When Michelle Bachelet speaks, it is advisable to listen. So when the formidable UN high commissioner for human rights, and twice-former president of Chile, calls for concerted action to recover from what she termed the worst global deterioration of rights she had seen, you are immediately made aware that it is quite a grim reality that she speaks to. Addressing the opening of the UN Human Rights Council's 47th session, she insisted on the need for a "life-changing vision" to claw the world out of its predicament. The session, which lasts until 13 July and is being held virtually, is set to feature an eagerly anticipated report by Bachelet about systemic racism, and draft resolutions on Myanmar, Belarus and Ethiopia's northern Tigray region.
Bachelet knows well the complexities of working to bring about change from within the UN system - a path fraught with disappointments along the way. Even when the sole legitimate body of global governance takes a stance, it is often guilty of not going far enough - take the General Assembly's step last week, calling on member states to "prevent the flow of arms" into Myanmar, as part of a non-binding resolution condemning the military coup in the violence-wracked country. The resolution did not go so far as to call for a global arms embargo, but did demand that the military "immediately stop all violence against peaceful demonstrators."
It was approved by 119 countries, with 36 abstaining including China, Myanmar's main ally. Only one country, Belarus, voted against it. Bangladesh too abstained, expressing "deep disappointment" over the new resolution on Myanmar at the UNGA as "it has failed to recommend actions" on repatriation of the Rohingyas and adequately reflect on the crisis.
"The resolution that was adopted falls far short of our expectations," said Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN ambassador Rabab Fatima after adoption of the resolution on the 'Situation in Myanmar' at the 75th session of the UNGA. She said in its operative part, the resolution failed to recognise the urgent need for creating conditions for the safe, voluntary and sustainable return of the displaced minorities of Myanmar, particularly the Rohingyas. Since August 2017 Bangladesh has hosted 1.1 million Rohingya refugees in the world's largest refugee camp, along its restive borderlands with Myanmar.
Ambassador Fatima, the first woman to represent Bangladesh at the UN, made clear that stability in Myanmar is of critical importance in finding a durable solution for the Rohingya crisis, but Dhaka's concerns were not adequately reflected in the text of the resolution. Therefore, despite being one of 'the most affected' countries, our ambassador was left with no choice but to abstain. To that end, it may have been an abstention that spoke louder than a vote.
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