Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, US, on 27 September 2018
Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, US, on 27 September 2018Reuters

Exactly 46 years ago on this day, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, as Bangladesh’s first head of government, delivered a speech in Bangla at the United Nations General Assembly. He highlighted the fundamentals of Bangladesh’s foreign policy, expressing firm belief in democracy, justice, independence and human rights. He made it very clear that Bangladesh was committed to the UN ideals and the UN Charter.

And 22 years after that historic day of 25 September 1974, Bangabandhu’s daughter prime minister Sheikh Hasina also delivered her speech at the UN General Assembly in Bangla. In that speech delivered in October 1996, Sheikh Hasina asserted before the world, Bangladesh’s commitment to the same path followed by Bangabandhu.

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According to the UN archives, Bangladesh’s heads of state and government have been representing Bangladesh at the General Assembly. As prime minister, between 1996 and 2001, Sheikh Hasina delivered speech at the General Assembly thrice in Bangla.

Since entering her second term as prime minister in 2009, so far Sheikh Hasina has delivered speeches in Bangla 11 times at the General Assembly.

A review of her speeches shows that prime minister Sheikh Hasina has on one hand spoken of establishing world peace, security and stability, and on the other she has spoken of ensuing development all over the world by eliminating the existing economic disparities between the developed and the developing world. Overall, she had called for a world free of hunger and free of the fear of nuclear weapons. She has called for stronger, more effective, pragmatic and appropriate measures from the UN in this regard.

Bangladesh has been at the forefront of several important resolutions of the UN over the past 45 years. Many powerful countries of the West, including permanent members of UNSC, had initially opposed many of these initiatives. Once the resolutions were passed, these countries wasted no time in taking credit
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The UN was launched on 24 October, after the destruction wrought by World War II. Its objective was to establish world peace, create bonds of friendship among nations and ensure development though international cooperation. There have been ups and downs in its 75-year journey. Questions remain as to how far it has been able to implement the vision with which it began.

Bangladesh in the UN

Within three years of attaining independence though the Liberation War of 1971, in September 1974 Bangladesh became a permanent member of the UN. And in five years from then, within less than one decade of existence, in 1979 Bangladesh was elected as member of the US Security Council.

In the second term Bangladesh was elected member again in 2000 and 2001. From March till June 2000, Bangladesh was the chair of the UNSC. Earlier, in 1986, Bangladesh’s permanent representative to the UN at the time, Humayun Rasheed Chowdhury, chaired the 41st session of the UN General Assembly.

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Bangladesh has been at the forefront of several important resolutions and initiatives of the UN over the past 45 years. Interestingly, many powerful countries of the West, including permanent members of the Security Council, had initially opposed many of these initiatives. Once the resolutions were passed, these countries wasted no time in taking credit. Such initiatives include the Security Council’s resolution 1325 on women’s role in peace and security and the General Assembly’s resolution 54/194 on microcredit.

Bangladesh has also been elected several times to important positions in the UNDP, UNICEF, UNFPA and such agencies.

Bangladesh was chair of ICPD+5 global Review Conference in 1999.

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Eminent persons in high positions

Several eminent persons for Bangladesh have been appointed to various important positions of the UN’s various agencies.

Bilateral negotiations do not always ensure a fair deal. It is through the multilateral process that just and fair deals can be ensured.
Masud Bin Momen, foreign secretary of Bangladesh

Former finance minister SAMS Kibria had been the first from Bangladesh to hold a top post in any UN agency. This former diplomat in 1981 was appointed as the executive secretary of ESCAP (Economic and Social Commission for the Asia Pacific). He was the head of ESCAP for almost a decade, from May 1981 till March 1992. In 1996 he was special representative for the coordination of the UN Secretary General’s humanitarian relief assistance programme for Cambodia.

Bangladesh’s former permanent representative to the UN, Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, was appointed as undersecretary to the organisation. The UN secretary general at the time, Kofi Annan, appointed him as high representative of the LDC countries.

Ameerah Haq, presently the global chair of BRAC, had been serving with the UN for around four decades. In 2009 she was appointed as the undersecretary of the UN peacekeeping programme’s department of field support. Earlier she had been special representative of the UN secretary general in East Timor, UN resident representative in Sudan an Afghanistan, and UN coordinator in Malaysia and Laos.

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Foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen over two decades has been in various positions at Bangladesh’s permanent mission in the UN. Before taking over as foreign secretary at the start of the year, he had been Bangladesh’s permanent representative at the UN in New York. He said that the world has changed over the last 20 years and Bangladesh has not lagged behind. Bangladesh’s role in the UN has gained more significance than any time in the past.

The foreign secretary said that despite many crises and problems, Bangladesh still had confidence in this multilateral system. Bilateral negotiations do not always ensure a fair deal. It is through the multilateral process that just and fair deals can be ensured.

This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir