Key Takeways from PM Sheikh Hasina’s Speech at the 78th UNGA Session, 2023

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The UN General Assembly session works as a global forum where the global leaders meet and discuss global crises and seek for solutions. This write-up focuses the significance of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s proposals at the 78th United Nations General Assembly session at the UN headquarters in New York.

Global food, financial, and energy security

Sheikh Hasina emphasized that “the impacts of the pandemic, the effects of an existential climate crisis, and the wide ramifications of the war in Ukraine are affecting global food, financial, and energy securities”. Sheikh Hasina raised three importance challenges from COVID-19 global pandemic to war in Ukraine and its implications for global food, financial and energy security. Food price was already high due to the impacts of COVID-19 global pandemic. The Russian-Ukraine crisis just made the global food security situation worse. In this regard, International Food Policy Research Institute in its study (2023) argues that “The conflict [Russian-Ukraine crisis] has primarily affected food systems through effects on trade in cereals and vegetable oils, interruptions to fertilizer exports, and rising energy prices. Between 2019 and March 2022, cereal prices rose by 48%, fuel prices by 86%, and fertilizer prices by 35%.” Russia-Ukraine war also accelerated a global energy crisis which impacted global food security badly. According to Reuters, natural gas prices hit multi-year highs and oil nearly $140 a barrel. Sheikh Hasina also raised another important issue global financial security that also merits serious attention.

Emphasizing unity, solidarity, and multilateralism

In another important proposal Sheikh Hasina said that “we must make all efforts to collectively address the common challenges of humanity to secure a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable future for all. And, for that, we must choose unity, solidarity, and multilateralism over fragmentation, insularity and isolation.” In this proposal, Sheikh Hasina emphasized on a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable future and the role of unity, solidarity and multilateralism in this regard. In fact, the solution of common challenges requires collective efforts. In the context of global food, climate and energy crisis, the role of global cooperation and multilateralism matters.

Reorganizing global financial architecture

Due to the impacts of COVID-19 global pandemic and the Russian-Ukraine crisis, developing countries are facing foreign currency reserve problem. In this context, the developing countries are taking loans from the international financial institutions, i.e., World Bank, IMF with high interest rates. Against such a backdrop, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that “Today, we urgently need an international financial architecture that will help developing countries receive concessional, low-cost, low-interest-rate funds, with minimum conditionalities.”

Reinforcing collective actions to address climate change threats

Climate change has become a serious threat to food, economic, health and environmental security. Tens of thousands of people are affected by the negative effects of climate change globally. The United Nations has already identified climate change as the “greatest threat” to international security. Considering the consequences of climate change, Sheikh Hasina reiterated that “The adverse effects of climate pose serious threats to the security and economic prosperity of our present and future generations. Urgent, bold and ambitious collective actions are needed to address these threats.”

Sheikh Hasina also urged the international community to consider the ‘development needs of the climate-vulnerable countries’ along with the ‘operationalization of loss & damage funds’ as agreed in COP27. Bangladesh Prime Minister also called for a stronger global solidarity in sharing the burden of climate migrants, induced by sea-level rise, salinity increase, river erosion, floods, and droughts.

Restoring Black sea grain initiative

Restoring Black Sea Grain Initiative becomes vital to ensure global food security. The collapse of a deal to restore the initiative will endanger millions of lives. Thus, Sheikh Hasina said that “We are deeply concerned that the Black Sea Grain Initiative has become defunct and call upon all parties concerned for its early restoration.”

 Ensuring uninterrupted access to fertilizers

Sheikh Hasina also proposed for the uninterrupted access to fertilizers. In fact, uninterrupted access to fertilizer becomes essential to produce foods for millions of people globally, especially in the developing world. But due to Russian-Ukraine crisis, global supply of fertilizers has been disrupted.

Ensuring equitable access to technologies

Technology plays vital role as an enabler of sustainable development. However, there is inequalities and exclusion across and within countries regarding access to technologies. Thus, Sheikh Hasina emphasized on ensuring equitable access to technologies among countries.

Promoting global health cooperation

Sheikh Hasina emphasized global health security and argued for the promotion of global health cooperation and technology sharing. In the words of Sheikh Hasina, “We appreciate the idea of setting some minimum benchmarks for health coverage globally. To achieve these targets, expanding international cooperation, including adequate financing and technology transfer as well as by sharing best practices need to be ensured”.

Promoting blue economy cooperation

Blue economy holds the future of many maritime nations, including Bangladesh. Thus, Sheikh Hasina said thatthe ‘blue economy’ has opened up a new horizon for development of Bangladesh”. The international community needs to come forward to promote global blue economy cooperation and hence “the provisions of UNCLOS need to be effectively implemented to ensure sustainable use of marine resources” as argued by Sheikh Hasina.

Human rights should not be politicized

Sheikh Hasina emphasized on the implementation of human rights norms. The history also shows that human rights have also been politicized to put pressure on third world countries. In this context, Sheikh Hasina reiterated that “it is to be ensured that human rights are not politicized to put pressure on developing countries”.

Promoting the cause of the Palestinians

Since Bangabandhu’s time, Bangladesh always supports the oppressed. In her speech, Sheikh Hasina promoted the cause of the Palestinians. She boldly reaffirmed Bangladesh’s support and said that “It is deeply troubling that the legitimate rights of Palestinian people have remained unmet. We will continue our efforts to realize the rights of the people of Palestine. Bangladesh will stand by Palestine”.

Resolving the Rohingya crisis

Another important proposal was Rohingya refugee repatriation. Bangladesh has been hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees since August 2017. In the words of Sheikh Hasina, “The prolonged presence of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh has caused serious ramifications on the economy, environment, security, and socio-political stability in Bangladesh. If the problem persists further, it may affect the security and stability of the entire region, and beyond”. Thus, Sheikh Hasina sought international cooperation to ensure the Rohingya refugee repatriation.

The bottom-line is that Sheikh Hasina raised the issues that are concerns to millions of people in the world. She became the voice of the developing world and the oppressed. Sheikh Hasina urged the world community to avoid the path of war and embrace enduring peace and well-being for humankind. She also asked for a humane world order based on the welfare and well-being of the planet earth. Sheikh Hasina’s proposals bear immense importance to the people of the world and thus need to be heard by the world community.

– Dr. Md. Shariful Islam is an Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Rajshahi. He is also an adjunct Research Fellow at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA), Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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