Thursday, February 12, 2015

Political crisis 2015 - UN gingerly puts its toe in the water

See also in the 'Political Crisis 2015' series:
Analysis of the deaths (updated to 5 Feb)

Amongst all the other major crises in the world, perhaps the UN is - finally - recognizing that Bangladesh could well join them.

On the 11th February (Wednesday, US time), Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General was asked a question about Bangladesh, and she said this
…. the [former] Assistant Secretary‑General in charge of [Political Affairs] Oscar Fernández-Taranco has been tasked by the Secretary‑General to liaise with the Government and he's doing just that.
It also emerged that Taranco was meeting that afternoon with Nisha Biswal, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, though it was not confirmed whether or not Bangladesh was on the agenda.

See below for the whole question and answer.

It is not much - and it is notable that the spokesperson does not mention that he is in 'liaison' with the opposition - but it is a start, and it does seem to be a development from what was said by the UN spokesperson on 5 Febuary (see end of post). Taranco, as many will remember, came to Bangladesh in December 2013 before the 5 January elections to try to work out a compromise between the parties.

The visit by UN Assist Secretary General has taken place. Taranco succeeded in getting BNP and AL leaders to meet three times - but there have been no substantive gains from this process, no deal anywhere near the horizon. However, the establishment of new lines of communication may well help in the future and could (after the 5 January elections) be helpful for getting new negotiations started between the parties. However, those hoping for any deal before 5 January 2014 - should just stop hoping!
Well, I did not think then it would take quite so long for Taranco to reappear on the scene

Taranco will have an even harder task than last time, as the situation now is much more dangerous and the government's current position appears to preclude the slightest possibility of dialogue. 

One further note, is the way in which the question was put to the UN spokesperson Mushfiqul Fazal - which is couched in very pro-BNP language, failing to refer at all to the deaths of over 60 members of the public (apparently caused as a result of the activities of pro-opposition pickets) but mentioning the 'extra-judicial killing' which he said had 'crossed the limit'. Has the deaths of members of the public also not crossed the limit?

It should come as no surprise that it seems that Fazal used to be Assistant Press Secretary to Khaleda Zia when she was prime minister, and bdnews24 reports him as a member of the BNP foreign affairs committee. Am intrigued to know how he got into ask this question. I presume also that he was responsible for the 5 February question (at end of post) which is equally one sided in the way it was put.

Here is the full question and answer at the United Nations. The original transcript is here.
Question: This is Mushfiqul Fazal. I would like to draw your attention to Bangladesh. As you know, Bangladesh is facing very crucial time. People are suffering a lot. And vehicles are burning in the street and the extra-judicial killing crossed the limit. And people are fighting for democracy and their voting rights. And I want to know what exactly [what the] United Nations [is] doing to restore democracy in Bangladesh to build a peaceful Bangladesh and to stability, because the last election was held in 2014, 5 January, and there was a one‑sided poll, and before the election the Assistant Secretary‑General Mr. [Oscar] Fernández-Taranco visited Bangladesh; but after any conclusion, he went back and there was a one-sided poll and 154 seats the Government won without any election. So, I want to know, the United Nations expressed concern… do you think is it sufficient to just express the concern or United Nations should do more to restoring democracy in Bangladesh and to hold free and fair and credible elections? Thank you very much.
Spokesman: Sure. As you rightly put it, the [former] Assistant Secretary‑General in charge of [Political Affairs] Oscar Fernández-Taranco has been tasked by the Secretary‑General to liaise with the Government and he's doing just that. The Secretary‑General is personally committed to the stability and positive development of Bangladesh. Bangladesh, as you know, is a critical partner of the United Nations in many areas. And obviously, I think, as we've said here a number of times, we are very much concerned about the violence and the loss of life that's occurred in Bangladesh since the beginning of last year.  ……..
Question: Follow-up on Bangladesh and also something on the Western Sahara thing you announced. You said that Mr. Taranco is still involved in this issue. I notice that he's meeting this afternoon with Nisha Biswal, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia. Is it fair to assume that that's what that meeting is about? And how would you characterize it? 
Spokesman: I think it's not fair to assume anything. I'll now see if I can actually get you some facts, as opposed to assumptions.

What was said on 5 February, 2014
Question: Sure. Ask about Bangladesh and also Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Bangladesh, the… things seem to be getting worse. Former Prime Minister has been charged with arson and… which she says she doesn't do. The power's been turned off to the opposition party and basically the authorities are using violence on protestors. So, I'm wondering, what's the response of the Secretary‑General? Is there any [Department of Political Affairs] or other UN involvement in trying to mediate it? And with senior military officials making statements about what they'll do to civilians, what's the impact on Bangladesh as a peacekeeping contributing country? 
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the political process is separate and apart from the issue of peacekeepers in UN missions, who are under the control ultimately of the mission. Regarding the situation in Bangladesh, we've made our concerns known. As you know, officials, including the senior officials from our Department for Political Affairs, have repeatedly visited Bangladesh, trying to meet with the leaders there and make sure that the crisis can be resolved peacefully. As you know, we continue to have our concerns that that hasn't happened and that there has been violence. We have continually encouraged and continue to encourage the authorities to allow for peaceful protest and for the right to peaceful assembly. And beyond that, we'll continue to be in touch with the leaders of the two main parties, trying to make sure that they can resolve their differences.

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