SHEIKH HASINA: AMBASSADOR OF PEACE
Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, holds a place among the more distinguished in the history of Bangladesh. Her political struggle in the defence of democracy has placed her in a unique position, one which accords her the dignity which comes with being in the struggle.
Sheikh Hasina always spoke out against oppression and violation of human rights.
This commitment has hardened over the years particularly her parents, brothers and many relatives were brutally assassinated by the misguided members of the military in 1975 soon after the independence of Bangladesh. As her commitment, Bangladesh has always been at the global forefront in demonstrating its consistent engagement with human rights mechanisms and institutions and in living up to its national and international obligations to promote and protect human rights.
Sheikh Hasina recently visited the struggling refugee camp that has absorbed some of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled recent violence in Myanmar. British media brands Sheikh Hasina as ‘Mother of Humanity’. The Rohingya crisis is a human rights crisis with serious humanitarian consequences. The Rakhine State in Western Myanmar is home to at least 800,000 Muslims, most of who self-identify as Rohingyas. For decades they have suffered legal and social discrimination. While there are historical economic relations with the Buddhist Rakhine community, there are also long-standing tensions between the two groups. In 2012, widespread violence in Rakhine left some 140,000 people, mostly Rohingya, displaced. On 25th August 2017, a deadly assault allegedly by Rohingya insurgents on multiple police posts in Northern Rakhine triggered a new cycle of violence, prompting an estimated 313,000 civilians to flee across the border into Bangladesh. The renewed fighting has resulted in humanitarian operations across Rakhine coming to an abrupt halt, leaving more than 350,000 people deprived of much-needed regular assistance. The latest clashes come less than one year after a previous assault by insurgents on three border guard posts on 9th October 2016 triggered a series of violent incidents and military operations that saw more than 87,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh in search of refuge. According to the UNHCR source, the initial influx of Rohingyas to Bangladesh dates back to 1978 with a large arrival in 1991-1992.
Presently, 33,148 are living in two official camps managed by the UN Refugee Agency in Nayapara and Kutupalong.
In a humanitarian gesture the government of Sheikh Hasina has earmarked about 2,000 acres of land to set up some temporary camps for the Rohingyas. Rohingya refugees are now entering Bangladesh in thousands through various points, thereby creating a massive socio-economic condition on this side of the border. Failing to find accommodation in the existing camps, hundreds of them have set up shanties on the roads.
They are also destroying forests and trees at various places in a bid to create temporary shelters. The enormity of the situation has prompted the government to handle it in a better and coordinated way. Sheikh Hasina has already instructed the Disaster Management and Relief minister to find land to construct temporary shelters for the refugees. Accordingly the said area has been earmarked at Ukhia in Cox’s Bazar to provide shelter to the Rohingyas on a temporary basis until they return to their homeland. The refugees will be given food and medical treatment and other humanitarian help as required. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told the parliament-‘No matter how much sufferings we’ve to go through, we’ll share our food with them, if necessary, as we can’t throw them (Rohingyas) into the Naf River or the Bay of Bengal. We’ll have to give shelter to them’.
Sheikh Hasina and her government successfully resolved the ethnic problems in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) through talks without any third-party mediation. The CHT Peace Accord ended 22 years of war between the Government of Bangladesh and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS). The accord was signed during Sheikh Hasina’s government on December 2, 1997, ending a two-decade long bush war that claimed the lives of 20,000. The indigenous community was persecuted and deprived of human rights, basic needs from the British colonial periods. Internal displacement of aboriginals was started by the Pakistan government and continued till 1997. Land grabbing, Bengali settlement, internal displacements, ethnic non recognition in constitution of country, militarization of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and others issues made the indigenous people revolutionary and ultimately force them to demand autonomy of CHT. The conflicts between indigenous people and government came to end after signing Peace Accord of CHT in 1997.
Through discussion and dialogue and through diplomacy, Sheikh Hasina resolved and implemented the 68-year old Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) with India that brought justice and fairness to thousands of stateless people of both India and Bangladesh. After extensive talks between Prime Minister Modi and Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina, the two sides signed 22 agreements, including on cooperation in maritime safety and to curb human trafficking and fake Indian currency. Under this agreement India received 51 Bangladeshi enclaves (covering 7,110 acres) in the Indian mainland, while Bangladesh received 111 Indian enclaves (covering 17,160 acres) in the Bangladeshi mainland. The enclave residents are to be allowed to either reside at their present location or move to the country of their choice. After the Land Boundary Agreement, India lost around 40 square kilometres to Bangladesh.
Under Sheikh Hasina’s leadership, Bangladesh was successful in passing two other landmark resolutions with consensus in 2012. These are:
Autism and other Disabilities and People’s Empowerment. Sheikh Hasina believes in ‘inclusivity’— no one must be left behind in the nation building efforts and also in enriching and contributing to humanity.
The global leaders applauded Sheikh Hasina’s achievements and they honoured her by awarding a number of UN Awards such as MDG-4 Award in 2010 when she achieved MDG-4 goal, South-South News Award in 2013 when she successfully interlinked local 13,800 clinics and 4,501 Union Information Service Centres with digital Internet connection, South-South Leadership Award in 2014 as she provided vision and leadership to global South. In 2015, she received two other UN awards. These are: Champion of the Earth for taking visionary leadership role in handling climate change, ITU Award for her leadership in telecommunication.
Sheikh Hasina often says, ‘I do politics for the people’. She is truly a symbol of peace and stability. She is a symbol of accommodation and wellbeing. Sheikh Hasina is the ambassador of peace.
[The author acknowledges with gratitude the different sources of information.]
The writer is an Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, Jagannath University, Dhaka
SEPTEMBER 19, 2017