Monday, 24th July,2023
South Asia, as Japan views it:
A new creative diplomacy
Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury
Japan’s world view, as with its perceptions of most
phenomena, has been sober, subtle and sophisticated.
This circumspection shaped its foreign policy and
diplomacy. In the post-World War 2 era it needed to
be low-key. A merchant and maritime state, it was
constrained by lack of natural resources, and often self-
imposed necessary military restraints symbolized in the
Constitution’ Article 9. Relative peace, combined with
domestic stability and external, particularly US, security
guarantees, allowed its creative energies to find fruition
in its technological advance. It made Japan the regional
leader in what the economist Kawame Akamatsu in the
1960s called the flying geese paradigm or Ganko keitai-
ron. This pertains to the flight of a flock of geese, with
one bird in the lead, inspiring the ones that follow. This
brought enormous prosperity to Japan, which then
needed protection for its sustainability. This implied the
need for a positive global perception of Japan combined
with Japan’s larger benevolent international footprint.
A natural consequence was its conduct of
omnidirectional diplomacy for decades. It was given
substance in the 1970s by Prime Minister Takeo
Fukuda when he launched his “all-directional foreign
policy for peace” or zen-hoi heiwa gaiko. Also called
‘Fukuda Doctrine’, it eased relations with China,
fostered ties with the ASEAN countries and created
ties with Australia. The Nixon-Kissinger initiative led
the US to help drew China deeper into the web of
multilateralism, which gave Japan the needed respite.
Japan also reached out to the developing world of the
global South with heavy doses of diplomacy combined
with generous development assistance, including to
South Asia. Bangladesh was a major beneficiary. Japan’s
burgeoning popularity across the world engendered a
desire within itself for a permanent seat in the United
Nations Security Council.
But nothing remains constant and global politics too
are in perennial flux. China grew stronger and was
being perceived as increasingly more assertive with
application of President Xi Jinping’s Zhang Guomeng
or China-Dream. its relations with Japan’s strongest
ally, the US began to wane. In the 1910s, while
prime minister Shinzo Abe sought to continue with
“panoramic diplomacy”, covering the wide world, what
became known as the Abe Doctrine. It required certain
adjustments to Japan’s external behaviour. The realities
of the regional and global impact of China’s rise needed
policy recalibrations. As a result, geostrategic and
normative elements were incorporated into Japan’s
foreign policy. No great surprise, therefore, when in
August 2016 PM Abe launched the concept of ‘Free and
Open Indo -Pacific’. The key tool with which he wished to
achieve it was the ‘Quadrilateral cooperation’ between
Australia, India, Japan and the US, better known as the
Quad. Three prongs comprised Abe administration’s
“democratic security diamond”: One, the buttressing of
defense under the policy called “proactive contribution
to Peace”, or sekkyokuteki hetwa shugi.; two, the
strengthening of the Quad by giving the concept more
content; and three, an expanding of the development
finance role, also seen to counter China’s “Belt and
Fast forward to the present. The current Prime Minister,
Fumio Kishida, came into office after a brief one year
of governance by PM Yoshihide Suga. PM Suga had
largely continued his predecessor’s foreign policy. He
stepped aside following a multiplicity of challenges
arising from the covid pandemic, economic stagnation
and rising security threats. PM Kishida had served as
Foreign Minister during the Abe years. Even during that
period, he was viewed, even by his own admission, as
more liberal and dovish than his leader within the ruling
Liberal democratic Party. Indeed, he had led the LDP’s
KOCHIKAI Faction (or ‘Broad Bond Society), founded
by Hayato Ikeda in 1957, which had underscored
the importance of Sino-Japanese relations, as also
multilateral approaches to regional challenges. Coming
as he does from Hiroshima, the city that experienced
atomic bomb devastation, PM Kishida was an unlikely
champion of higher military spending. But he needed
to shed his moderate credentials to some degree
while contesting for leadership his rival, the clearly
right-wing Sanae Takaichi, who advocated revising the
pacific article 9, and nearly doubling defense budget.
This perhaps imposed upon PM Kishida more hardened
postures than would have been otherwise expected.
Clearly, he needed to address the anxiety emanating from
the rising tensions regarding Taiwan and the perceived
threats from China on the East and South China seas,
relentless North Korean missile and munition tests,
and the issues arising out of disputes on intellectual
property with China. The tensions enhanced the scope
for what is called the Thucydides trap, the possibility of
war through miscalculations. Domestically, he needed
to bring relief to people by spreading the benefits of
growth more equitably by, with the help of, among other
things, supporting free trade. Many of these concerned
external interactions. So, at the beginning of his term,
he articulated a three-pronged foreign policy strategy
that heralded more continuity of, than change in, the
Abe-Suga approach. Policies continued to be “value-
laden” to synchronize with western allies on the matrix
of contest with China in the Pacific and the growing
conflict with Russia in Europe. The three priorities were:
First, a determination to “fully
defend the universal values of freedom, democracy,
human rights and rule of law” and to “vigorously
promote a free and open Indo-Pacific” making use of
Quad allies and other like -minded countries such as
friends from South Asia and Southeast Asia including
the ASEAN nations. A clear indication that he would not
want to be seen as soft on China was to appoint the
former conservative Defense Minister, Gen Nakatani,
who was outspoken on Hong Kong and Xinjiang
issues as human rights adviser: Second, to ensure
protection of Japan. He did so by emphasizing the US
links, declaring North Korean missile tests as “totally
unacceptable”, and by willing to meet the South
Korean leadership “without any conditions”: And third,
addressing wider global issues as nuclear disarmament,
non-proliferation, climate change and “a new Japanese
form of capitalism”, which would bring more equitable
growth and redistribution, including through expanded
free trade. The application of these thoughts was
eventually named “realism diplomacy for a new era”
or Shinjidai riarizumu gaiko. Its value-laden component
was deepened following the Ukraine conflict, and PM
Abe’s policy of negotiating with President Putin over
territories was halted.
With China, the Kishida government was somewhat
between the proverbial Scylla and Charybdis. On the
one hand, while there was a useful meeting of the
two foreign ministers, on the other hand PM Kishida
did not receive the departing Chinese Ambassador for
his farewell call. Significantly though this is the 45th
anniversary year of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship
between Japan and China, and hence some incremental
enhancement of interaction is possible. With South
Korea, given the unacceptability of the North’s missile
tests, the so-called “shuttle diplomacy “was back on
track. Both PM Kishida and President Yoon Suk Yeoul
exchanged visits. Domestic reactions were varied, but
the US felt encouraged by these developments.
The ASEAN nations, and I was able to follow this with
interest from Singapore, while welcoming Japan’s roust
regional counterweight to China, were chary of the kind
of swing in Japan’s policy that would necessitate them to
take sides. Their acceptance of the term “Indo-Pacific”,
more politically loaded, was a tad hesitant, in place of
the apolitical geographical expression “Asia-Pacific”.
The Kishida administration is likely to continue efforts
to get the three still-recalcitrant ASEAN States -the
Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand into the Progressive
Agreement for Transpacific Partnership or CPTPP.
In South Asia, for Japan, relations with India remainedkey.
Bangladesh also became a link in this chain. It was
largely because the Kishida administration took further
the August 2017 the two countries announced the
establishment of the Japan India Coordination Forum
(JICF) for development of India’s northeast. Some
strategic projects are being contemplated across the
spectrum of connectivity, roads, electric infrastructure,
food processing, disaster management, organic farming
and tourism. The Japanese financing of the Matarbari
deep -sea port is said to be linked to it. In addition,
there is Japan’s Bay of ‘Bengal Industrial Growth Belt’
or BIG-B. The projects under it, mainly, the Dhaka
MRT line, the Matarbari deep seaport, Dhaka airport
terminal three and the Araihazar economic zone will
massively transform this country and South Asian
It is true that Japan will benefit from this market of 170
million, its growing purchasing power, its demographic
dividend, and its labor source. Japan will also benefit
from its rapid economic transformation fueling regional
change. And, yes, Japan will also benefit from having
it as a middle-income powerful player in the global
economy and polity. However, evidence points to the
happy fact that that is not the only reasons why Japan
has been holding Bangladesh’s hand since the latter’s
inception since 1972. This arises from other causes as
this article seeks to demonstrate.
I recall the historic visit of Takashi Hayakawa to Dhaka
that laid the foundation of the relationship. in March
1972. Japan signaled its wish for these relations to be
seen as the example of a mutually rewarding model
of cooperation in which a stronger partner genuinely
helps a weaker partner stand up. As a diplomat and civil
servant for my country I have seen this spirit motivate
Japan and its policy makers through decades. Which is
why, at a private level nothing will please many of my
diplomatic peers around the world more to see Japan
as a permanent member of the Security Council. Japan
is a tested system, and the Japanese are a tested people
who, as the Japanese proverb goes, ‘can fall seven
times, and get up eight’!. As a model development
cooperation partners, Japan and Bangladesh are
treading a novel path. And as a Spanish poet, Antonio
Marchado once wrote said, “Traveler, there is no path;
the path is made by walking”.
Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury is the Honorary Fellow
at the Institute of South Asia Studies, NUS. He is a former
Foreign Advisor (Foreign Minister) of Bangladesh and
President & Distinguished Fellow of Cosmos Foundation.
The views addressed in the article are his own.
He can be reached at: isasiac @nus.edu.sg
CHINA’S NEW FOREIGN POLICY LAW: ITS POTENTIAL IMPACT ON GLOBAL POLITICS ——————– Dr Iekhar Ahmed Chowdhury
As of Saturday, 1st of July, China’s foreign policy is being conducted within the framework of the new ‘Foreign policy Law’, adopted by the Standing Committee of the National Peoples’ Congress, the country’s highest legislative body. It comes when China’s relations with the United States are at their nadir, with a burgeoning bipartisan perception of China in the US as the principal adversary in the global arena.
It is one of the very few areas where there is a conceptual agreement between the principal foes in the American domestic political scene, President Joe Biden and the former President Donald Trump. At least on this it appears that there is nary any sunlight between them. It does not bode well for the prospects of a peaceful world in the times ahead. But what does the new ‘Law’ entail and why did China ﬁnd it necessary to adopt and announce it at this point in time?
At present there are 52 laws pertaining to foreign aﬀairs in China and 150 others that contain clauses that inﬂuence how China relations to the rest of the world. However, now that China perceives that the adversarial competition with the US and the West in general is almost structural, it feels that there should be greater focus on buttressing its basic legal system further to address the growing concerns safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests. The Chinese authorities believe that the new law would help strengthen China’s image as a responsible major global actor championing peace, development and mutual beneﬁt. Also, according to a Western scholar, Moritz Rodolf of Yale Law School, the law aﬀords Beijing a ‘broad room’ for interpretation on how to apply international treaties domestically.
The new law, adopted on 28th June, comprises six chapters incorporating 45 articles. While expounding China’s positions on international exchanges, the law emphasizes that opening up to the outside world is necessary for ‘mutual beneﬁt’ and is a fundamental policy of the government. It underscores China’s commitment to developing foreign trade, actively promoting and protecting, in accordance with the law, inbound foreign investment, encouraging external economic cooperation including outbound investment, and promoting high-quality development of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It aﬃrms China’s commitment to upholding the multilateral trading system, opposing unilateralism and protectionism, and working towards an open global economy.
Importantly, the law also focusses on safeguarding national sovereignty, and development. It iterates China’s right to take appropriate measures to counter acts that endanger its sovereignty, security and development interests in violation of international law or norms governing international relations. It stresses that China will protect the legitimate rights and interests of its citizens, and its other overseas interests against any threat or infringement.
Clearly these are indicators of big-power behavior, a status to which China obviously is persuaded that it has graduated. Interestingly, the law promises to provide a ‘Chinese approach to advancing the international cause of human rights’. It does not, however, elaborate on how the ‘Chinese approach’ would vary from currently held views on those values.
The law critiques the countries of the West without naming them, who tend to extend overseas the ‘longarm jurisdiction’ of their domestic laws. It describes such ‘long arm jurisdiction’ as a ‘showcase of hegemony’, of which China is a victim. China strongly opposes these tendencies, the law stipulates. This new piece of Chinese legislation was explained further by China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi. In recent mes, the US has imposed sancons on a long list of Chinese companies and individuals, accusing them of complicity in human rights abuses, which China has vehemently denied. Some of these sanctions have gravely aﬀected China’s ability to access the critical technology required for semiconductors.
Also, these have forced many Chinese ﬁrms to cut back on jobs and halt expansion plans. Terming such actions as ‘bullying’ from abroad, Wang Yi published a media article arguing that this law would help counter such acts. The law in his words, is “an important measure to strengthen the Communist Party Central Committee’s centralized and uniﬁed leadership over foreign aﬀairs”.
Wang Yi clariﬁed his views on what really lay at the root of China’s decision to propound the law in the manner that it did. He said: “Facing severe challenges, we must maintain our strategic capacity… and delay use the weapon of the rule of law to continuously enrich and improve our legal ‘toolkit’ in the struggle with overseas (powers).”
The Law is also a creeping advance on the concept of President Xi Jinping’s Zhang Guomeng or ‘China Dream’, which initially, at the outset of the last decade, comprised mainly a combination of the ideas of a ‘new kind of big-power relationship with the US’, a ‘win-win’ interaction with all other countries, and the stimulating of domestic demand for Chinese manufactures.
Later, the idea of a broadened version of the ‘Old Silk Road’ was added, calling it the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI), linking nations across continents with a network of communication and mega-projects. The current law also seems to incorporate the more recent thoughts on the ‘Global Development Initiave’, ‘the Global Security Initiative’, and the ‘Global Civilization Initiative’. It seems that all these components are being constantly sharpened and honed as the ‘China Dream’ is being recalibrated, almost as a continuing process, to respond to changing international scenarios.
China obviously has come a long way since Deng Xiaoping’s advice to his people to ‘hide (their) capabilities’ and ‘bide (their) me’. The new law seems to suggest that the Chinese now believe China is not simply ‘rising’; it has already ‘risen’. Obviously, the Chinese sense that there is now a felt-necessity that values on such universal principles as ‘human rights’ are required to be projected as part of their external doctrine, even if these be formulated within the paradigm of a ‘Chinese approach’.
Nations and peoples will look to a greater understanding of what these values would entail and to what extent these would be in consonance with their current aspirations. The proof of the pudding will of course be in the eating. It is evident of course that China is quietly moving to position itself pivotally on the international scene. Global politics of the near future will be largely determined by how the West, and in particular the US, reacts to this phenomenon.
Saturday, 24 June, 2023
SAARC Must Surmount Hurdles to Remain Meaningful
Humayun A. Kamal
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) comprising the seven nations in the Region (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) was established in Dhaka, with much fanfare and considerable expectations, after prolonged deliberations, on 08, December, 1985. The objectives of the “SAARC Charter” were the promotion of the welfare of the billion-plus peoples of South Asia; improving the quality of life; accelerating economic growth; social progress and cultural development; providing all individuals with the opportunity to live in dignity; strengthening collective self-reliance; contributing to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another’s problems and promoting active collaboration in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields. The “General Provisions” stated:
1) “Decisions at all levels in SAARC shall be taken on the basis of unanimity”
2) “Bilateral and contentious issues shall be excluded from the deliberations of the Association”
The creation of SAARC was an unprecedented achievement for South Asian leaders. The region lacked close and regular interactions and cooperation among leaders and officials since the end of colonialism in the 1940s. The regional leaders and their dedicated mandarins had to hold numerous and arduous negotiations that often led to dead ends. They faced many disappointments in trying to remove the entrenched feelings of suspicion, mistrust and hostility and replacing these with an atmosphere of hope and optimism. It is said that Indian policymakers feared that the Regional Organisation might provide an opportunity to “regionalise” all bilateral issues. There was also apprehension in the corridors of power that other nations could “gang-up” against India. Initially, Pakistani officials assumed that it might be an Indian strategy to isolate Pakistan, as well as create a regional market for Indian products and services. The smaller nations had concerns that the larger, more powerful ones may use the Regional Organisation to dominate them in political and economic fields.
It is accepted by most analysts that SAARC had made steady progress towards realising the noble objectives of the Charter. It evolved gradually but continuously over the three decades since its establishment, both in terms of institutions, programmes, and interactions at all levels – technical, official, ministerial and heads of state /governments. Soon after its establishment, the South Asian leaders decided to provide the Association with an institutional framework, by setting up the SAARC Secretariat, at Kathmandu. Nepal provided the land and infrastructure for the Secretariat. Following the alphabetic principle, Ambassador Abul Ahsan, from Bangladesh, served as the first Secretary General (Jan, 1987 – Oct, 1989). A seasoned diplomat, with high qualifications, long experience and deep knowledge of diplomacy and South Asia, Ambassador Ahsan provided the practical guidelines and procedures for the functioning of the Secretariat, directors, officials and channels of communications with governments of Member States. SAARC established a large number of “Regional Centres” at least one in each Member State. Bangladesh has two centres – SAARC Agricultural Information Center and the SAARC Meteorological Research Center – in Dhaka. It set up eleven Technical Committees (later reduced to seven). To give greater attention to trade and the economy, the Association established the SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA) and later, the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) It also introduced the annual meetings of the SAARC Commerce Ministers; several trade facilitation measures; and a projection of the common positions at multilateral negotiations. The Association organised several “Specialised” Ministerial meetings to give attention to specific areas of common concern. Focus on Social Issues was one of the original five (5) areas of cooperation decided by the Member States. Technical Committees meetings were held regularly to identify and find solutions to the pressing social, heath and education issues of the Member States. The specialised agencies of the United Nations expressed interest in having MOUs, technical collaboration and observer status with the Association and a number of such collaborations were concluded. Some countries and regional organisations also wished to be associated with the Association. Subsequently, several of these collaborated in different areas. Japan came forward to provide funds for projects of common interests to the Member States, which led to the creation of the “SAARC – Japan Special Fund”
The first three decades may be considered the “ Golden Age of SAARC”. Even during this period, some critics argued that the Association was strong in rhetoric but weak in action. They pointed out that the regional organisation could not establish “projects” that could provide tangible benefits to the peoples of South Asia, in accordance with the SAARC Charter. The advocates of the Association highlighted the numerous “ achievements” – close interactions of officials and ministers, through the Technical Committees and Council of Ministers to resolve many common issues and problems facing the Region, which could not be achieved before. An important feature of The Association was the annual summits that brought together all heads of state /governments at one venue, where they would discuss and occasionally settle regional problems. They emphasised that the “ Retreat” of the Summit when the leaders would gather at a separate venue to discuss crucial issues privately without official / aides, had helped settle bilateral and thorny problems. Since the talks were confidential, their positive outcomes were not made public.
The first serious obstacle to the Association came after 2016, following yet another India-Pakistan dispute, this time the Uri terror attack. It is worth mentioning here that In September, 2016, Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists from Pakistan attacked the Indian Army Brigade H.Q near the town of Uri in Kashmir, when 19 Indian jawans were killed and about 30 injured. This was so serious and bloody that India decided not to participate in the 19th SAARC Summit in Islamabad (Nov, 2016) accusing Pakistan of direct involvement in this brutal attack. Most other Members followed India’s withdrawal from the Islamabad Summit. Since then, the Association has failed to hold its annual summits of heads of state / governments. Meetings of the Council of Ministers, Ministerial meetings, meetings of the Standing Committee (Foreign Secretary’s meetings) and other high-level meetings were not held regularly from 2016. Ministerial meetings almost ceased after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021
The meetings of the Programming Committee (joint secretary level) which is the lowest tier but vital to keep the SAARC process functioning, have also failed to be held in the past two years.
Nepal, as the SAARC Chair, could not host the meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers on the sidelines of the annual UNGA in New York in September, 2021, as the Nepalese Foreign Minister could not travel to New York. Even if the Nepalese Foreign Minister was present, the meeting would not have been held as Pakistan wanted the Taliban to represent Afghanistan.
The rest of the Ministers did not agree to the participation of the Afghan Foreign Minister as all other Member States have not recognised the Taliban regime, in keeping with the position of the United Nations towards the Taliban regime.
Many SAARC and South Asian analysts and experts are of the view that the decision to welcome the membership of Afghanistan, on the Afghan government’s request, in April, 2007, was a serious mistake. Of course, at that time it was hailed as an appropriate and timely decision. Afghanistan has always had strong historical, geographical, cultural, ethnic and religious links with the Indian Subcontinent. Therefore, Afghanistan’s inclusion in the South Asian grouping was considered logical, and its membership would finally cover the South Asian Region from the Hindukush to the Assam Himalayas. Afghanistan possessed enormous untapped energy resources and minerals. This was a significant factor for the SAARC’s agenda on economic cooperation and energy security.
After nearly twenty years of promoting “ democracy and economic growth” by NATO Nations, with boots on the ground, the Afghanistan Government suddenly collapsed like a house of cards under the Taliban offensive in August, 2021. Even in 2007, when Afghanistan joined the Association, the Taliban was a powerful force that was believed to control most of the countryside and the Afghan government’s position was precarious. Afghanistan, the latest member of SAARC, has now become a millstone around the neck of the Association.
As we know, one of the fundamental pillars of SAARC is that all decisions have to be unanimous. In other words, decisions require the approval of all Members of the Association. Therefore, Afghanistan can neither be expelled nor suspended from the Association, as the SAARC Charter does not contain such provisions. The brutal Taliban regime has become the outcast of the International Community and many senior ministers are blacklisted by the United Nations.
The latest mortal blow to SAARC happened recently over the appointment of the next Secretary General, following the completion of the term of the incumbent – Mr. Esala Ruwan Weerakoon – from Sri Lanka, which ended on 28th February this year. As per SAARC practice, the appointments are made in alphabetic order. Therefore, it is the turn of Afghanistan to nominate a candidate. There is a broad consensus among SAARC governments that an Afghan Secretary-General is not acceptable, for reasons elaborated earlier. As the current Chair of SAARC, Nepal had started consultations with the officials of Member States well before the completion of the term of the incumbent, to overcome this hurdle and reach an understanding regarding the appointment of the next Secretary General. The SAARC Secretariat also held several rounds of consultations with relevant officials of Member States. Until recently, this issue had not been resolved. A few proposals have been floated. One has been to extend the tenure of the present Secretary General until a consensus is reached. There have been other proposals to overcome this problem. Some analysts suggested that SAARC meetings including Summits can be held by leaving a “ vacant” chair representing Afghanistan. Others claimed that SAARC can be considered an “international organisation”, as it has representations from many countries and regional and international organisations. Therefore, as an “international organisation” (IO) the Association can suspend an errant member. Another proposal is to amend the SAARC Charter to include a provision for the suspension of a Member.
However, official circles and experts dismiss these “proposals” as unrealistic and impractical.
The most realistic and logical proposal is to skip Afghanistan and request Bangladesh to nominate a candidate for the post. This proposal had gained much traction and acceptance in recent weeks. It is reported that Nepal, as Chair of SAARC, has been working continuously to resolve this problem and had taken the initiative to request Bangladesh, sometime back, to nominate a candidate for the post. Bangladesh Government on its part, had responded positively and had agreed to nominate a suitable candidate. Therefore, it did not come as a surprise when Bangladeshi media and media of a few South Asian countries reported on 13th April that the Government of Bangladesh has decided to appoint the High Commissioner to Malaysia – Ambassador Golam Sarwar – as the next Secretary General of SAARC. News reports added that an official announcement will be made after the final approval by the Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. As per SAARC practice, Nepal, as the current Chair, would then obtain the concurrence of Member States to the appointment. Observers feel this would be a mere formality and the process would be short and smooth.
If all goes well, Bangladesh’s candidate should assume the post of Secretary General, at the SAARC Secretariat, Kathmandu, in the coming days. He would be the third from Bangladesh (after Ambassador Abul Ahsan and Ambassador Q.A.M.A. Rahim). The new Secretary General and his team will then have to undertake the Herculean task to rejuvenate and revitalise the moribund and dysfunctional Regional Association, so it can again carry forward the noble objectives of the SAARC Charter.
The writer is a former Secretary and Ambassador and also served as Director at SAARC Secretariat and as Director General, South Asia, Central Asia and SAARC, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
SATURDAY, 21 JANUARY, 2023
COP27 Fails Women and Girls – High Time to Redefine Multilateralism –Part 1
The writer is former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations, former Ambassador of Bangladesh to the UN and former President of the Security Council.
Part One of Three
NEW YORK, Dec 12 2022 (IPS) – Three weeks have gone by since the much-ballyhooed mega-gathering of the 27th Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), generally known by its easy-to-say-and-remember title – COP27, concluded at the resort city Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt.
This year the annual rotational hosting of COP was the turn of Africa attended in total by 33,449 people, including 16,118 delegates from Parties, 13,981 observers, and 3,350 members of the media.
Think of the carbon footprint logged by the onrush of this huge crowd! Last COP26 in Glasgow in the United Kingdom – delayed by one year due to Covid – was the turn of West European and Others turn and the next one – COP28 – will be Asia’s turn and host would be the United Arab Emirates’ wonder-city Dubai.
ELUSIVE LOSS AND DAMAGE FUND?
Overshooting the scheduled date of closure on Friday 18 November by two days, COP27 finally ended on Sunday 20 November. This unusual delay was needed to pressurize the industrialized countries, the so-called developed nations, which finally gave up their three-decade long unjust, irrational, and steadfast opposition and agreed to creating a fund to help countries ravaged by consequences of climate change.
Citing legal implications for using the easily understandable term “compensation”, the foot-draggers prefer to call it a “loss and damage fund”. Yes, that is the in-principle agreement to use the term “fund”. That has been touted by the media as a breakthrough, a major success, a first-ever agreement, end of the deadlock.
Knowledgeable observers of the COP negotiations are of the opinion that such high-octane excitement – regret the use of this fossil fuel related term – was simply naïve and could have been a tactic of the fossil-fuel lobby to divert attention away from the failure of COP27 to include the much-needed agreement on serious measures to cut in the emissions.
While COP27 outcome is overplayed highlighting the agreement to create the Loss and Damage fund. On the other hand, there is an uncanny silence about the decision taken on women and climate change issues. A totally different picture emerges on this core issue, may be not considered by the media as well as country delegations and their leaders worthy of attention.
Some NGOs observed that while the media was flashing the agreement on the “compensation” fund as “Breaking News”, for them the total indifference to the relevance of gender and climate change was “Heartbreaking News”.
EARTH SUMMIT INITIATED CLIMATE ACTION:
The international political response to climate change began with the 1992 adoption of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It sets out the basic legal framework and principles for international climate change cooperation.
The Convention, which entered into force on 21 March 1994, has 198 parties. To boost the effectiveness of the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in December 1997. In December 2015, parties adopted the much-highlighted Paris Agreement.
The first Conference of the Parties of UNFCCC (COP1) took place in Berlin in 1995.
GENDER ACTION PLAN:
At COP25 in 2019 in Madrid, Parties agreed a 5-year enhanced Lima Work Programme on Gender and its Gender Action Plan (GAP). In 2014 the COP20 in Lima established the first Lima Work Programme on Gender (LWPG) to advance gender balance and integrate gender considerations into the work of Parties and the UNFCCC secretariat in implementing the Convention and the Paris Agreement so as to achieve gender responsive climate policy and action. COP22 in Marrakech decided on a three-year extension of the LWPG, with a review at COP25, and the first GAP under the UNFCCC was established at COP23 in 2017 in Bonn.
Gender inequality coupled with the climate crisis is one of the greatest challenges of our time. It poses threats to ways of life, livelihoods, health, safety and security for women and girls around the world.
CLIMATE CRISIS IS NOT GENDER NEUTRAL:
Women are disproportionately impacted by climate change but are also left out of decision-making. They are overwhelmingly displaced by climate disasters and are over 14 times more likely to be killed by climate-linked disasters, according to the UN Human Rights Commission. In spite of their vulnerability to climate insecurities, women are active agents and effective promoters of climate adaptation and mitigation.
In a recently published book, ‘Climate Hazards, Disasters and Gender Ramifications’, Catarina Kinnvall and Helle Rydstrom examine the gendered politics of disaster and climate change and argue that gender hierarchies, patriarchal structures and masculinity are closely related to female vulnerability to climate disaster.
The climate crisis is not “gender neutral”. Women and girls experience the greatest impacts of climate change, which amplifies existing gender inequalities and poses unique threats to their livelihoods, health, and safety.
CLIMATE CHANGE AS THREAT MULTIPLIER FOR WOMEN:
Climate change is a “threat multiplier”, meaning it escalates social, political, and economic tensions in fragile and conflict-affected settings. As climate change drives conflict across the world, women and girls face increased vulnerabilities to all forms of gender-based violence, including conflict-related sexual violence, human trafficking, child marriage, and other forms of violence.
In March this year, the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) considered for the first time questions of gender equality and climate change. It recognized that in view of the existential threat posed by climate change, the world needs not only global solidarity, but also requires concrete, transformative climate action, with women’s and girls’ involvement at its heart.
UN WOMEN ASSERTS GENDER EQUALITY CENTRAL TO CLIMATE ACTION:
In her remarks at the Conference, UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous asserted that “UN Women is here at COP27 to challenge the world to focus on gender-equality as central to climate action and to offer concrete solutions.” She highlighted pointedly that “Climate change and gender inequality are interwoven challenges. We will not meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal, or any other goal, without gender equality and the full contribution of women and girls.”
Ms. Bahous rightly underscored at COP27 that “Eighty per cent of all people displaced by climate emergencies are women and girls. The impacts of the climate crisis have a distinctly female face.”
COP27 UNDERPERFORMS FOR GENDER:
But this articulated and substantive core of the issues in UNFCCC and COP did not get the needed attention. There was a basically housekeeping decision titled “Intermediate review of the implementation of the gender action plan” with many paragraphs beginning with “Notes with appreciation”, “Also notes with appreciation”, “Welcomes”, “Encourages”. The decision reads as if Parties are more beholden to the UNFCCC secretariat than to women and girls of the world.
COP27 took a so-called “cover decision” during extended period on 20 November on the “intermediate midterm review of the GAP” underscoring the need to promote efforts towards gender balance and improve inclusivity in the UNFCCC process by inviting future COP Presidencies to nominate women as UN High-Level Champions for Climate Action (embarrassingly, both the current Champions are men nominated by COPs 26 & 27 Presidents); and requesting Parties to promote greater gender balance in national delegations, as well as the Secretariat, relevant presiding officers, and event organizers to promote gender-balanced events.
It also encourages parties and relevant public and private entities to strengthen the gender responsiveness of climate finance. The decision also requests the Secretariat to support the attendance of national gender and climate change focal points at relevant mandated UNFCCC meetings.
The decision ends with the paragraph 22 which says that “Requests that the actions of the secretariat called for in this decision be undertaken subject to the availability of financial resources”. What an awful paragraph to be included in the decision on the implementation of the Gender Action Plan (GAP). Some participants quipped that the paragraph was reflecting the ubiquitous gender GAP at every aspect of human activity.
The cover decision on gender at COP27 showed starkly that since the GAP was adopted at COP23 in 2017, nothing much has progressed in terms of gender balance, inclusivity, and representation in the climate change context.
The omnibus cover decision titled “Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan” encouraged “Parties to increase the full, meaningful and equal participation of women in climate action and to ensure gender-responsive implementation… including by fully implementing the Lima Work Programme on Gender and its Gender Action Plan …” It also invited “Parties to provide support to developing countries for undertaking gender-related action and implementing the Gender Action Plan.”
If the record of COPs is considered on gender and climate issues, there is no scope, no hope for optimism. To make this contention plausible and widely accepted, this opinion-piece quotes extensively the civil society leaders whose organizations have credibility, expertise, and experience.
MEN & GENDER ADVOCATES OUTRAGED:
The Women and Gender Constituency (WGC), the platform for the civil society working to ensure women’s rights and gender justice within the UNFCCC framework, has been one of the most vocal entities on the decisions of COP27.
In a press release after its conclusion on 20 November 2022, the WGC said that “As feminists and women’s rights advocates strategized daily to advocate for gender-just and human rights-based climate action, negotiators once again ignored the urgency of our current climate crisis.”
The WGC is a coalition of NGOs established in 2009 and is recognized as official observer by the UNFCCC Secretariat in 2011. It is one of the nine stakeholder groups of the UNFCCC, consisting currently of 33 women’s and environmental civil society organizations and a network of more than 600 individuals and feminist organizations or movements.
The WGC asserts that “Together we ensure that women’s voices are heard, and we demand the full realization of their rights and priorities throughout all UNFCCC processes and Agenda 2030.”
Calling COP27 outcome as failed talks, the civil society activists for gender and climate change, expressed their disappointment in strong terms about the exclusive negotiations, saying that “We condemn the fact that negotiators played politicking and wordsmithing at the cost of substance and action to deliver climate justice. “
“COP27 gave us crumbs, with some concessions here and there. But these come at a very high cost of sacrificing the healing of the planet with no real carbon emissions reduction from historical and current emitters. This is unacceptable!” said Tetet Lauron of Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, Philippines in a public statement.
As COP27 was the platform for the scheduled mid-term review of the UNFCCC Gender Action Plan, the WGC left COP27 “deeply disappointed with the process and outcome.”
Marisa Hutchinson of the International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) Asia Pacific, Malaysia articulated this publicly by saying that “The WGC recognizes an eleventh hour decision under the Gender Action Plan but we remain deeply frustrated with the total lack of substantive review that occurred here and in the lead up to COP.
Gender experts and women’s rights advocates were left out of the rooms while Parties tinkered at the edges of weak and vague text that failed to advance critical issues at this intersection, nor deliver adequate funding. We demand that the social protection of women and girls in all their diversity be at the forefront of the gender and climate change negotiations of the UNFCCC.”
COP27 Fails Women and Girls – High Time to Redefine Multilateralism
Part Two of Three
NEW YORK, Dec 13 2022 (IPS) – The African women and Girls were deeply concerned about the lack of commitment by UNFCCC Parties as climate change continues to impact negatively on the continent victimizing more women and girls.
The WGC has uplifted the voices of African feminists at COP27, asserting their power to demand climate-justice articulated in the powerful set of proposals presented as the African Women and Girls’ Demands. [ Link: WGC_COP27-African-Feminists-Demands_EN_final.pdf (womengenderclimate.org) ] The demands stress in particular the need for more Inclusion of women and young people in decision-making processes;
Imali Ngusale, FEMNET Communication Officer, Kenya was clear in her pronouncement on this dimension saying that “Remarks about women and youth engagement have been regurgitated in well-crafted speeches. Promises have been made year in year out, but the reality check keeps us guessing whether the implementation of the GAP is a promise that may never be achieved. A gender responsive climate change negotiation is what we need. The time for action is yesterday.”
“… We are saddened by the outcomes of the implementation for the GAP. The GAP remains the beacon of hope for women and girls who are at the frontline of the climate crises,” lamented Queen Nwanyinnaya Chikwendu, a Climate Change and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Activist of Nigeria.
In a hard-hitting statement, the WGC spokesperson Carmen Capriles said out loud in her statement at the closing ceremony on 20 November that “This COP is not a safe space for women environmental and human rights defenders, neither at this venue nor in its decisions. We have experienced being sidelined once again, we have experienced harassment, oppression and resistance against our feminist climate justice demands, however, this only makes us stronger.”
This powerful one-page statement has been posted on the reliable and prestigious Women’s UN Regional Network (WUNRN) website and worth reading by all activists and supporters for the rights of women and girls. It would be worthwhile for the UN to look into the issues raised by in the WGC statement at COP27 and publicly share its findings. UN Women and UN DESA which oversee NGO participation throughout the UN system should be the lead entities to pursue this matter from the UN Headquarters.
Expressing a total dismay with the lack of substance in the outcome, politicization and non-participatory process, Zainab Yunusa, Climate Change and Development Activist of Nigeria pondered, “As a young African climate justice feminist, I came to COP27 excited to see concrete decisions to follow the intermediate review of the Gender Action Plan (GAP)…. Rather, I witnessed restrictive negotiation processes that undermined my contributions.”
“I observed the cunning political power play of ‘who pays for what,’ at the expense of the sufferings of women and girls of intersecting diversities. I saw a weak, intangible, eleventh-hour GAP decision that merely sought to tick the box of arriving at an outcome. COP27 side-lined the gender agenda in climate action. It failed women human rights defenders, indigenous women, young women, National Gender Climate Change Focal Points, and gender climate justice advocates clamoring for gender equality in climate action.”
Gender-Climate Change activists are wondering whether these frustrations would reappear at COP28. Their limited expectation, however, relates to the skillful, transparent, and impartial handling of the negotiations at the final stages at COP27 by the facilitator Hana Al-Hashimi of the delegation of UAE, the next host.
WIKIGENDER’S ROLE DOUBTED:
In the context of gender and climate advocacy, a number of civil society activists have expressed doubts about the role of the Wikigender, which claims to be “ a global online collaborative platform linking policymakers, civil society and experts from both developed and developing countries to find solutions to advance gender equality.” It reportedly provides a “centralized space for knowledge exchange on key emerging issues, with a strong focus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and in particular on SDG 5”.
The Wikigender University Programme engages with students working on gender equality issues. As an OECD Development Centre-supervised online community, activists wondered about the platform’s bias, more so as it deals with gender equality issues.
WOMEN’S PARTICIPATION MARGINALISED:
Another major concern widely shared by most activists was that too few women participated in COP27 climate negotiations. Women are historically underrepresented at the United Nations’ global conferences on climate change, and COP27 was no exception. A BBC analysis has found that women made up less than 34% of country negotiating teams at Sharm El-Sheikh. Some delegations were more than 90% male.
ActionAid UK emphasizes that “there is no getting around when women are in the room, they create solutions that are proven to be more sustainable.” To make the matter worse, the UN has estimated that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women. ActionAid said that climate change is exacerbating gender inequalities. Decisions at COP27 were not focused on the specific issues as well the perspectives which are of particular concern to women.
At COP27, the inaugural ‘family photo’ showed a dismal reality featuring 110 leaders present, but just seven of them were women. This was one of the lowest concentrations of women seen at the COPs, according to the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), which tracks female participation at such events. Twelve years ago in 2011, countries pledged to increase female participation at these talks, but the share this year has fallen since a peak of 40% in 2018, according to WEDO.
According to the UN, young women are currently leading the charge on taking climate change action. Some of the most famous legal cases brought against governments for inaction on climate change, have been brought by women. It is obvious that the outcomes of the climate change negotiations will be affected by the lack of women participating. They must have a seat at the table.
As in other years, women, and especially women of color and from countries in the global South had been demanding, that their voices be heard and amplified in climate negotiations. Their demands fell into deaf ears. “When we talk about representation it is about more than numbers; it is meaningful representation and inclusion,” said Nada Elbohi, an Egyptian feminist and youth advocate, in a press release. “It is bringing the priorities of African women and girls to the table.”
CIVIL SOCIETY IGNORED IN A BIG WAY:
UNFCCC website claims that “Civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are welcomed to these (annual COP and related) conferences as observers to offer opinions and expertise, and to further represent the people of the world.” There are 1400 such observer organizations grouped into nine constituencies namely, 1.Businesses and industry organizations; 2. Environmental organizations; 3. Local and municipal governments; 4. Trade unions; 5. Research and independent organizations; and organizations that work for 6. the rights of Indigenous people; 7. for Young people; 8. for Agricultural workers; and 9. for Women and gender rights.
Though these constituencies provide focal points for easier interaction with the UNFCCC Secretariat, based in Bonn, and individual governments, at COP27, such interactions did not happen. Complaining the lack of effective civil society space, Gina Cortes Valderrama, WGC Co-Focal Point, Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF) focused bluntly on the reality speaking on record that “Negotiations at COP27 have taken place amid deepened injustices in terms of access and inclusion, with participants facing discrimination, harassment and surveillance, and concerns for their safety as well as the safety of activists and human rights defender.”
She further added that “Instead of this being the space for guaranteeing human rights to all, it is being utilized as an Expo where capitalism, false solutions and colonial development models are greeted with red carpets while women and girls fade away in the memories of their lost land, of their damaged fields, of the ashes of their murdered.”
A WGC representative verbalized their anger by announcing that “Even as we call out the hypocrisy, inaction and injustice of this space, as civil society and movements connected in the fight for climate justice, we refuse to cede the space of multilateralism to short-sighted politicians and fossil-fuel driven corporate interests.”
Key civil society leaders were critical of their exclusion complaining that “Observers were consistently locked out of the negotiation rooms for a repeated ‘lack of sitting space’ excuse … We have also witnessed painful orchestration of last-minute decisions with few parties.”
They alerted the organizers and hosts of future COPs by saying that “This needs to be called out and ended.”
COP27 PEOPLES’ DECLARATION:
In the final days of COP27, becoming increasingly frustrated, the Women and Gender Constituency together with different civil society movements across the world endorsed a joint COP27 Peoples’ Declaration for Climate Justice. The Declaration called for: (1) the decolonization of the economy and our societies; (2) The repaying of climate debt and delivery of climate finance; (3) The defense of 1.5c with real zero goals by 2030 and rejection of false solutions; (4) Global solidarity, peace, and justice. Full text is available at COP27 Peoples’ Declaration (womengenderclimate.org).
This substantive and forward-looking Declaration should strengthen civil society solidarity and provide a blueprint for their activism in upcoming COPs and other UNFCCC platforms.
Given the ill-treatment and huge disappointment of the civil society observers being denied access during COP27, it would be beneficial for the COP process and the next COP Presidencies to allow one representative from each of these nine constituencies to be present at all the meetings of the Parties from COP28 onwards.
FOSSIL FUEL LOBBY COMES OUT OF THE SHADOW:
On one point there was a near-unanimous opinion at COP27 that the fossil fuel industry has finally come out of the shadows. One key takeaway from Sharm El-Sheikh was the presence and power of fossil fuel – be they delegates or countries.
Attendees connected to the oil and gas industry were everywhere. Some 636 were part of country delegations and trade teams, reflecting an increase of over 25% from COP26. The crammed pavilions felt at times like a fossil fuel trade fair. This influence was clearly reflected in the final text.
Sanne Van de Voort of Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF), commented, “… although it is long overdue, only a handful of countries presented their revised national plans in Sharm El-Sheikh; in contrast more than 600 fossil fuel and nuclear lobbyists flooded the COP premises, selling their false climate solutions”. According to the Spiegel, the COP27 became a marketplace where 20 major oil and gas deals were signed by climate-killers such as Shell and Equinor.”
Tzeporah Berman, international program director at grassroots environmental organization “Stand.Earth” lamented that “To be sure, the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas, is the chief driver of the climate crisis. Our failure to recognize this in 27 COPs is a result of the power of the fossil fuel incumbents, especially the big oil and gas companies out in force at this COP who have made their products invisible in the negotiations”
Climate-campaigners described the UN’s flagship climate conference as a “twisted joke” and said COP27 appeared to be a “festival of fossil fuels and their polluting friends, buoyed by recent bumper profits …The extraordinary presence of this industry’s lobbyists at these talks is therefore a twisted joke at the expense of both people and planet.”
COP27 Fails Women and Girls – High Time to Redefine Multilateralism –Part 3
The writer is former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations, former Ambassador of Bangladesh to the UN and former President of the Security Council.
ESSENTIAL FUTURE STEPS FORWARD FOR COPs PROCESS
NEW YORK, Dec 14 2022 (IPS) – As COP27 was coming to a close, the leader of the Youth Constituency of UNFCCC declared in an emotion-choked voice that “Incredible young people from the global North and the global South are standing together in solidarity asking for action. We need to look for more than hope. We need those in power to actually listen and implement the solutions”.
Action for implementation is the clarion call of the younger generation to tod’s decision-makers. It would be prudent to listen to the future decision-makers in the best interest our people and planet.
SDGs, G20 & GOAL 5 ON GENDER EQUALITY:
First, G20 Declaration last month in Bali, Indonesia resolved, “We will demonstrate leadership and take collective actions to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and accelerate the achievement of the SDGs by 2030 and address developmental challenges by reinvigorating a more inclusive multilateralism and reform aimed at implementing the 2030 Agenda.”
As we get energized by this commitment of the G20 leadership, a sobering UN Women 2022 research report tells us that the world is not on track to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5 – in fact it is almost 300 years off. Our planet absolutely require the full and equal participation of women and girls, in all their diversity.
Without gender equality, there is no climate justice. Gender equality is the crucial missing link in the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 5. Let us always be deliberate and consistent in ensuring space for young women and girls who have been leading global and national climate movements.
Only an estimated 0.01 per cent of global official development assistance addresses both climate change and women’s rights. The necessary structural measures require intentional, meaningful global investments that respond to the climate crisis and support women’s organizations and programmes. Astonishingly, less than 1 percent of international philanthropy goes to women’s environmental initiatives. That must change.
IGNORANCE OF WOMEN’S CONTRIBUTION:
Second, activists express frustration saying that “Gender is still largely seen as an isolated issue that is discussed in a room away from the main debates about mitigation, financing, and technology. Thus, it does not appear to be an issue integrated within the intersecting policies of different ministries.
This reinforces the ignorant notion that women in all their diversity are neither key actors nor agents of change but merely victims of the climate crisis.” That mindset should go as it results in the continuation of patriarchal hegemony.
Women’s and girl’s full and equal participation in decision-making processes is a top priority in the fight against climate change. Without gender equality today, a sustainable, more equal future remains beyond our reach. Give power and platforms to the next generation of Earth champions. As has been said recently, “Our best counter-measure to the threat multiplier of climate change is the benefit multiplier of gender equality.”
COPs ARE NOT FOR FOSSIL FUEL LOBBY:
Third, the current process continues to fail to meet the urgency and clarity of purpose that science and experience are calling for—a full-scale, just, equitable and gender-just transition away from a fossil fuel based extractive economy to a care and social protection centered regenerative economy.
Globally, for every $1 spent to support renewable energy, another $6 are spent on fossil fuel subsidies. These subsidies are intended to protect companies and consumers from fluctuating fuel prices, but what they actually do is keep dirty energy companies very profitable. We are subsidizing the very behavior that is destroying our planet.
The UN should not allow future COPs to be an open platform for the presence of the fossil fuel lobby. Concrete action is needed to stop the toxic practices of the fossil fuel industry that is causing more damage to the climate than any other industry.
CHILDREN & YOUTH ‘RECOGNISED’ AS AGENTS OF CHANGE:
Fourth, the full impact of climate change on kids is becoming clearer and more alarming. Children’s developing brains and growing bodies make them particularly vulnerable. The very experience of childhood is at risk. Research reports concluded that with the increasing frequency and severity of climate crisis, young children are at risk of severe trauma during the period of life when neural connections in the brain are forming and susceptible to disruption. Reports found that “This trauma can have lifelong impacts on learning, health, and the ability to form meaningful relationships.”
Bearing this in mind, a much-needed step was taken at COP27 by recognizing “the role of children and youth as agents of change in addressing and responding to climate change”. It also encouraged “Parties to include children and youth in their processes for designing and implementing climate policy and action, and, as appropriate, to consider including young representatives and negotiators into their national delegations, recognizing the importance of intergenerational equity and maintaining the stability of the climate system for future generations.”
The decision expressed appreciation to COP27 Presidency “for its leadership in promoting the full, meaningful and equal participation of children and youth, including by co-organizing the first youth-led climate forum (the Sharm el-Sheikh youth climate dialogue), hosting the first children and youth pavilion and appointing the first youth envoy of a Presidency of the Conference of the Parties and encourages future incoming Presidencies of the Conference of the Parties to consider doing the same.” It would be more meaningful if the hard-headed negotiators and fossil-fuel lobby were exposed to the children and youth events at the main conference hall at COP27. Hopefully COP28 would arrange for that to happen.
HUMAN RIGHT TO A CLEAN, HEALTHY, AND SUSTAINABLE ENVIRONMENT:
Fifth, another positive outcome at COP27 is the first multilateral environmental agreement to include an explicit reference to the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. This should open a path for this right to be recognized across all environmental governance and also codified by the United Nations.
STRONG CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION NEEDED:
Sixth, key civil society leaders were critical of their exclusion complaining that “Observers were consistently locked out of the negotiation rooms for a repeated ‘lack of sitting space’ excuse … We have also witnessed painful orchestration of last-minute decisions with few Parties.” They alerted the organizers and hosts of future COPs by saying that “This needs to be called out and ended.”
Strong civil society organizations are a critical counterbalance to powerful state and corporate actors. They help to keep governments accountable to the people they are meant to serve –– both key to climate action that prioritizes the wellbeing of people and planet.
ECOFEMINISM IS THE WAY AHEAD:
Seventh, bringing together feminism and environmentalism, ecofeminism argues that the domination of women and the degradation of the environment are consequences of patriarchy and capitalism. Ecofeminism uses an intersectional feminist approach when striving to abolish structural obstacles that prevent women and girls from enjoying equal and livable planet. This is a smart and inclusive policy not only for women, but for the humankind as a whole.
Vandana Shiva, one of the world’s most prominent ecofeminist, propounds, “We are either going to have a future where women lead the way to make peace with the Earth or we are not going to have a human future at all.” Any strategy to address one must take into account its impact on the other so that women’s equality should not be achieved at the expense of worsening the environment, and neither should environmental improvements be gained at the expense of women. Indeed, ecofeminism proposes that only by reversing current values, thereby privileging care and cooperation over more aggressive and dominating behaviors, can both society and environment benefit.
FOOD FOR RETHINKING: ELITIST MULTILATERISM CANNOT DELIVER:
Civil society representatives at COP27 verbalized their anger by announcing that “Even as we call out the hypocrisy, inaction and injustice of this space, as civil society and movements connected in the fight for climate justice, we refuse to cede the space of multilateralism to short-sighted politicians and fossil-fuel driven corporate interests.”
Patricia Wattimena of Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development pushes the point further to say, “We can’t keep on negotiating people’s rights at global climate talks. The rich must stop commodifying our rights especially women’s human rights and start paying for their ecological debt.”
With the 2030 deadline for SDGs knocking at the door, the call in the Bali G-20 Summit declaration for “inclusive multilateralism” is a timely alert to realise that current form of multilateralism dominated by rich and powerful countries and well-organized vested interests, on most occasions working with co-aligned objectives, cannot deliver the world we want for all. That elitist multilateralism has failed.
Minimalistic, divisive, dismissive, and arrogant multilateralism that we are experiencing now gives honest multilateralism a bad name. Multilateralism has become a sneaky slogan under which each country is hiding their narrow self-interest to the detriment of global humanity’s best interest. It is a sad reality that these days negotiators play “politicking and wordsmithing” at the cost of substance and action.
Multilateralism – as we are experiencing now – clearly shows it has lost its soul and objectivity. There is no genuine engagement, no honest desire to mutually accommodate and no willingness to rise above narrow self-interest-triggered agenda. It has become a one-way street, a mono-directional pathway for the rich and powerful. Today’s multilateralism needs redefining!
Tuesday, November 8, 2022
UN Needs a Sea Change in its Handling of Sexual Exploitation & Abuse (SEA)
ByAmbassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
NEW YORK, Nov 8 2022 (IPS) – Calling it “so disappointing and disheartening” in social media on 17 October, Dr. Rosie James, a British medical expert, announced that “I was sexually assaulted by a World Health Organization (WHO) staff tonight at the World Health Summit.”
WHO, as we all know, is a part of the UN system of entities. She went to emphasize that “This was not the first time in the global health sphere that this has occurred (for MANY of us).”
Dr. James further elaborated to our disdainful shame that “I want to make something clear. This is not just a WHO or UN issue. I and many others have experienced sexual abuse in medicine and field NGOs, for example. Workplaces need to be safe and supportive environments for all. And it will take each one of us to make that a reality.”
It is an embarrassment to the international community that she warned that “We must do better #Zero Tolerance; # MeToo; #Gender Equality.”
In 2021, an independent commission reported on cases concerning WHO personnel responding to the tenth Ebola virus epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That was not enough of a warning bell for the WHO staff and its leadership. Now this.
To make the matter worse, CNN reported another shocking news about a UN employee getting a 15-year prison sentence by a US court for multiple sexual assaults, perpetrating “monstrous acts against multiple women over nearly two decades.”
During some years of that period. the staff worked for UNICEF, known for its longstanding, unblemished record of care and dedication for the world’s children.
These and many other such cases, particularly UN peacekeepers and other staff of UN peace operations encouraged the US government to announce on 26 October that it has established its engagement principles for use by all federal agencies engaging with the United Nations and other International Organizations on the prevention and response to incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment.
These principles reflect the US government’s “commitment to increase U.S. engagement in a clear and consistent manner” and to “promote accountability and transparency “in response to such issues.
This is the first time a Member State has publicly declared a set of “engagement principles” to work with the UN in an area of utmost importance which puts the UN’s credibility at stake.
More so, as it is announced by the largest contributor to the UN budget and a veto-wielding Member of the UN.
Substantively, there are many positive aspects of these principles in putting the UN on guard. But at the same time, if various Member States start announcing such “engagement principles” in various areas and issues and insist on pursuing those in the context of UN’s work, a chaotic situation is bound to emerge.
The UN has yet to make its position known on the US announcement which in effect is an expression of the latter’s frustration about the way the UN has been handling the sexual exploitation abuse cases in a rather lackadaisical manner over the years.
Its much-touted zero-tolerance and no-impunity policies have not improved the situation to the satisfaction of many well-wishers of the UN.
Zero-tolerance policy is applied by the UN system entities as if they are using a zebra-crossing on a street which does not have any traffic lights.
The non-governmental entity the Code Blue Campaign is the most articulate and persistent actor with regard to the sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) issues and incidents in the UN system as a whole.
The Campaign, steered by Stephen Lewis and Paula Donovan as the co-founders, surely deserves the global community’s whole-hearted appreciation and highest commendation for its laudable work.
It has correctly emphasized that “… unjust UN policies and practices have, over decades, resulted in a culture of impunity for sexual “misconduct” ranging from breaches of UN rules to grave crimes. This represents a contravention of the UN Charter.”
The labyrinthine rules, regulations, procedures, channels of communication of the UN make the mockery of the due-process and timely justice. These have been taken advantage of by the perpetrators time and again.
As most of the SEA incidents happen at the field levels, nationalities and personal equations play a big role in delaying or denying justice.
The victim-centred approach of the UN in handling SEA cases has been manipulated by the perpetrators and their organizational colleagues to detract attention from their seriousness.
Not only the victims should get the utmost attention, so should be the abusers because upholding of the justice is also UN’s responsibility.
Also, UN watchers become curious whenever media publish such SEA related reports, the UN authorities invariably mentions the concerned staff is on leave or administrative leave. When these cases are in the public domain, the abusers are merrily enjoying the leave with full pay.
It is also known that during the leave the abusers have tried to settle the matter with the victims or their families with lucrative temptations. The leave has also been used to wipe off the evidence of the crime. These have happened in several cases with the full knowledge of the supervisors.
What a travesty of the victim-centred approach!
The head of the UN peace operations where the SEA cases take place should be asked by the Secretary-General to explain the occurrence as a part of his or her direct responsibility. Unless such drastic measures are taken the SEA would continue in the UN system.
Another unexpectable dimension of the victim-centred approach is that the abuser-peacekeepers are sent back home for dispensation of justice as per the agreement between the troops contributing countries (TCC) and the UN. Sending them home is one of the biggest reasons for the continuation of SEA in the peace operations.
The victim is not present in that kind varied national military justice situation and no evidence are available except UN-cleared reports to show or suppress the extent of abuse.
Again, a travesty of justice supported by the upholder of the global rule of law!
The UN Secretary-General would be well-advised to propose to the Security Council a change in the clause of the agreement that UN signs with the TCCs which incorporates for repatriation of abuser-peacekeepers to their home countries. If a TCC refuse to do so, the agreement would not be signed. Period.
A functional, quick-justice global tribunal should be set up with the mandate to try the peacekeepers as decided by the UN. If the International Criminal Court (ICC) can try heads state or government for crimes against humanity, why the UN peacekeepers cannot be tried for SEA?
That would be a true victim-centred approach!
Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury is a former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations, former Ambassador of Bangladesh to the UN and President of the Security Council.
Monday, September 26, 2022
“Global Peace Education Day” can Play a Pivotal Role in Transforming Education
NEW YORK, Sep 26 2022 (IPS) – Just a week ago, the international community commemorated the adoption of the United Nations Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, a monumental document that transcends boundaries, cultures, societies, and nations.
That inspirational action took place on 13 September 1999, yes 23 years ago. It was an honor for me to Chair the nine-month long negotiations that led to the adoption of this historic norm-setting document through consensus by the United Nations General Assembly. That document asserts that inherent in the culture of peace is a set of values, modes of behaviour and ways of life.
The quest for peace is the longest ongoing human endeavor going on, but it runs alongside many of the things that we do on a daily basis. Peace is integral to human existence — in everything we do, in everything we say and in every thought we have, there is a place for peace. We should not isolate peace as something separate or distant.
My work has taken me to the farthest corners of the world. I have seen time and again the centrality of the culture of peace and women’s equality in our lives. This realization has now become more pertinent amid the ever-increasing militarism, militarization and weaponization that is destroying both our planet and our people.
In my introduction to the 2008 publication “Peace Education: A Pathway to the Culture of Peace”, I wrote that as Maria Montessori had articulated so appropriately, those who want a violent way of living, prepare young people for that; but those, who want peace have neglected their young children and adolescents and that way are unable to organize them for peace.
However, the last decades of violence and human insecurity had led to a growing realization in the world of education today that children should be educated in the ways of peaceful living. The task of educating children and young people to find non-aggressive means to relate to one another is of primary importance.
As a result, more and more peace concepts, values, and social skills are being integrated into school curricula in many countries.
Peace education needs to be accepted in all parts of the world, in all societies and countries as an essential element in creating the culture of peace. To meet effectively the challenges posed by the present complexity of our time, the young of today deserves a radically different education – “one that does not glorify war but educates for peace, non-violence and international cooperation.”
They need the skills and knowledge to create and nurture peace for their individual selves as well as for the world they belong to. Learning about the culture of peace having the potential of personal transformation should be incorporated in all educational institutions as part of their curricula and that should become an essential part of our educational processes as reading and writing.
All educational institutions need to offer opportunities that prepare the students not only to live fulfilling lives but also to be responsible and productive citizens of the world.
Often, people wonder whether peace education should be introduced when the child is very young. I believe rather strongly that all ages are appropriate for such education – only the method of teaching has to be suited to the age.
For younger children, such teaching should include audio-visual materials and interactive exchanges. Teaching the value of tolerance, understanding and respect for diversity among the school children could be introduced through exposing them to various countries of the world, their geography, history, and culture.
To begin with, an informal class format could help. Such a format could even be included in any of the existing arrangements that involve social studies or general knowledge classes.
In addition to expanding the capacity of the students to understand the issues, peace education should aim particularly at empowering the students, suited to their individual levels, to become agents of peace and nonviolence in their own lives as well as in their interaction with others in every aspect of their lives.
Targeting the individual is meaningful because there cannot be true peace unless the individual mind is at peace. Connecting the role of individuals to broader global objectives, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior affirmed that “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
Peace education is more effective and meaningful when it is adapted according to the social and cultural context and the country’s needs and aspirations. It should be enriched by its cultural and spiritual values together with the universal human values.
It should also be globally relevant. Indeed, such educating for peace should be more appropriately called “education for global citizenship”.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations in its sustainable development goal (SDG) number 4 and target 7 includes, among others, promotion of culture of peace and non-violence, women’s equality as well as global citizenship as part of the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development. It also calls on the international community to ensure that all learners acquire those by the year 2030.
Recognizing that education is a foundation for peace, tolerance, human rights and sustainable development, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had convened a Transforming Education Summit (TES) which concluded yesterday at the UN. Its three overarching principles are: Country-led, Inclusive, and Youth-inspired.
Let me conclude by emphasizing that the role of education should be to encourage the young people to be themselves, to build their own character, their own personality, which is embedded with understanding, tolerance, and respect for diversity and in solidarity with rest of humanity. That is the significance of the Culture of Peace. It is not something temporary or occasional like resolving a conflict in one area or between communities without transforming and empowering people to sustain peace.
Peace education needs to be transformative, forward-looking, adaptive, comprehensive, and, of course, empowering.
Let us resolve at this conference to campaign for the proclamation by the UN of a Global Peace Education Day to transform the role of education in embracing the culture of peace and global citizenship – as emphasized by the United Nations – for the good of humanity, for the sustainability of our planet and for making our world a better place to live.
Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury is Founder of the Global Movement for The Culture of Peace (GMCoP), Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN (1996-2001) and Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations (2002-2007)
This article is based on a presentation made by Ambassador Chowdhury as the Distinguished Featured Speaker at the Second Conference on Global Peace Education Day on 20 September 2022.
Published in the Daily Sun, Dhaka, 1st June ,2022
“Oxford of the East” — Fond Memories of Those Carefree Days I Left Behind
Humayun A. Kamal
Several years back, I went to the University of Dhaka to participate in the inauguration of ”Professor /Dr. Maliha Khatun-Nargis Trust” presided by the Vice-Chancellor, which was established in memory of my mother and sister. After the ceremony, I felt a compelling urge to walk around the various buildings and facilities of the “Oxford of the East” of which I am a proud student. The university was in session. Students were coming in and out of their classes, looking at textbooks, scribbling notes, munching various snacks and of course, talking in the usual loud, excited and animated manner of students everywhere. Looking at them, nostalgia took hold of me! In a flash, it seemed, I was transported to the past, the year when I was admitted to the Department of Economics. The friendly, familiar and welcoming walls of the Arts Faculty Building appeared to tempt me to reminisce about those good old, carefree days of my student life. There, I beheld the imposing and spectacular “ Aparajeyo Bangla” sculpture! I came close and touched it with my hands. This filled my heart with joy and pride. I thought it has such an appropriate name. The sculpture is a testament to the tenacious resistance of Dhaka University students to all measures that were against our language, culture, freedom and political rights! It also felt like a personal joy! The sculptor who created “ Aparajeyo Bangla”- Syed Abdullah Khalid – was an uncle (mama) and the female model ( Hasina Ahmed) is the youngest aunt ( khala) of my wife, Shahrina, (who is the granddaughter of Dr. Akhteruddin Ahmed former Civil Surgeon of Sylhet).
I was justly proud of being a resident of Fazlul Huq Muslim Hall which was established in 1940, with Dr Muhammad Shahidullah as the first Provost. When I was a resident of F.H.Hall (1963-66) Professor Muhammad Sofiullah was the Provost, who later became the first Director of the newly established “Institute of Business Administration”(IBA)
The most dramatic event occurred soon after I started classes. This was the much-awaited solemn, but joyful annual Dhaka University Convocation-1963. My hall and the other sister Dhaka Muslim Hall, separated by a pond, were quite close to Curzon Hall, where this annual event was always held. The chief guest was always the Governor of East Pakistan. In 1963, Abdul Monem Khan was the Governor. A few days before this great event, all the student unions of Dhaka University, except the pro-government National Student Front ( NSF), took a momentous decision not to welcome the Governor into the hallowed grounds of the University. Neither the University authorities nor the East Pakistan government took this warning seriously. That year, there was remarkable unity and resolve among the student unions, as well as the great majority of students, not to allow the “dalal” Governor to enter the Campus.
I was eager to get a good view of the ceremony that was about to commence. The Governor, sitting inside a big, black Mercedes car, with police escorts in front, sides and behind him, with siren blaring, drove fast but came to a screeching halt in front of the main gate of Curzon Hall, where he was confronted by a large group of angry students, determined not to allow him entry. Of course, the police resorted to the lathi charge and forced a passage for the Governor’s car. The students continued to resist, which was met by more lathi-charge, tear gas and later, arrests of some leaders. But the brutal and barbaric police actions did not intimidate the students. Rather, these actions inflamed them further and made them determined to stop the Governor from presiding over the convocation. The Governor and University officials did eventually reach their designated places at the raised platform (“moncho”). However, the environment still remained too chaotic and unpredictable to conduct a peaceful, orderly and dignified ceremony. Suddenly, we, the onlookers from afar, were astonished to see that the platform (“moncho”) made with wood, bamboo, cardboard and paper, had caught fire, which spread very rapidly causing consternation to all those “dignitaries” sitting on the platform. There was a mad rush to exit the platform. The Vice-Chancellor and guests were alarmed at this unexpected turn of events. They dismounted, with whatever dignity they still possessed and rushed to their vehicles. The Governor departed with undignified haste, to the loud cheers of the students.
Sometime later, we came to know the details of this “platform fire”. While there was a great deal of sound and fury at the front and sides of the platform, the back was relatively quiet with hardly any police presence. A small group of students, led by HH, ( whose names I can not disclose without their permission) surreptitiously went behind the platform and set fire to it, with matches, which were concealed in their pockets. The highly inflammable material started burning soon after the dignitaries had taken their seats. No one noticed the small fire until it suddenly flared up causing total pandemonium among the guests.
Needless to say, the University authorities were forced to announce the “postponement” of the convocation. This was a great victory for the students, who dared to challenge the authorities and might of the Establishment and forced them to concede defeat. However, the students had to pay a heavy price for this victory. Scores of them were injured by brutal and indiscriminate police action and several were arrested. For those arrested and sent to prison, their chance to secure government jobs became zero, as they could not obtain positive “Police Clearance Reports” Another fall-out of this incident was that the Dhaka University convocation remained “postponed” for several years.
When I graduated with Honours in Economics in 1966 and a year later, with Masters in Economics, I could not obtain my original certificates, as no convocations were held since 1963. Instead, I had to settle for “ provisional” certificates from the Office of the Controller of Examinations. For various reasons, I could not succeed in exchanging my provisional certificates for the originals, even to this day.
I was fortunate in obtaining admission to the Department of Economics, which was in great demand by new students. “Economics”, was considered a “practical subject” that opened doors to several lucrative occupations, such as banking, insurance, marketing, public and private sector companies, besides teaching assignments in government and private educational institutions. The Head of the Economics Department, Professor Dr Abu Nasr Mahmud, was a brilliant, leftist and anti-west teacher. His extempore lectures were admired by his students. Although a PhD from an American Ivy League university, he spoke and wrote fearlessly about the evils of capitalism; the harmful impact of capitalist economic theories and policies on the economies and peoples of Least Developed Countries and the “Third World.” Professor Mahmud stressed the immoral and the criminal, ” profit at any cost” policy adopted by Western multi-national and trans-national corporations. Since many of the teachers of the Economics Department were perceived as “rightist” and “pro-West”, Professor Mahmud’s lectures gave us an insight into the harmful impact of capitalist, western economic theories and policies. He was also outspoken and unafraid to speak out against corruption, injustice, illegal activities, irregularities and misdeeds inside and outside the Campus. During my time, the NSF students( National Student Front), a government-sponsored and financed student organization, were involved in numerous incidents of violence, intimidation and illegal activities. They were above the law and protected by the law! ( of that time) Professor Mahmud spoke out against their depredations and violence on innocent students and threats to the teaching staff.
One day we were shocked to learn that NSF leaders had badly beaten our “Mahmud Sir” on the grounds of the teacher’s quarters in Fuller Road. He spent several weeks confined in his cabin at the Dhaka Medical College & Hospital, with multiple injuries. During this period, the NSF leaders were roaming freely on the Campus. Media, prominent personalities, educationists, and the public at large, condemned this ugly incident and called for an immediate and befitting punishment for the perpetrators. Under pressure, the Vice-Chancellor, Dr M.O. Ghani, constituted an “enquiry committee” and promised appropriate action against the attackers on the recommendations of the committee. But nothing happened. The enquiry committee never completed their enquiry and the assailants were never punished.
During my period at the University, the Department of Economics contained a remarkable collection of brilliant and dedicated teachers. We were beneficiaries of their knowledge, experience, dedication and commitment to excellence. However, a few years later, most of them left the teaching profession to join politics, business, civil, diplomatic and other government services.
In those days, to be an “honours” student was a privilege. Students received more attention from teachers. The number of students in an honours class was small, much smaller than in degree classes, usually 30 plus students. Classes were often followed by discussions, debates and tutorials conducted by teachers on selected subjects but there was no “spoon- feeding”. Students were encouraged to speak and express themselves. “Notebook study” hardly existed during my University days. We would regularly visit the University, Public libraries, the British Council, USIS, other libraries and book shops to gather material referred by our teachers and undertake further reading from reference books. Some sought-after books were not always available as “good students” would loan them and keep them in their possession longer than necessary, thus depriving other students. A few students would resort to the most despicable practice of cutting out the desired pages from the books with shaving blades and returning them to the librarian, with blank papers inserted for padding. The only solution was to hunt for these books in the “Nilkhet Book Market” close to the New Market. If not available even at Nilkhet, some adventurous students would venture as far as Bangla Bazar, in Old Dhaka, to get hold of these prized books.
There were several places where students could relax and socialise. The two most popular were the Teacher-Student Center and “ Madhu’s Canteen”. The iconic Teachers-Student Center, which students simply referred to as “TSC”, was designed by the world-renowned Greek architect, Konstantinos Doxiadinos. It was the social and cultural heart of the Campus, where students from different regions, backgrounds and cultures, could interact and interface, exchange ideas and gossip over lunch and snacks.
Madhusudan Dey established the University Canteen which soon came to be called “ Madhu’s Canteen” soon after the completion of the Arts Faculty Building. It was originally the “ Darbar Hall” of the Dhaka Nawabs. “Madhu Da” as he was affectionately called by students, believed to have been born in 1919, was brutally murdered by the Pakistan occupation forces on the Black Night of 25th March, along with several members of his family. The present owner, Orun Day, is the surviving son of the martyred Madhusudan. Madhu’s Canteen was the place of many historical events and the venue of numerous political and social meetings and “ adda” by students and their friends. Plans were hatched up and programmes were finalised over cha, singara, patis, alur-chop, piyaju, paratha and omelette. Madhu was perhaps the most popular and well-known person on the Campus. Some “freshers” may not have known the names of the Vice-Chancellor, Registrar and the Controller of Examination but all knew “Modhu Da”. He had a phenomenal memory and could name students just by looking at them. One recurring problem he had to face: students were unwilling or unable to pay for the items they had consumed. Madhu Da was very understanding and sympathetic. He allowed them to eat “baki”, which would be paid at some future date.
Despite the destructive activities of the NSF students, the Dhaka University campus was relatively calm and peaceful. The vast majority of students were well behaved, studious, respectful of their teachers and senior colleagues, law-abiding and free from anti-social habits. The liberal, peaceful, environment was conducive to study and research. The following favourable factors that made the University unique and contributed to high academic standards were: Qualified and dedicated teachers; serious and respectful students; a peaceful environment conducive to study; relatively efficient administration; good maintenance of various facilities, such as faculty buildings, classrooms, laboratories, libraries, residential halls, gardens, playgrounds, medical clinics etc. These favourable factors helped the University to earn a reputation of academic excellence and was justly called the “Oxford of the East “.
The“Rag Day” heralding the culmination of the four-year graduation course, a fun-filled day of singing, dancing, dress-as-you-like, colourful rallies, mock fighting, spraying participants with coloured water and other silly antics is a Dhaka University “ tradition” whose origin seemed to have been lost in the mist of time. It was a day when senior students released their pent-up tension and worry and bid adieu to their beloved Alma mater. I, had happily participated with many departing students, and now feel nostalgic and amused when recalling that Day!
Here, I wish to mention that during my stroll on the Campus, after meeting with the Vice-Chancellor, I went to the Teacher-Student Centre (TSC) to check out the quality of snacks at the canteen. I witnessed a lecture being delivered in the auditorium. There were about three hundred plus students from the Humanities department and the lecturer was using a hand-held speaker to deliver his lecture. To my surprise, I was informed that this was a “honours” class. So, from thirty plus students in honours classes during my time there are now three hundred plus students, in some departments. Sadly, quality has given way to quantity.
I tried to make the most of the facilities offered to Dhaka University students and tried to be an “all- rounder”. I joined the UOTC (University Officers Training Corps) . We received “military training”, which consisted of precision marching, crawling, use of firearms etc. For me, the most enjoyable part of the training was horse riding. On the insistence of the Officer-in-Charge, I had to make a pair of “Jodhpur pants” for horse riding (which put me back several hundred Rupees).
As I also wanted to be a “culturally enlightened” person, I joined ”Chhayanaut” Music Academy at Fuller Road, to learn to play the violin. My instructor was Ostad Motiur Rahman. Chhayanaut offered a pleasant bonus. I could meet and talk to female students. Happily, girls outnumbered boys, three to one.
“Student politics” did not interest me. However, I was sucked into it by “peer pressure.” In those days, students with good academic records and extensive personal contacts were selected to contest elections to unions of the residential hall. Needless – to – say, student politics then was not what it is now. I was elected as Assistant General Secretary (AGS) of the F.H.Hall union representing East Pakistan (Bangladesh) Chhatra League (BCL), during the 1965- 66 academic year. Advocate Mujibur Rahman was the General Secretary, Mahbub Hussain Khan and Jamal Jasimuddin (son of Palli Kabi Jasimuddin) among others, were members of the Executive Committee. Executive Committee Members were expected to be very active in supervising and monitoring the functioning of the Hall and the work of the staff, such as supervisors, gardeners, repairmen, cooks, cleaners and security guards. Office bearers and members would go on “inspections”, sometimes with House Tutors, to ensure that the gardens were well maintained, corridors were adequately lighted, dining hall and kitchen were without bad odour, security arrangements were adequate etc. The Executive Committee members organised various cultural events for the residents. Debates, recitations from famous poets, (“abriti”), extempore speeches on selected subjects, dance performances, musical shows etc were held periodically, paid from the Hall budget, for the entertainment of the residents. The Executive Committee members maintained good and cooperative relations with the Provost and the two House Tutors, which resulted in smooth and trouble-free maintenance of our Hall.
One matter very close to the hearts and stomachs of all residents was the quality of meals served in the dining halls. Office bearers of our hall union had to ensure that meals were tasty and had variety but also reasonable in price. Understandably, one of the most important positions was that of the Dining hall cum Mess Manager. His responsibilities were to accompany the cook and supervisor to the market (“Kacha Bazar ”) to purchase fresh provisions; supervise the preparations of meals, and ensure proper and timely serving of the meals to the residents in the dining hall. During my time, hall residents would get one “feast” and two “ improved diets” every month ( which was reduced to one improved diet later on). The “feast”, which all students looked forward to with considerable excitement, consisted of “pilau”/ fine rice, with upgraded beef curry, roast chicken, shami kabab; roohi fish, fried/curry, daal, salad, etc. The soft drink was served with the meal and at the end, paan and cigarette. Most mess managers did a good job and students would express their appreciation. However, there were a few “ bad apples” when the quality was below standard and a couple of items reduced. There was one such “bad apple”, who was seen wearing a new Safari suit and shiny shoes. Students took it for granted that he had purchased them from the money he skimmed off from shopping. Some agitated students went to his room to give him a good beating. However, he was able to give them the slip and remained outside the hall for several days.
In my final year, I was fortunate to be allotted a single room at the newly constructed “M.A.Jinnah Hall” (now “Masterda Surja Sen Hall). In the election of the first student union body of the new hall, I was a candidate, rather reluctantly, for the post of General Secretary. I lost narrowly, by only five votes, to the NSF candidate. Later, I came to know that I had actually won but the Hall authorities, who were supervising vote counting, had declared several votes in my favour as “rejected” for “technical reasons ”, to ensure the victory of the pro-government candidate. For the next few days, the NSF supporters went on “victory celebrations”, which included harassment of BCL candidates and supporters. I went into hiding, as did other BCL leaders. My room was broken in and some personal items, including my almost new Hercules bicycle, were looted. I took all this philosophically. This was the price for engaging in “student politics “
My Alma Mater has come a long way since its establishment on First July, 1921, with only 877 students, three faculties (Arts, Science & Law)and three halls of residence. ( Dhaka, Jagannath and Muslim halls)and one main building (present Emergency Building, Dhaka Medical College and Hospital).
Today, a century later, Dhaka University is the largest public research university in the country and one of the largest in Asia (with over 37,000 students, 2000 plus faculty members and twenty halls of residence). Our University was identified by Asia Week as one of the top 100 universities in Asia.
The parting speech ( 1925) by the first Vice-Chancellor Sir. Philip J. Hartog had envisioned Dhaka University as “a great university uniting the science and culture of the East and the West and achieving new things by a new synthesis”. Have we fulfilled or exceeded the expectations of the first Vice-Chancellor? To put this question in another perspective: Has the University fulfilled the purposes for which it was established? I shall place this question to my esteemed readers for them to ponder!
From the interviews of former students, during the “Pariser Zanala ” programme, conducted by Mr.Raquibuddin Ahmed, former President, Dhaka University Alumni Association (DUAA) we have heard about the numerous achievements and accomplishments of our Alma mater. However, it is generally accepted that there has been a slow but steady slippage in the quality of teaching and other activities, from its previous high standards, especially in recent years, for numerous reasons. How can we restore the past glory of Dhaka University? This thought has been in the minds of former students, intellectuals, educationists and indeed, all concerned citizens. On the auspicious Centenary Celebrations of Dhaka University, we have seen and heard many former distinguished students express their views and offer their suggestions on ways to make the university regain its previous height of academic excellence. I believe this can be achieved, but require the dedicated, committed and sustained efforts of all stakeholders i.e, in the public and private sectors, professionals, the civil society, as well as our Bangladeshi diaspora.
The writer is a retired secretary and ambassador
Politics in Pakistan: The Captain’s Crisis!
Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury
“O,Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring….”
These days there is nary a dull moment in Pakistani politics. It is a cauldron where the mix from the globe, the region and the country boil in a deadly blend. Any unwanted spillage could do much harm at both home and abroad. For one thing it is a very large country with a population of over 220 million, the world’s fifth largest. For another it is one that hosts over a hundred nuclear war heads with potentials for horrendous destruction. Also, apart from these, importantly, it is a Muslim -majority polity and a practising democracy where stability or the lack of it would have ramifications for many societies of comparable milieu in the region, and beyond.
Some weeks ago, its Prime Minister, the cricketing-star turned politician Imran Khan, captured media headlines around the world. His adoring supporters, millions of them, called him their “Kaptan” or Captain, as if the nation was a cricket team that Khan skippered. If glory gives herself to only those who dream of her, Khan possessed her and rose to the pinnacle of power in his own adoring nation. But then, lady luck seemed to let go of him. His enemies combined and successfully brought him down, and his party the Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaaf (PTI) down from government in a startlingly nerve-wrenching and nail-biting series of parliamentary manoeuvres in a ‘no-trust’ motion by only two votes, thus engulfing Khan in his toughest political crisis.
The opposition comprised three major parties the largely Sindh- based Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by former President Asif Zardari and his son Bilawal Bhutto, the largely Punjab-based Pakistan Muslim League (N) led by Shahbaz Sharif, younger brother of ex-Premier Nawaz Sharif, the party supremo residing in London and technically a fugitive from law, and the largely Khyber Pakhtunkhwa based Jamiat-e Ulema led by Mowlana Fazlur Rahman, a worldly cleric. Ideologically and personally, they were strange bedfellows, evidently brought together only for the purpose of toppling Khan! Immediately afterwards for a while it seemed they would fragment again, bickering over the pickings of gains, mainly distribution of ministerial positions. But wiser counsels prevailed, and they succeeded in papering over their differences, at least for now!
Khan initially demurred on resignation, and instead proposed dissolution of Parliament by the President and elections in three months’ time. But his decisions were reversed by the Supreme Court and he was narrowly voted out of office in Parliament, nudged it now seems, by what in Pakistan is called the ‘establishment , another name for the military. The army is currently led by General Qamar Bajwa, who sought to distance itself from Khan’s anti-American rhetoric obviously due to the Army’s strategic dependence on America. Khan, culturally more westernized than most Pakistanis, was trenchantly critical of the perceived ‘interference’ pf the US in Pakistan’s domestic affairs. He attributed his removal to a “foreign” “conspiracy supposedly hatched abroad and revealed in a cypher despatch from Pakistani Ambassador to Washington.
Obviously not one to mince his words Khan called the new cabinet a “bunch of thieves”, claiming vindication in the fact that nearly two-thirds were out on bail from charges of corruption, a malady wrecking the society like malignant cancer! He accused them of “Chhanga Manga politics” (in 1990 Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim league forcibly confined their legislators in a forest rest house at a place called “Chhanga Manga” near Lahore, in other words “roped in their horses and stabled them” till they could be let out for a parliamentary voting. Khan addressed massive rallies, or ‘Jalsas’ as they are called in Pakistan, in Peshawar in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in Karachi in Sindh and in Lahore in Punjab. In each of these rallies, hundreds of thousands gathered to chant his name, wave his banners, and cheer him on! In each he projected his PTI Party as an all-Pakistan organization without the provincial bias that mark the others. In each he asked if the new government was acceptable and in each the crowd roared back a resounding negative response! He frequently cited the historic example of Mir Jafar the army general who betrayed the last Muslim Nawab of Bengal Sirajuddoula to the English ion 1776 as the supreme act of treachery, which some could have related to his perception of the “establishment’s” perfidy! In all his rallies, he lustily asked of the crowds: “‘Imported hakumat’ manzoor hai”? (Is the imported government acceptable? Deafeningly, the crowds roared back: “Naa manzoor! Naa manzoor!” (Not acceptable! Not acceptable!)
The army was now caught between a rock and a hard place. While at a stated level the army claims to be apolitical, it has always been the most significant political component of the community. A very well -regarded strategic scholar and former Chief of army Staff General Jehangir Karamat has argued, with that the army in Pakistan is a mirror image of the society. There is logic in that claim in that, unlike the leadership of political parties, the army sociologically comprises non-feudal professionals. It includes some of the best engineers and doctors, disciplined, dedicated and representative of the urges of rural Pakistan. The strong military tradition, particularly in Punjab and the old North- West Frontiers, date back to the British Raj, and is more pronounced than anywhere in the South Asian subcontinent. Unsurprisingly, realpolitik analysts acknowledge its role in the nation’s body politic.
However, as a political entity, the army has evolved. It no longer, both by choice and capacity, seeks to control the government machinery directly, as it did under such military leaders like Generals Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia ul Huq and Pervez Musharraf. Instead, they work to exert influence covertly from behind the scenes under the cognomen of the ‘establishment’, or sometimes also overtly through such players as the Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence (DGFI), an office created by the British generals immediately after Partition, liaising directly with the Prime Minister, certainly more active and powerful now than then. The army’s challenge is that it needs to function as a political influencer without its participation in such political processes as elections. Because its power is sourced in public support and it cannot afford to be unpopular, it needs to pick and choose its allies in civilian politics with utmost circumspection. If for nothing else, it is for the fact that tacit public acquiescence is politically necessary to secure its large budgetary requirements.
Indeed, it was the Army which was said to help ease in Khan in 2018. But Khan, given his personality and a mind of his own, chose to strike-out on his own, which miffed the generals who may have eventually, with a nudge and a wink at least, helped to bring about his fall. But truth be told, the army quickly deduced unnatural partners in their new political masters, given, among other things, the latter’s perceived laxity about financial ethics. A change of heart was therefore not much beyond the rim of the saucer. But it did not depend on the army alone. For instance, the army would prefer Khan to rein- in his anti-western rhetoric. That may be contrary to Khan’s personal predilections, more so now because that anti-western stance in Pakistan has an electoral dividend, though at a political and economic cost. Even the mercurial Khan would probably judge that balancing would be key.
When after his triumphant ‘jalsas’, Khan, like Achilles in the Iliad, still smarting from his losses, retired to his tent, or rather his home at Bani Gala near Pindi for a brief hiatus before his next move, Bajwa had a huddle with his senior but retired peers in Lahore. Perhaps as an upshot the general declared that he would neither seek nor accept an extension of service when his retirement is due come November. Thereafter the army, albeit in a small way, sought to influence some key new appointments which were against the grain of its perceived interests or at any event, tastes. Also, with the contents of the dreaded “Exit Control List”, a key political tool in Pakistan; but, in both cases, not necessarily with absolute success vis-a-vis the current government, which would have exacerbated their peeve. Still, it’s too early to say if Khan and the army can hug and make up before the next general election.
And it is indeed on the next election that Khan is laser focused. He wants it now. He has directed all senior PTI leaders to spread out throughout the country to muster political support. As his next move, he has declared that unless a date for the election is announced in four weeks’ time, he will organize a ‘Tsunami’ march to the capital Islamabad with such a massive crowd drawn from all over the country as never seen before. He has urged all Pakistanis, irrespective of political affiliations, to join. He further threatened that the gathering will offer a ‘dharna’ (‘sit-in’) to continue till such time the election schedule is announced, with a change in the Election Commission leadership. The current government is obviously taking it seriously as authorities have been seen collecting for possible use shipping ‘containers’, a favoured item in Pakistan for its alternative use in creating roadblocks, this time for in-coming demonstrators.
One evidence of a change of wind in national politics, since Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif assumed office, could be the recent ruling of the Courts, a fair bellwether in this regard, to widen the catchment area for investigation into the ‘foreign funds case’ to include other parties besides the PTI. Also, the Lahore High Court has just turned down a prayer from Maryam Sharif, one of the most powerful leaders of the ruling Coalition parties, for the return of her passport legally impounded to enable her to accompany the Prime Minister on a trip to Saudi Arabia. So, what implications will any change in the position of the ‘wider establishment ‘(the military plus the Courts) have for the future of Pakistan’s turbulent politics?
The answer, as with many critical queries that come to our minds may also just be, as the Bob Dylan song famously states, “‘blowin’ in the wind!”
Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury is the Honorary Fellow at the Institute of South Asia Studies, NUS. He is a former Foreign Advisor (Foreign Minister) of Bangladesh and President and Distinguished Fellow of Cosmos Foundation. The views addressed in the article are his own.
Five decades of BD-Canada relations
HUMAYUN A KAMAL | Published: April 20, 2022
The Canadian government, people, and media expressed wholehearted support and sympathy for the people of Bangladesh and their liberation struggle in 1971. Canada also provided much-needed humanitarian assistance, life-saving medicine, as well as financial donations to the World Food Programme (WFP). Canada was one of the first countries to recognise Bangladesh. On February 14, 1972, it recognised Bangladesh as an independent and sovereign State.
Soon after, in May 1972, Bangladesh government established the diplomatic mission in Ottawa and appointed a veteran diplomat to head the Mission. Canada quickly reciprocated by establishing its mission in Dhaka in September, 1973. Canadian families and humanitarian organisations adopted many “war babies” during the period after independence.
A few months after independence, Bangladesh succeeded in becoming a member of the Commonwealth at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting ( CHOGM) in Ottawa, held in August, 1973, with the active support of Canada and other friendly member states. The close and friendly relations between Bangladesh and Canada were forged during the state visit of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to Canada to participate in the Commonwealth Summit. This gathering provided a unique opportunity for Bangabandhu to hold bilateral meetings with the Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau, and other ministers. These interactions, created a solid and enduring foundation for bilateral relations between the two countries. The Ottawa Summit also provided Bangabandhu the venue to hold talks on mutual issues, with the other participants: five heads of state; three vice-presidents and eighteen prime ministers.
On September 17, 1974, Canada co-sponsored the resolution in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) supporting the admission of Bangladesh into the United Nations. Canada went on to support Bangladesh for membership in various UN organisations, including the World Bank, which through independent is a part of the UN system.
Bangladesh-Canada relations are multifaceted and multidimensional, covering many fields and areas that have grown and expanded steadily over the years. Based upon shared values of democracy, freedom, human rights and rule of law, and rights of women and children, bilateral relations have developed steadily, expanding to many fields of common interest. Canada’s early development efforts involved reconstruction and rehabilitation, and then gradually moved to governance, rural development, agriculture, water management, primary education and health. Canadian government has also been engaged in socio-economic development in Bangladesh through various projects implemented by the Canadian International Development Agency ( CIDA)
The last official visits by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during 2017 and 2018, brought relations to new heights of friendship and cooperation. At the invitation of the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Sheikh Hasina paid a four-day visit to attend the Fifth Replenishment Conference of the Global Fund (GF) in Montreal in September 2016. Canada hosted this conference to find ways to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. The two leaders also held bilateral meetings when the whole gamut of bilateral issues were discussed. During this visit, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina extended an invitation to the Canadian Prime Minister to visit Bangladesh. While cordially accepting the invitation, he expressed his eagerness to sharpen the hazy memories of his Bangladesh visit, with his father, at the age of twelve. During the visit, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina handed over the “Friends of Liberation War Honour” award to the Canadian Prime Minister for his late father Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who had extended outstanding support to Bangladesh and made valuable contributions during the War of Liberation
On the happy occasion of the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s Independence, Justin Trudeau issued a statement on March 26, 2021, in which he said, ” At this important milestone, we reflect on Bangladesh’s remarkable economic and social transformation since its independence. Canada has been a proud development partner over the last 50 years, and we continue to work alongside Bangladesh to meet the needs of Rohingya refugees and to create opportunities for both countries.
In recent years, there are three areas that the two countries are giving priority, which are: 1) Development cooperation; 2) Trade and investment; 3) People -to – people contacts.
According to Canadian statistics, Canada has extended over US$ 4.0 billion of international assistance to Bangladesh since 1972. During the 1970s and 1980s, Canada contributed more than CA$ 100 million annually (approx) in assistance. From 1975 until the recent past, Canada’s assistance consisted mainly of food grains, commodities (fertilisers, chemicals) and industrial components, including rolling stock. The ratio was: 40 per cent food grains; 30 per cent commodities and 30 per cent industrial parts. Railway diesel engines & parts were an important component of the assistance programme to Bangladesh. Present assistance programmes support mutual priorities in the areas of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls; health; skill training and support to the ready-made garment industry. Bangladesh’s many world-class civil societies and think tanks offer a unique opportunity for Canada to interact and share ideas with them on the optimum path to sustainable development in Bangladesh as well as other LDCs. Bangladesh has remained and will continue to remain a natural recipient of Canada’s economic and technical assistance. With exceptional rapid economic development in Bangladesh in recent years, this relationship will evolve into a mutually beneficial “partnership” in the coming years. Both countries would be able to exchange their “success stories” and benefit from them.
The Bangladesh – Canada bilateral trade has grown tremendously during the last ten years. The value of bilateral merchandise trade has quadrupled from US$ 600 million in 2004 to over US$ 2.42 billion in 2019. In 2019, exports from Bangladesh to Canada was US$ 1484.1 million. In the same year exports from Canada to Bangladesh was US$ 940.64 million, of which 70 per cent were agricultural products. The members of the Canada – Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce & Industry (Can Cham) were of the view that the signing of a “Bilateral lnvestment Agreement” would further promote the expansion of bilateral trade.
Canada has supplied Bangladesh with more than one million tonnes of Potash since 1972. The Bangladesh – Canada trade is particularly important for the province of Saskatchewan. This Canadian province exports, mainly wheat, fertilisers and pulses, to Bangladesh, which has grown more than five-fold over the last 12 years, from U$ 49 million in 2003 to US$ 412 in 2015. The Premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall, visited Bangladesh in March 2011, to boost the exports further.
Alberta is another province that has economic & trade connections with Bangladesh. The Alberta government has provided matching grants for humanitarian projects in Bangladesh, that mainly targets the improvement of education and school facilities. Relief funds were also provided to assist the victims of the 2007 cyclone. From 2012 to 2016, Alberta province’s imports from Bangladesh averaged CD $132 million per year. The main imports were woven apparel and miscellaneous textile items. The University of Alberta partnered with the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) in a CIDA funded Institutional Linkage Project. The Project’s goal was to respond to the growing need in Bangladesh for engineers specialising in the energy and water sectors.
Canada’s major mercantile imports from Bangladesh include: woven apparel; knit apparel; miscellaneous textile items; headwear and footwear. Garment and textile products made up the bulk of Canada’s imports from Bangladesh, which has enjoyed duty-free market access to Canada, for most products, since 2003. In August 2013, the two countries concluded negotiations of a first-time bilateral air transport agreement in Ottawa. Both countries agreed to implement the agreement as soon as possible.
The popularity of Canada as a “study destination of choice” for Bangladeshi students has been rising steadily. The number of Bangladeshi students who choose to study in Canada in 2018 was more than 6,500, an increase of more than 150 per cent from 2014.
The Bangladeshi – Canada Community was about 34,000 in the recent past. In 2020, the Community is estimated to be over 100,000 and growing. They have a presence in Canada in different fields. Several Bangladesh – Canada cultural societies and friendship associations play a valuable role in deepening friendship, understanding, cooperation and people -to- contact. The “Bangladesh – Canada Parliamentary Forum” is expected to contribute to further deepening and expanding the existing friendly relations between the two Commonwealth countries.
Humayun A Kamal is a former secretary and ambassador
United Nations & its Leadership Challenged by an Existential Crisis
Anwarul K Chowdhury – 16 April 2022
The other day a friend asked me “Can Russia be expelled from the General Assembly by a two-thirds majority?” Almost impossible to do that, I responded.
Two of the articles of the Charter of the United Nations relate to the issue of possible exclusion of Russia from the United Nations. Article 5 talks about suspension and Article 6 talks about expulsion. According to those articles, the action needs be taken by the General Assembly with two-thirds majority, upon the recommendation of the Security Council. That recommendation of the Council cannot be made as it is subject to veto by the Russian Federation as one of the five Permanent Members.
The obvious follow-up question was “Has any country been ever expelled or suspended from the General Assembly?”
The U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) has effectively excluded a state on three occasions: Cambodia in 1997, Yugoslavia in 1992 and South Africa in 1974.
UNGA Resolution 47/1 was adopted on 22 September 1992 expelled Yugoslavia from the UN General Assembly. In this case, the Security Council by its Resolution 777 (1992) recommended action under Article 6 of the UN Charter, considering that the nation known as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had ceased to exist and therefore recommended to the General Assembly to exclude Yugoslavia from General Assembly and asked the country as constituted to apply for membership in the United Nations.
Some countries tried to expel South Africa, which was one of the 51 founding members of the United Nations in 1945, because of its policy of apartheid, but the three permanent members of the Security Council – France, UK, and US – used their veto power to block that move.
After the Council informed the General Assembly on its failure to adopt a resolution, the then President of the General Assembly, Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, ruled that the delegation of South Africa should be refused participation in the work of the General Assembly. His ruling was upheld by 91 votes to 22, with 19 abstentions on 12 November 1974.
Although remaining a member of the UN, South Africa was not represented at subsequent sessions of the General Assembly. Following South Africa’s successful democratic elections of May 1994, after 20 years of refusing to accept the credentials of the South African delegation, the General Assembly unanimously welcomed South Africa back to full participation in the United Nations on 23 June 1994. It also deleted its agenda item on “the elimination of apartheid and the establishment of a united, democratic and nonracial South Africa.”
It is also important recall that in 1962, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling on all member states to impose a trade boycott against South Africa. A US Congressional legislation aimed to ban all new U.S. trade and investment in South Africa and that acted as a catalyst for similar sanctions in Europe and Japan. In 1963, the UN Security Council called for partial arms ban against South Africa, but this was not mandatory under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
Deadlock but not dead-end – other courses of action:
As mentioned earlier, the suspension or expulsion of Russia is “almost impossible” according to the UN Charter. To that, I would add that it is a deadlock but not a dead-end.Some UN watchers are of the opinion that there are still ways to limit Russia’s presence in the U.N. beyond the Security Council as has been decided today (7 April) by the UNGA to suspend its membership in the UN Human Rights Council.
According to the General Assembly’s 1950 resolution 377A (V), widely known as ‘Uniting for Peace’, if the Security Council is unable to act because of the lack of unanimity among its five veto-wielding permanent members, the Assembly has the power to make recommendations to the wider UN membership for collective measures to maintain or restore international peace and security.
z For instance. most frequently, the Security Council determines when and where a UN peace operation should be deployed, but historically, when the Council has been unable to take a decision, the General Assembly has done so. For example, in 1956, the General Assembly established the First UN Emergency Force (UNEF I) in the Middle East.
In addition, the General Assembly may meet in Emergency Special Session if requested by nine members of the Security Council or by a majority of the Members of the Assembly. To date, the General Assembly has held 11 Emergency Special Sessions (8 of which have been requested by the Security Council).
On 1 March 2022, the General Assembly, meeting in emergency session, adopted a resolution by which it deplored “the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine in violation of Article 2 (4) of the Charter. Can any other process feasibly be exploited to suspend a state in such circumstances, as a way of circumventing article 5? Yes, there is a way to try that.Though the General Assembly resolutions are non-binding, but they are considered to carry political weight as they express the will of the wider UN membership.
Some UN watchers believe that Article 5 of the Charter is not completely the end of the road on suspension. They are of the opinion that that there are two dimensions to a state’s participation in the UN: the actual membership of the state (the subject of article 5 of the Charter); and the representation of that state at the General Assembly’s sessions.
Matters of representation are considered in the context of the General Assembly’s credentials process, which is the process by which the Assembly assesses the eligibility of individual delegates to represent their states at the Assembly’s annual sessions. The process is essentially procedural in nature. It is regulated not by the UN Charter but by the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure.
While the credentials process is usually a procedural one, the credentials process effectively gives the General Assembly the power to decide which authority should be regarded as the legitimate representative of the state – at least so far as the UN is concerned. UNGA could vote to suspend Russian delegation from participating in the General Assembly, a step that does not require the Security Council.
In this context, it has been asserted that ” This move, which would strip Russia of its right to speak or vote at the UN but allow it to retain membership, previously happened in 1974, when diplomats voted to suspend South Africa for its apartheid system.”
Veto is the Chief Culprit:
The headline of my opinion piece for the IPS wire of 8 March 2022 argued that “Veto is the Chief Culprit” emphasizing that “Expulsion or Suspension is Not the Remedy”. Since 1946, all five permanent members have exercised the right of veto at one time or another on a variety of issues.
To date, approximately 49 per cent of the vetoes had been cast by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and thereafter the Russian Federation, 29 per cent by the United States, 10 per cent by the United Kingdom, and six per cent each by China and France.
I repeat my main contention in that opinion as “The chief culprit in the failure of unified global action by the UN is the continuation of the irrational practice of veto. As a matter, I have said on record that, if only one reform action could be taken, it should be the abolition of veto. Believe me, the veto power influences not only the decisions of the Security Council but also all work of the UN, including importantly the choice of the Secretary-General.”
Further, I added, “I believe the abolition of veto requires a greater priority attention in the reforms process than the enlargement of the Security Council membership with additional permanent ones. Such permanency is simply undemocratic. I believe that the veto power is not “the cornerstone of the United Nations” but in reality, its tombstone.”
Proactive UN leadership missing:
Amid all these legal explanations, diplomatic exchanges, and diverse conjectures, it is unfortunate that questions have been raised about the reticence of the UN Secretary-General in getting his hands dirty and in getting more actively involved in towards ending the Russian aggression and promoting peace in Ukraine.
As much as I recall, this is first time the world public has done that about the role of the UN leadership so vocally. The UN website mentions “near daily press stakeouts by the Secretary-General” on the war in Ukraine. Is this the extent of his active role and involvement?
Well-respected UN watcher and former high UN official Kul Chandra Gautam in an opinion piece recently even exhorted the SG “not to hide behind the glasshouse at Turtle Bay and go beyond invisible subtle diplomacy to more visible shuttle diplomacy.” That is the way to go.On 3 April, the UN website publicized a Twitter message from the SG saying: “I am deeply shocked by the images of civilians killed in Bucha, Ukraine. It is essential that an independent investigation leads to effective accountability.”
Just two pitiable sentences in Twitter (I wonder how many of the global population has a Twitter account). His operatives – the UN secretariat – misled the world by the trick headline: “UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Sunday called for an independent investigation into the killing of civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, a suburb of the capital, Kyiv.”
Which official language(s) of the UN would interpret “It is essential that an independent investigation leads to effective accountability” as “called for an independent investigation”? This is the height of public deception. I wonder why this is necessary.
The Ukraine President lamented on 5 April about the failure of UN Security Council saying that the Council can “dissolve yourselves altogether” if there is nothing it can do other than engage in conversation. First time, a UN Member State has spoken so frankly, so openly, so rightly in a speech before the Council which was at an impasse to stop the aggression in his country.
Unfortunately, it is widely understood that for the UN system, more so for the SG, the dominant instinct for being pro-active in any crisis situation is “the fear of failure.” That “fear” determines the process of decision-making in a big way. A global organization like UN should be smart and mature enough to understand the value of critical opinions to improve its efficacy. Unfortunately, we are not there.
Ambassador Anwarul K Chowdhury is Former Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN; President of the UN Security Council (2000 and 2001).
Veto is the Chief Culprit but Expulsion or Suspension is Not the Remedy
Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury (New York)
Tuesday, March 08, 2022
NEW YORK, Mar 08 (IPS) – The ongoing war in Ukraine has raised the question of expulsion or suspension of the Russian Federation from the United Nations. As is known, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, its UN seat was transferred to the Russian Federation.
With the collapse of the USSR in late 1991,the Commonwealth of Independent States signed a declaration agreeing that “Member states of the Commonwealth support Russia in taking over the USSR membership in the UN, including permanent membership in the Security Council.”
USSR Ambassador to UN transmitted to the UN Secretary-General a letter from President of the Russian Federation stating that:
… the membership of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in the United Nations, including the Security Council and all other organs and organizations of the United Nations system, is being continued by the Russian Federation with the support of the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. In this connection, I request that the name ‘Russian Federation’ should be used in the United Nations in place of the name ‘the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’. The Russian Federation maintains full responsibility for all the rights and obligations of the USSR under the Charter of the United Nations, including the financial obligations. I request that you consider this letter as confirmation of the credentials to represent the Russian Federation in United Nations organs…
The Secretary-General circulated the request among the UN membership. There being no objection, the Russian Federation took the USSR’s place, with President Boris Yeltsin personally taking the Russian Federation’s seat at the Security Council meeting on 31 January 1992.
Without presenting new credentials. USSR Ambassador to UN continued serving as the first Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations.
UN’s working arrangements
Since its inception, the United Nations has resorted to all kinds of measures, practices, and procedures to circumvent the complexities of an intergovernmental decision-making and legal implications, heavily influenced by the position or opposition of the five permanent members of the Security Council.
As a result, acquiescence in its various manifestations has become all pervasive in the business of the United Nations. A clear manifestation of that is practiced these days through what is known as “silent procedure” whereby the reluctant acceptance of Member States of all kinds of anomalies achieve an agreement or consensus otherwise not possible.
The Russian veto on the Ukraine resolution in the Security Council prevented unanimous global resolve to address the situation there. The continuation of veto is an aberration of the multilateral system as practiced in the UN Security Council, thereby jeopardizing all the positive UN efforts to maintain international peace and security.
Change in multilateral system
The war in Ukraine has reaffirmed more clearly than ever that the “global ideological struggle” that had for so long dominated the international scene does not exist anymore. And the new realities must be translated into a different set of global institutions unless the existing one undertake major and all-pervasive reforms of their decision-making and operational practices and procedures.
The expulsion or suspension of one of the five veto-wielding permanent members would not necessarily result in effective maintenance of the global peace and security. There would still be four others with the ability to deny any time a consensus decision with which any one of them does not agree.
Veto, the chief culprit
The chief culprit in the failure of unified global action by the UN is the continuation of the irrational practice of veto. As a matter, I have said on record that, if only one reform action could be taken, it should be the abolition of veto. Believe me, the veto power influences not only the decisions of the Security Council but also all work of the UN, including importantly the choice of the Secretary-General.
I believe the abolition of veto requires a greater priority attention in the reforms process than the enlargement of the Security Council membership with additional permanent ones. Such permanency is simply undemocratic. I believe that the veto power is not “the cornerstone of the United Nations” but in reality, its tombstone.
Case of China
Unlike the question of the replacement of USSR membership by the Russian Federation in 1991, the case of the recognition of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) by the UN is straightforward.
It was decided by the apex body of the UN system, the General Assembly in its groundbreaking resolution 2758 titled “Restoration of the lawful rights of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations” which was adopted by two-thirds majority on 25 October 1971 in accordance with the UN Charter.
The resolution recognized the People’s Republic of China as “the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations” and expelled “forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek” from the United Nations.
Following adoption of Resolution 2758, the Beijing government began representing China at the UN from 15 November 1971 and its delegates were seated at the UN Security Council meeting held on 23 November 1971, the first such meeting where representatives of the Beijing government represented China with its veto power as a permanent member of the Council.
UN’s clear position on Taiwan
Over the years, Taiwan’s efforts to revive the application for UN membership separately for itself has received no support of the UN membership in general.
Reflecting the long-standing UN policy is mirrored in the “Final Clauses of “Final Clauses of Multilateral Treaties, Handbook”, 2003 published by the UN, stating that:
…regarding the Taiwan Province of China, the Secretary-General follows the General Assembly’s guidance incorporated in resolution 2758 (XXVI) of the General Assembly of 25 October 1971 on the restoration of the lawful rights of the People’s Republic of China in the United Nations. The General Assembly decided to recognize the representatives of the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the only legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations. Hence, instruments received from the Taiwan Province of China will not be accepted by the Secretary-General in his capacity as depositary.
It is relevant to recall that in 2007, Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-moon rejected Taiwan’s membership bid to “join the UN under the name of Taiwan”, citing Resolution 2758 as acknowledging that Taiwan is part of China, although it is important to note, not the People’s Republic of China.
Why not amend the Charter
I have confronted on many occasions the question why Russia and PRC have not called for an amendment of the UN Charter to streamline their membership issue. For that, my opinion is that all Permanent Members are fully cognizant that that would open up a Pandora’s box, including the issue of abolition of veto and other reform issues which are not at all to their liking as part of the P-5 coterie.
Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, is Former Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN; President of the UN Security Council (2000 and 2001); Senior Special Adviser to UN General Assembly President (2011-2012) and Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN.