July 25, 2021

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Two strange diplomatic incidents in Bangladesh

A news published in Prothom Alo on March 29 shocked me. The military authorities invited the embassies of all the countries to the event organized on the occasion of Myanmar Army Resistance Day. It also happens in our country on Armed Forces Day. Our embassies, which have a defense wing, also often host such receptions. It is a very common and normal custom. Today, however, Myanmar and the Myanmar army are not normal. Massive anti-junta protests have been going on since the overthrow of the civilian government on February 1. Protests sweeping control of the army, police opened fire killing people. The total death toll across the country is over four hundred. On the day the troops held the ceremony, 114 people were killed in the firing. In this situation, only eight countries’ representatives took part in the ceremony. One of them is the military attache of Bangladesh.

Apart from Bangladesh, the seven countries represented by China, India, Russia, Pakistan, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. These countries have a record of blindly supporting all the good and bad deeds of Myanmar. In the context of the Rohingya genocide, the countries have directly or indirectly sided with Myanmar. Their presence does not come as a surprise. But other countries around the world have boycotted the event. Even representatives from ASEAN Indonesia and Malaysia did not attend. What is the message of the presence of the military attache in Bangladesh?

Mentioning the names of eight countries, the incident has drawn widespread and intense criticism from various quarters, including the media, including Suu Kyi’s party, Myanmar’s pro-democracy coalition, a former senior UN official and the Rohingya. We do not know whether the military attache of Bangladesh defended the invitation in good faith without any forethought or whether it was a deliberate decision. If the former is the cause, then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will have to consider how to overcome the negative reaction. Whatever the mistake, the responsibility of handling it rests on the shoulders of the Foreign Secretary till the end.

On the other hand, if it is a conscious decision, then the question remains as to what was expected of it. There is no doubt that the ruling junta will be happy. Do we think we can make them happy and fulfill our goal with the Rohingyas? For the past three and a half years, we have tried to solve the problem by keeping Myanmar happy, with zero results. When the whole Western world criticized Myanmar, we were restrained. That may have been correct in the first place. I did not even address the Rohingyas as Rohingyas. The hasty agreement signed by our then Foreign Minister had almost all the conditions in favor of Myanmar, not a reflection of our Prime Minister’s speech at the United Nations. In so many days, it is as clear as day that the Myanmar army will not agree to any meaningful repatriation. Even if the anti-junta movement is successful, the chances of the next government taking a very positive role in this regard are slim. At least what we can do is stand up for democracy and human rights in Myanmar. Our policy position for the human rights of the Rohingya will be logical in front of the world community.

Another piece of news from last week is also quite painful. Bangladesh has voted in favor of Sri Lanka in a resolution against Sri Lanka in the Human Rights Council. The resolution expressed concern over the deteriorating human rights situation in Sri Lanka. Apart from Bangladesh, only Pakistan and Uzbekistan have voted for Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka accused of serious human rights violations against Tamils. There are also allegations that the Rajapaksa brothers committed war crimes in the last stages of the civil war. The government has also been accused of discriminating against Sri Lankan Muslims. India and Nepal abstained from voting on the proposal.

“Sri Lanka will vote for Bangladesh in the next election of the Human Rights Council,” he said. I don’t remember any example of Bangladesh losing an election by one or two votes. We either won easily or lost by a lot of votes. Without it, there is no guarantee that we will not lose some Western votes by voting against the proposal raised by Britain. In Sri Lanka we have no very strong interest that must keep them happy; On the contrary, a significant number of Sri Lankans make a living by working in Bangladesh. Along with Sri Lanka, Myanmar has also indirectly sided with Myanmar on the Rohingya issue. It is so difficult for Sri Lanka to justify our position. Without going directly against it, Bangladesh, like India and Nepal, could easily have abstained from voting.