US Ambassador to Bangla-desh Peter Haas has reiterated that the United States does not favour any particular political party in Bangladesh, saying they want to see a free and fair election where the people can freely choose their own government.
“What we want is a free and fair election conducted in accordance with international standards where the people of Bangladesh can freely choose their own government,” he said while addressing a “Meet the Ambassador” event organised by the Centre for Governance Studies and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Bangladesh on Thursday.
“If anyone of them fails to fulfill their responsibility or if anyone of them prevents another from fulfilling their responsibility, free and fair elections would become nearly impossible,” he added.
Referring to the recent violent clashes at political rallies and demonstrations in Bangladesh, Haas said free and fair elections simply cannot take place in an environment with political violence. “It is important for everyone -- demonstrators, political parties, government and law enforcement agencies -- to respect the rule of law and to refrain from violence, harassment and intimidation.”
He also shared five key objectives of the US for its relationship with Bangladesh to ensure a more peaceful and stable Bangladesh.
Listing out the objectives, the US ambassador said the goal number one is to see a more peaceful and stable Bangladesh, better able to provide for its own security, counter threats to US interests and serve as a growing security contributor in the Indo-Pacific and globally.
He said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina last year shared her vision for a free, open, peaceful, secure and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, based on international law and shared prosperity for all.
Highlighting a recent event, he said Bangladesh and the US co-hosted the 46th annual Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar in Dhaka, which has provided a forum for senior level officers from regional land forces to exchange views and ideas on how to maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific. It has also established the Bangladesh Army as a key regional leader.
“We want our security relationship to grow,” Ambassador Haas said, adding: “We are seeking to sign two foundational defence agreements – one which will allow our militaries to provide logistics support, supplies and services to each other. The other will allow the militaries between Bangladesh and the US to share confidential information with each other – if they want to – in the knowledge that the other country will protect the information.”
While stating the goal number two, the US envoy said Bangladesh is committed to democracy, transparency, pluralism, tolerance, good governance and respect for human rights.
“Simply put, democracies tend to do a better job of protecting human rights and generating and sustaining prosperity than other governance regimes. The promotion of democracy is particularly relevant as Bangladesh looks toward to the upcoming parliamentary elections.”
The US ambassador said the goal number three is that Bangladesh is a socially and environmentally resilient country. The ability to respond effectively to things like climate change and pandemics greatly impacts economic growth, he said, adding that Bangladesh’s geography on a low-lying river delta, with a long coastline and large floodplains, makes it extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Haas said the US applauds Bangladesh’s leadership in addressing climate change and is a proud partner in addressing this problem. “Addressing climate change is a core priority for the Biden administration.”
In this regard, he mentioned that in April 2021, the US President released the first-ever US International Climate Finance Plan and announced quadrupling the US international climate finance pledge at the UN General Assembly, including the largest US commitment ever made to reduce climate impacts on those most vulnerable to climate change worldwide.
Citing another example of US cooperation in the fight against Covid-19, the ambassador said the US since 2020 has donated over $140 million in assistance and nearly 88 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to Bangladesh.
Mentioning his recent meeting with the Prime Minister, he said he commended Bangladesh’s efforts to vaccinate over 70 percent of its entire population, a higher rate than in the US. “I also told her that one of our proudest joint achievements was in how we worked together to respond to the Covid-19 crisis.”
The US envoy identified the goal number four relating to sustainable and broadly shared prosperity, and improved labour standards, expanding and diversifying Bangladesh’s economy and opening it to greater regional and global trade and connectivity.
He said the US celebrates Bangladesh’s tangible and truly extraordinary economic achievements and the US is proud to have partnered with Bangladesh during this journey by providing over $8 billion in assistance.
“In just the past 20 years, the number of people living below the national poverty line in this country has been cut in half. That is roughly 40 million people who have risen out of poverty,” Haas said, adding: “Bangladesh will soon graduate from Least Developed Country status and is progressing towards becoming a middle-income country.”
Referring to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent invitation to US companies to invest in Bangladesh, he said many US businesses would like to expand in the region and “we are ready to help Bangladesh create a business climate that is as welcoming as possible to foreign investment.”
The US envoy said the goal number five is that Bangladesh meets international standards for humanitarian protection of Rohingyas and continues to host them until a safe, voluntary and dignified return to Burma is possible. “We recently passed a sobering milestone: the five-year anniversary of the genocide and crimes against humanity against Rohingyas and their flight from Burma to Bangladesh.”
During this time, he said, Bangladesh has shown incredible generosity and compassion in welcoming them into the country and giving them shelter. “We are aware of the financial burden this has imposed on Bangladesh.”
In support of this incredible hospitality, the US announced last week that it would provide an additional $170 million to support Rohingyas and Bangladeshi host communities.
With this new funding, total US assistance to the Rohingya Refugee Crisis has reached nearly $1.9 billion.
Ambassador Haas said the US collaborated in this effort in the hope that Rohingyas would soon be able to return to their native land in a safe and dignified manner.
“Unfortunately, conditions in Burma, especially after recent incidents, do not allow for a safe, voluntary, dignified or sustainable return. Sadly, it does not look like they will anytime soon,” he said, adding that the US is ready to work with Bangladesh to transition from an emergency response to a more sustainable one.
“We want to work with the government of Bangladesh and the rest of the international donor community to provide the refugees with better access to education, better opportunities to earn a livelihood and greater security within the camps,” the US ambassador added.