Wining an election in a global forum is always an achievement for a country. The accomplishment becomes more crucial when the membership is entitled to a prestigious intergovernmental rights body like United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) through a secret ballot. Recently, Bangladesh was elected as a member of the 47-members’ human rights body for the 2023-25 term securing a record number of 160 votes in the Asia-Pacific region, competing with other 7 aspirant candidates in the region. This is the fifth term of Bangladesh since 2006 in achieving the status. Earlier, Bangladesh won in 2006, 2009, 2014 and 2018.
This time the victory is more significant than ever. It has come to the critical time and context when the country is facing the challenges of smear campaign and propaganda about the allegation of human rights violations in Bangladesh. A politically-motivated group in home and abroad is circulating misinformation about Bangladesh to foil the country’s achievements in upholding and promoting peace, human rights, development and democracy. Even, some people started opining that Bangladesh is going to face new sanctions or embargo due to its human rights conditions, though the speculation is baseless. Moreover, considerable changes in international human rights regime due to the dual-crisis of COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war have put strains on it. The resounding win in the 2022 election raises the question on table that why has Bangladesh won the election again in 2022. If one focuses on historical account, track records and recent developments and endeavors of Bangladesh, once can understand the reasons behind the success.
Historic struggle and commitment of Bangladesh for human rights
The first and foremost reason might be Bangladesh’s unwavering commitment to human rights and peace since the birth of the country, which has been continued unequivocally in the subsequent years of its journey. Even, during the Pakistan period, people and political forces relentlessly called for human emancipation, self-determination, justice and equity in every political movements and struggles. Likewise, the resolute commitment to human rights and social justice was secured by constitutional safeguards in 1972. Notably, Bangladesh has shown its respect to peace and rights by signing and ratifying international legal instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the United Nations (UN) Charter. Later on, the country has also been extending its integral allegiance to human rights and peace. Hence, the indispensable and historic commitment of Bangladesh to global human rights issues has been a catalyst for the victory.
Bangabandhu’s conviction for peace and human rights set motion
The second satisfying reason was the persistent conviction of Bangabandhu to world peace and human emancipation. There is no denying of the fact that Bangabandhu’s thoughts and philosophy go parallel with the glaring image of Bangladesh in the global arena. The deep-rooted and philanthropic global-centric philosophy of peace and humanity has been the cornerstone of Bangladesh’s policy in the external world. Hence, his long struggle and humanitarian principles have been the reason of being qualified for the membership in the UNHRC.
Bangladesh’s campaign for ‘culture of peace’ and significant contribution to peace keeping operations
In its core domestic and foreign policy principles, Bangladesh always strives for peace and human rights. In the regional and global forum, the country directs its focus on protecting and promoting peace and human rights. Bangladesh remains very vocal in upholding human rights and it always stood against injustice and struggled for people’s rights. In every initiative related to peace, development and human rights in the UN system including passing resolution, taking actions and establishing collective force, Bangladesh has extended its supports and endeavors. For instance, the then Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, played the leading role in adopting the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 53/243 on the “Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace” in 1999. Later, in 2021 Bangladesh’s resolution on ‘culture of peace’ was unanimously adopted by the UN. Thus, the continual campaign of peace and human rights might be a factor of the victory this year.
Rohingya crisis and Bangladesh’s unequivocal humanitarian supports
Another big factor to be noted in this regard is Bangladesh’s unequivocal humanitarian supports to the Rohingya people. The country has been providing shelter and food, sharing burden and taking the risks of security threats. It has portrayed Bangladesh as a defender of human rights in the world. In a densely populated country like Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has set a great example of protecting human rights by showing the courage. The title of ‘mother of humanity’ to Sheikh Hasina is the prime instance of how the global community builds trust and confidence on Bangladesh. Such image and conviction might be the reason why a large number of countries has voted for Bangladesh and commended the success. It has been a trump card for Bangladesh of being the member in the intergovernmental forum.
Leadership in global forums and strong diplomatic presence
Bangladesh’s growing diplomatic clout in the regional and global forums for the cause of human rights and justice is another point to note. The country’s presence in both bilateral and multilateral issues like climate change, peace keeping, human rights has been notable in the last decade. Bangladesh is now the leader and spokesman of the third world in ensuring climate justice. The country has been the Chair of Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) and Vulnerable 20 (V-20). Due to its commitment and contribution, Rabab Fatima, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh in the UN, became the first women Chair in the history of the UN “Peacebuilding Commission” (PBC). Bangladesh also became the Chair of inter-regional, regional forums like the D8 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). These factors might play a definitive role in striking such success. Notably, the courageous, visionary and bold stance of PM Sheikh Hasina in global fora on global crises and emergency situation has made it possible to depict Bangladesh in the global arena with new vigor and responsibility. Therefore, strong diplomatic role and bold leadership in the international stage on the issues of global betterment might facilitate to become successful in the election. International community, hence, has gained trust and confidence on Bangladesh in electing the member of the UNHRC.
Unprecedented socio-economic and developmental success
In the last decade, Bangladesh has made significant progress in socio-economic and developmental areas. The country has uplifted millions of its people through socio-economic policies and plans. High economic growth, food sufficiency, promising human development progress have made the country headlines in the global media. This might be the cause behind the victory. International community might consider that Bangladesh can protect and promote the rights of the people as the country has already experiences and success in this regard. Moreover, the success in women empowerment, advancement in establishing labour rights, achievements in SDGs, MDGs, global hunger, food and human development indexes are notable instances of how the country is capable and have competence to take care of global human rights.
Michelle Bachelet’s visit
Another factor that might perform behind the success is the remarks of the Chief of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who visited Bangladesh from August 14-18, 2022. After her visit, a report was published that reveals the confidence of the UN on Bangladesh about human rights. This report has had a positive impact on the international arena. Positive observations from a UN rights body are obviously an achievement and has huge impacts. The members of the UN countries might take the reference of the report in assigning the responsibility of global human rights issues on Bangladesh for the next three years.
Experience in working on rights’ issues and past track records
Last but not least, Bangladesh’s long experience in taking care of human rights issues could be another factor behind the success. To be noted, before this term, Bangladesh served four times in the UNHRC from 2009-2021, consecutively two times between 2018-2021. In addition, the past track records of human rights in the country is quite good. Likewise, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said “Bangladesh’s win vindicated again that the global leaderships have confidence on Sheikh Hasina's government and the human rights track record of Bangladesh. Bangladesh government is always at the forefront of democracy, human rights and justice”. Therefore, who else will be the member of the Council where Bangladesh has both experience and record to take the charge of the courageous task? UN member states might cast votes for Bangladesh with the expectation that it will be able to help with its experience in dealing with human rights issues. It is because of the international community’s confidence on Bangladesh’s contribution to the United Nations Human Rights’ mechanisms.
Bangladesh’s landslide victory in the UNHRC election 2022 has proved country’s commitment and contribution to human rights. It reflects Bangladesh’s continuous commitment to global human rights, peace and development. Bangladesh has the necessary capacity and met the conditions to be the member of the rights body. The country’s strong voice for human rights and peace, historic struggle for establishing justice and equality, resolute diplomatic presence in the global arena as well as integral commitment to promote and protect the rights of the global commons have contributed to the victory of the rights global body.
Brig Gen (Retd) Hasan Md Shamsuddin, Researcheron Myanmar, Rohingya and ASEAN affairs.