a genocide against the Rohingya.
“This order retains its urgency and should not be forgotten as we face new challenges relating to the coup and its violent aftermath,” Bozkir said.
Most probably they will have a meeting on Myanmar where they will try to find a consensus. Personally, he said, he is completely against any military coup in the world.