You have met a cross section of the minority community during your visit. What did they share with you about political and civil rights, religious freedom in Bangladesh? What was your impression?
I've had a wonderful trip to Bangladesh. It has been great to be here during the holy month of Ramadan to see how the people of Bangladesh celebrate this holy month. I've had the chance to meet with leaders of the Hindu, Buddhist and Christian communities, and of course of the Muslim community. What they emphasised is that the people of Bangladesh have lived together for so long in peace and harmony and that included the Hindu and the Muslim communities. And that has only reinforced my belief that there is a strong tradition of religious tolerance within the country and when there are issues, the people are very serious about coming together to address those issues and make clear that those who would try to sow any division or hatred, will not succeed. The people and the government are working together to address any challenges to religious freedom here in Bangladesh.
Did your raise any concerns of the US government about religious freedom in Bangladesh?
I believe that the people of various communities are safe here. But the real test is how the people and the government come forward to resist any challenge that may arise. Discussions on this matter were held with the leaders of various communities and well as with representatives of the government and civil society. There is need for open discussion between the two countries to improve the situation further.
How will you evaluate the state of religious freedom in Bangladesh in comparison with other countries of South Asia?
Our message is the same everywhere we go. All people should be able to practice their religion. No one should be tagetted because what they believe, even if they do not believe. Violence any of this is totally unacceptable. That is our message everywhere including Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. We are encouraged to see everyone living together peacefully here and when there has been an issue, they are very serious to come forward together to rejecting those who have tried to create divisions.
Every year after the publishing of the international report concerning religious freedom, you highlight your observations on the condition of various countries including Bangladesh. The government sees such observations as interference in internal affairs. What would you say about that?
Strong friendships mean having honest conversations with one another. We have had great conversations here in Bangladesh partly because the government has shown it is serious about addressing the issue of religious freedom. In October last year for example, the prime minister was very clear about the importance of protecting religious freedom. So the report is a report that reflects the our stance that all people should be able to practice their religion freely. It deals with the challenges as well as the encouraging factors such as the larger response to what happened.
Whenever there have been any communal clashes in Bangladesh, there are repercussions in India. Again, if anything occurs in India, it has an effect on Bangladesh. What is your observation about tacking such untoward incidents?
The encouraging aspect is that the people come forward in a positive way. When exchanging views with people of the Hindu community in Gazipur, they were very clearly that the Muslim and Hindu communities have long been living together peacefully. They said they would not let those who want to divide them create any conflicts. This is a strong message for the entire region, not just Bangladesh. We see people coming together determined to live together peacefully. The government has also taken action to respond to violence against religious groups. as we saw in October. We will work continuously with Bangladesh to ensure people have the right to practice their religion without fear.
It has been five years since the minority Rohingyas of Myanmar have fled into Bangladesh, but there are no signs whatsoever of repatriation. The military coup in Myanmar last year made matter worse. Meanwhile, security in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar is deteriorating. How can this crisis be resolved? How does Washington plan to help?
The US recently determined that the Rohingya were subject to genocide and so we continue our efforts to hold all those responsible for the genocide accountable. We work for the eventual goal of repatriation with full civil rights and security. We have to make sure we are building a better future must for the Rohingya who have taken shelter here in Bangladesh. That means ensuring that the Rohingya have access to basic resources that we all deserve, education, healthcare, access to healthcare, livelihood. It is important that we give the people in Cox's Bazar hope and also to protect their security.
The US is committed to providing assistance to Rohingya and to the host community as well. What we saw in Cox's Bazar was the suffering, but it was also remarkable to see how the Rohingya have are seeking to stand up, seeking to create learning centres, to create schools, to create businesses. We support that from the international community. We don't take any steps to prevent them in this effort.