Ladies and gentlemen,
I greatly appreciate this opportunity to participate in this Bangabandhu lecture series here at the Foreign Service Academy in Dhaka – the premier facility to train future diplomats.
My sincere thanks to the Government of Bangladesh for this invitation and to Mia Seppo and her team for providing a crucial link between the UN at Headquarters and its vital work here in country.
Bangladesh is an active and influential Member State in the UN and I am delighted to visit here, on only my second overseas trip since assuming the Presidency last September. There are many synergies between my 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.
But let me begin with COVID vaccines, because 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. I agreed with Bangladesh and others that COVID vaccines should be treated as a global public good. Indeed, this was the focus of a dedicated panel during the special session of the General Assembly on COVID-19, which I convened last December.
A lot has happened since then. Yet, much more remains to be done.
We 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 the fact remains that only 0.3% of all vaccines have gone to low income countries.
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.
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.
Of course, COVID-19 is not just a health crisis. At the UN General Assembly special session on the COVID-19 response, we heard from the ILO Director-General that when the world came to a standstill, economic migrants around the world were left in limbo resulting in remittances plummeting. The return of up to one million migrant workers to Bangladesh has highlighted this vulnerability.
I understand Bangladesh is making significant efforts to scale up social protection systems, with a focus on women, the ultra-poor, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations. You are treating gender equality as a strategic objective, including recognizing the need to tackle the scourge of gender-based violence, which spiked in so many of our countries during lockdowns. You are also promoting economic revovery through fiscal stimulus. I welcome the presentation by Bangladesh of its Voluntary National Review at last year’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York, including the innovative, data-driven, SDG tracker.
In this regard, I commend the efforts, which have resulted in Bangladesh meeting the eligibility criteria for graduation from Least Developed Country status. The incentives for graduating are often perverse. But 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.
Speaking here in Dhaka, I would be remiss if I did not emphasise the importance of thoughtful stewardship of rapid urbanization. Well-planned, managed, and financed cities and towns can build resilience to mitigate the devastating impacts of shocks from health pandemics, climate change, economic downturns. If we fail to prepare for the increasing rate of urbanization, we will miss the mark in 2030.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
COVID-19 is the story of 2020 and 2021, but the existential threat of climate change remains. You are on the front line. Bangladesh’s efforts to draw attention to the need for urgent global cooperation, including through your leadership of the Climate Vulnerable Nations’ Forum, are noteworthy. 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. As a global leader on climate action, 2021 presents another important moment for Bangladesh: COP26. Recent announcements by large carbon emitters of improved climate change commitments give hope that this year will see the course correction we need.
On peace and security in the United Nations, 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.
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.
Its evolution over the years shows the capacity of the United Nations to adapt to new circumstances and come up with original proposals and solutions. Improving the way we deliver is a shared responsibility for the international community.
To this end, I commend the engagement of Bangladesh in the General Assembly, where you have 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 advoacate and supporter of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda and you walk the talk.
More broadly, it is critical that we work with all nations to instil a culture of peace in all its dimensions. Madame Prime Minister made this call for all to embrace a culture of peace at the General Debate this past September. This reflects work over two decades since the adoption of GA resolution 53/243.
In September this year, I will convene a High-level Forum on Culture of Peace, as requested by the membership. I hope it will address the rise of hate speech and discrimination, which has increased significantly during this pandemic, as well as reinforce what we 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.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me now turn to the issue of human rights and humanitarian action. I commend Bangladesh for offering shelter and protection to the Rohingya fleeing persecution and unspeakable crimes in Rakhine State. Bangladesh stepped up at a moment of crisis to uphold the principles of the United Nations when your 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.
I remain 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, 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.
The safety and security of the Rohingya and other minorities must be secured. Their basic rights, including to citizenship, and the creation of conditions conducive to the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of all Rohingya refugees and IDPs, must be respected.
Tomorrow, I will visit Cox’s Bazar, for I firmly believe we cannot speak on these issues from afar. The United Nations must continue to reach out to the people we serve.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It has been a distinct honour to speak with you here today. Bangladesh has promoted the ideals of the United Nations since its independence – going as far to make specific reference to respect for international law and the principles enunciated in the UN Charter in article 25 of your constitution.
This is clear in your mission-driven approach to service, particularly at the United Nations in New York, where Her Excellency, Rabab Fatima, is an active and highly respected Ambassador. She led the UNICEF Executive Board, the creation of the first-ever General Assembly resolution on Global Drowning Prevention, and works to end poverty and reduce inequalities as Vice-President of the UNDP UNFPA UNOPS Executive Board. She is also chairing preparations for the LDC-5 conference, as well as co-facilitating a crucial UN reform process that, at its heart, is about UN effectiveness and ensuring that the United Nations is able to meet the challenges of the day.
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. 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, I understand that 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. I commend you for your work and once again, I thank you for your kind invitation here today.