Global compliance on human rights, 'undue privileges' and what next? -The Asian Age

The present United States government is going to closely observe the upcoming national election of Bangladesh from democratic and human rights viewpoints. The US authorities have meanwhile imposed embargos on the Director General of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and Inspector General of Police (IGP). The United States even did not invite Bangladesh to the Summit for Democracy which was held in America in December 2021.The European Union (EU) has also stated that it will comprehensively watch the next national election of Bangladesh.

The sanction on RAB officials and Inspector General of Bangladesh Police (IGP) is a strong signal from the US administration that Bangladesh will have to improve its status as far as democracy and human rights are concerned.

Foreign Minister Dr. AK Abdul Momen said a couple of days ago that sometimes foreign countries put pressure on Bangladesh to get hold of undue privileges.

Quad is a geopolitical group consisting of the United States of America, Japan, India and Australia. The increasing influence of China's activity, particularly in the South China Sea and Indo-Pacific region, has raised many eyebrows among western nations and members of the Asia-Pacific region itself.

As a reactionary measure to compete and off-set the meteoric rise of the Asian superpower, America and its friends from the region, namely Australia, Japan and India, have used its platform-the Quad-to give the world an insight of what the future of competition against China might look like. Although China was not mentioned exclusively in the recent deliberations of the Quad leader's summit, the joint statement released by the White House stating, "cooperation on the critical technologies of the future to ensure that innovation is consistent with a free, open, inclusive, and resilient Indo-Pacific and to meet challenges to the rules-based maritime order in the East and South China Seas,"

clearly hint at the push-back against Chinese influence. However, the initial function of the Quad was far from the current state of affairs in the region and its scope of operations has undergone several mutations in the last decade.Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming warned in May 2021 that Beijing's relations with Dhaka would be harmed if Bangladesh joins Quad.

Bangladesh has very much friendly ties with the Quad members. It is not yet fully vivid whether Bangladesh has been officially invited to join Quad. However, patriotic geopolitical analysts have stated that joining Quad would be beneficial for Bangladesh. For last two years the entire world including Bangladesh has been dealing with the Covid 19 challenge.

USA, Japan, India and Australia have been vital development partners of Bangladesh. Millions of expatriate Bangladeshis have been living in these countries and sending huge sums of remittances to their home country. Bangladesh's foreign exchange reserves have meanwhile crossed 45 billion US dollars. These countries are also our export destinations. 63% of Bangladesh's total exports goes to the United States and the European Union (EU).

Bangladesh should not fall in the pitfall of Chinese debt trap diplomacy. Chinese loans have endangered the economy of many countries including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Sudan, Zimbabwe and so on. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is being spearheaded by China. It's part of China's One Belt, One Road (OBOR) program. China's affiliation with Karachi Stock Exchange has devastated the share market of Pakistan.

Moreover, China is being denigrated by human rights organizations for its repression on the Uyghur Muslims. Trade deficit of 9 billion dollars has jolted Bangladesh's economy as import costs have by far exceeded export earnings. Bangladesh is having highest trade deficit with China.

China opposed our Liberation War of 1971. China recognized Bangladesh after the assassination of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

It should be noted that India is doing very well in the international service sector. The top posts in tech giants like Google and IBM are being held by Indian-origin individuals. We will have to further elevate our technological dexterity. We have entered the era of Metaverse. There is almost no information and communication technology (ICT) company in our stock markets.

NATO and Warsaw confronted each other during the 1970s and 1980s. However, Bangladesh did not join either of these platforms. Rather Bangladesh preferred to join Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman founded Bangladesh's diplomatic relationships with different countries. Bangabandhu introduced our foreign policy which states, "Friendship to all, malice to none."


UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh Mia Seppo addressed a seminar titled 'Bangladesh and Human Rights' at InterContinental Hotel in Dhaka in 2019.    -File Photo

USA opposed Bangladesh's independence too but the American people cordially stood by the Bangladeshi masses. The Concert for Bangladesh carried out by George Harrison, Ravi Shankar, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and some other singers and musicians which was held in New York, USA on 1 August 1971 rocked the whole world with its appeal to aid Bangladesh in its struggle for independence. Thus the Concert for Bangladesh has become an inseparable part of our history. We remain ever grateful to the American people for their support for us during 1971.

It may be recalled that the USA fought a war with Vietnam for longer than twenty years. Nevertheless, USA has now become one of the closest development partners of Vietnam. On the other hand, trade ties between Vietnam and China is not in good shape due to lack of negotiations between the two countries.

Bangladesh will have to keep up good alliance with the United Nations, Commonwealth, International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reach the targets of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Quad may also look to expand its membership and reach out to other nations to form a more comprehensive collaboration regarding security. This can be seen to happen in two stages. Firstly, they would seek to acquire participation from major nations in the Indo-Pacific region. They have already exemplified this interest through naval interactions with South Korea in the form of exercise "Pacific Vanguard".

New Zealand would also be a great addition as the nation already engages in security dialogues with its neighbours through the "Five Power Defence Arrangements" and the "Five Eyes" intelligence sharing mechanism, and this will only add value to the Quad's existing cooperation measures. Secondly, the Quad may look to include more allies in the west with influence in the Indo-Pacific. In this regard, France and UK would be suitable options as they have major stakes in the region. France has extensive interests in the Indo-Pacific in French territories in the region.

The French Republic is also a member of the FRANZ Arrangement with Australia and New Zealand and is a member of the Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group with Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. The UK, on the other hand, has undertaken what experts describe as a "tilt" of focus towards the Indo-Pacific and their ties with members of the Commonwealth within the region make a considerable asset for the Quad.

The scope of operation of the Quad has not expanded to just include security. The "Quad Leader's Joint Statement" also displayed the four nation's commitment to tackling climate change. A more notable area of cooperation that the summit highlighted was equitable access for the Covid-19 vaccine in the Indo-Pacific.

 The Quad is not just confining themselves to conventional diplomacy but also exploring the new avenues of post-Covid-19 multilateralism. Many developing nations were left astray as they could not meet the demands for vaccines required to help fight the spread of Covid 19. It was initially China and Russia that came to their rescue as they shipped millions of jabs to these destitute nations.

This not only strengthens bilateral ties but also bolsters their strategic influence. The Quad is perhaps looking to form its own vaccine distribution project to off-set the influence of that of China and Russia. However, this exhibition of "vaccine diplomacy" combined with the Quad's expansion into regional security can prompt severe implications.

Bangladesh will now have to prepare for the post Covid economy. Remittances from abroad have meanwhile remarkably dropped. Bangladesh exports most of its readymade garment (RMG) products to the western countries including the United States and the countries belonging to the European Union.

Remittance from Saudi Arabia has dropped by 21% during last six months. Remittance from UAE has declined by 41%. Remittance from United Kingdom has decreased by more than 15%. Remittance from Qatar has gone down by around 10%. Remittance from Malaysia has nosedived by nearly 55%.

So, the decision about joining Quad should be made without consuming time. Our policymakers of foreign strategy should come up with specific guidelines regarding this matter. Most of the financial analysts have stated that joining Quad would expedite Bangladesh's economic growth and it would work as a strategic window for our sustainable development.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights comes up as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

According to World Economic Forum, human rights begin in "the small places, close to home," said former US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the architects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948. These rights affirm everyone's inherent dignity. Yet, while international law is designed to ensure those in power fulfill their obligations to keep societies free from fear and want, only equal access to justice and opportunity can guarantee such freedoms. And despite extensive efforts to establish systems to protect people, human rights remain under serious threat around the world. More accountable national governments, and more ambitious global alliances dedicated to upholding rights, are now urgently needed.

Former US President Barack Obama said, "The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach -- condemnation without discussion -- can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door."

The writer is a diplomat, entrepreneur, author, sports organizer and Chairman, Editorial Board of The Asian Age.