Statement by H.E. Rabab Fatima, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations and 2020 President of the UNICEF Executive Board at the handing over of the Presidency of 2020 UNICEF Executive Board, 12 January 2021

Excellencies, Madame Executive Director, Distinguished Colleagues,

It has been an honour and privilege for my country Bangladesh, and for me personally, to have served as the President of the UNICEF Executive Board.  For me, it has also been a deeply meaningful and gratifying experience.

In taking forward my responsibility, I was inspired by the courage, commitment and dedication of UNICEF staff everywhere – especially those on the frontline, who never wavered in their line of duty to serve and protect the children in the face of this unprecedented health crisis, often putting at risk their own health.  I thank and salute them on behalf of the Board and on my personal behalf.

Allow me to thank and express my deep appreciation to my dear colleagues on the Bureau: Ambassador Audra Plepytė; Ambassador Omar Hilale; Ambassador João de Almeida Filho; Christine Schneeberger; and Dominique Favre, the former Vice-President, who served alongside us for most of the year, and whom we heard in the video.  It was a pleasure having you all as fellow bureau members.

The year 2020 was unquestionably a challenging year.  Perhaps it was the unprecedented crisis that we traversed together that brought us even closer.  We have worked closely to overcome real time challenges that confronted us over ensuring the timely and effective implementation of UNICEF’s core mandates.  We have wrestled with complex issues. We have confronted difficult decisions. But there was always a genuine spirit of camaraderie, friendship and solidarity.  I am grateful for your wise counsel, your support and constructive spirit that enabled us to make progress together; and to keep our promise to the world’s children.

Ambassador Plepyte/Audra: allow me to extend my warmest congratulations to you and to Lithuania on your nomination by the Eastern European Group to serve as President of the Board for 2021. It’s an honour and pleasure to be passing on the baton to you; and I am confident that I am leaving the Presidency in the best of hands.

It is a shared responsibility that unites us as a Board.  All 36 countries on the Board pursue a single goal together: i.e. to protect the rights of children everywhere, especially those furthest behind, to survive and to thrive, and to reach their full potential. This goal lifts us above national interests. It pushes us to work with sincere and steadfast commitment and goodwill.  I wish to thank and express my gratitude to all members of the Board for their support, cooperation and collaboration in pursuing our shared goal.

We began our term on a high note with the first regular session; but in less than a month, we were in the midst of the pandemic, which upended all our plans and routines for the year. However, despite the unprecedented challenges, the Board was able to effectively fulfill its oversight role throughout the remaining months of the year.

I thank you all, especially, the Secretariat, for very successfully and rapidly adapting to the ‘new normal’ of transitioning to virtual meetings, and ensuring the smooth holding of both the annual and the second regular sessions. There were many limitations no doubt, but it was wonderful to witness the good will and patience of all involved in handling the novelty and technical challenges of the new virtual world we suddenly found ourselves in.  I am grateful to everyone who enabled the Board to fulfill its obligations this year.

In addition to the three formal sessions, we held more than 25 informal briefings and 11 joint briefings over the course of the year, including just last month a very useful interactive workshop on the new Strategic Plan — the framework that will guide UNICEF for the next four years as well as, set the course through the Decade of Action until 2030.

Robust engagement of the Presidents’ of all the Boards continued throughout the year, which greatly ensured good collaboration, and which I found very useful.  My only regret is that we could not go on the field visit.  I hope that the situation will improve enough to enable that to take place this year.

As I relinquish my charge today, I do so, on a sad note, as we confront the sobering state of children globally.  At the outset of the pandemic, we spoke about not allowing this crisis to turn into a children’s crisis.  But sadly, children are being infected with the virus; and they not been immune to the impact of the pandemic.

Millions of children remain out of school.  Almost one-third of children worldwide, some 463 million who do not have access to remote learning means are not receiving any education.  The pandemic has made it clear more than ever before, the necessity of bridging the digital divide, and supporting especially the developing countries in this regard.

Millions, as many as an additional 150 million children, have been pushed into multidimensional poverty, leaving them without essential services, with serious impact on their health, nutrition, and overall growth and development.  More children will go hungry this year – an additional 42 million – as worldwide coverage of nutritional services to children and women have declined this year by 40 percent since the start of the pandemic.  Children’s mental health is of major concern in this pandemic as we grapple with a disruption of mental health services. The situation of children is particularly serious in the least developed and other vulnerable countries.

Regular immunization programmes are being disrupted; and this may be further hampered as resources shift to the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines.    These are extremely distressing statistics.

And all these factors increase the vulnerability of children to violence, and other forms of exploitation, such as child labour, early and child marriages, and trafficking, which are all on the rise.  Particularly vulnerable are girls, and migrants and displaced children.

As we start another year, I hope that the Board will remain at the forefront in supporting UNICEF’s efforts, in addressing such colossal disruptions.  We would need to prioritize on reaching education to all children around the world; keep regular immunization programmes ongoing; and ensure the delivery of all essential services to children.

We must mitigate and minimize the Covid impact on children globally by finding innovative solutions.  We must make sure that at the national levels, Covid response and recovery plans include children’s issues.  I hope that the solidarity and understanding that guides our work in the Board will enable us to keep our priorities on track.

Allow me now to conclude with a final round of vote of thanks.

Let me start by thanking Executive Director Henrietta Fore for her leadership. You have been a tireless champion of children’s rights and of the rights of your own staff.  During this pandemic crisis, you have led from the front.  UNICEF’s Covid response and recovery efforts have been commendable; especially UNICEF’s leading efforts now through the COVAX partnership to ensure the equitable and efficient distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

I am personally grateful to you for your friendship and support; and I believe that UNICEF – and the children of the world – are fortunate to have you as their leader and most ardent advocate. Thank you, Executive Director Fore.

I would also like to express my gratitude to the many UNICEF staff members who have been so generous with their time and expertise: Deputy Executive Directors: Omar Abdi, Hannan Sulieman, Charlotte Petri Gornitzka and Fayaz King; as well as Kirsi Madi, and other colleagues that I have not mentioned by name – thank you for your support.

And, to the Office of the Secretary of the Executive Board: I commend you for your exemplary professionalism, efficiency, dedication and tireless efforts, in supporting our work; and enabling us to continue smoothly in spite of the challenges this year.

A special thanks to the Secretary of the Executive Board, Gilles Fagninou.  Over the past months that we have worked together, I have received incredible support from him.  I can assure you all that you will find in Gilles, a true professional and an incredibly hardworking and committed person.  Thank you, Gilles.   I also wish to recall with deep appreciation and thanks Ms. Hai Kyung Jun, the former Secretary, for her unflagging support and commitment to our work.

I also wish to thank other OSEB colleagues: Randall Gonzalez-Villalobos; Andrea Truppin; Allyson Alert-Atterbury; Ana Torres Camara; Jodi Piccolomini-Geary; Hikari Arai; Dillon Leano; Flaminia De Agostini; Nogel Saret Viyar; Anastasia Warpinski – and all others – thank you! You have been an incredible team.  I couldn’t have done without you!

And last but not the least, I wish to thank all our experts, including my small team, who have worked tirelessly throughout the year.  I am sure my fellow Bureau members will agree with me that without their support we couldn’t have had a smooth sailing.  A big thank you, to all of you – Majda, Feliksas, Ronaldo, Lilianne, Rasma, Iqbal, Nirupam and Fahmid.

And now, it’s my pleasure to welcome the new Vice-Presidents for 2021, who have been nominated by their regions, and will join Amb. Audra Plepyte and Amb. Omar Hilale on the Bureau.  It’s an outstanding Bureau! I warmly welcome:

Ambassador Rodrigo A. Carazo, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica;

Ambassador Craig John Hawke, Permanent Representative of New Zealand; and

Ambassador Hyunjoo Oh, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea.

Congratulations to all of you!

UNICEF is a special organization. I feel truly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work closely with it. And I assure you that you can look forward to a remarkable and rewarding experience. I wish you all success.

I have been told time and again, that once UNICEF, always UNICEF.  UNICEF is said to leave a lasting impact on each and every individual who is associated with its noble mission. And indeed, today I can relate so well to those four words.  I do feel that I belong to UNICEF.  I shall certainly remain engaged with the cause of children; and with UNICEF through my work in the coming days.

Thank you, UNICEF; thank you everyone, for honouring me with this opportunity to serve you this past one year.