PM Hasina set ‘unique example’ by sheltering Rohingyas, Gowher Rizvi tells Al Jazeera

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina opened Bangladesh’s borders for Rohingya refugees driven from their homes in Myanmar as a humanitarian gesture, despite pleas from the country’s security forces against it, Gowher Rizvi, her international affairs adviser, has told Al Jazeera.

Published : 2 March 2019, 04:50 PM
Updated : 2 March 2019, 07:07 PM

He made the remarks during an episode of Al Jazeera’s “Head to Head”, which was released on its website and social media accounts on Friday. 

Commenting on Bangladesh’s decision to open its doors to thousands of Rohingya refugees displaced from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, Rizvi said: “I was present in the meeting that day; all the security forces argued that we should hold them (Rohingya refugees) back but our prime minister said: ‘no, this is a humanitarian crisis, open the frontiers.’”

Bangladesh has given shelter to over 700,000 Rohingya refugees after a Myanmar military crackdown against them in the Rakhine state in August, 2017.

“This is a unique example,” Rizvi added, comparing Hasina’s decision favourably to that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s, whose country let in huge swathes of refugees from the war-torn Syria.  

Bangladesh's High Commissioner to the UK Saida Muna Tasneem, South Asia analyst at Essex University Abbas Faiz, also a former Amnesty International official, and Swedish-Bangladeshi journalist Tasneem Khalil joined the programme as panelists.

During the programme, the prime minister’s adviser addressed a host of issues including Bangladesh’s political climate, the last general elections in which the Awami League secured a landslide win to return to power for a third consecutive term and the freedom of expression and media in the country.

The government wants to ensure the voluntary and dignified return of Rohingyas when the conditions in Myanmar are suitable for their repatriation, said Rizvi.

On the planned relocation of Rohingya refugees to the Bangladeshi island of Bhashan Char, he said: “We have developed an island, put protections against surges; we have built cyclone centres there but most important of all, we have said to international organisations to go there and see it for themselves.”

“These people belong to Myanmar. They want to go back home and they must go home; however what we have also said is we will only send them when the conditions are safe and people will go back voluntarily.”

Rizvi continued: “Very few governments in the world, let alone a developing country, hosts a million refugees and then say we would like you to go back only when the situation is safe. Of course the problem doesn’t lie with Bangladesh, it’s on Myanmar side and what else can Bangladesh do?”

“The responsibility lies with the international community - they must insist on making Myanmar safe for their return.”

Replying to a question on whether Bangladesh is heading towards a ‘single-party rule’, Rizvi said: “Just because a party has been elected three times, it is not a one-party state.

“A total of 39 political parties participated in the election which was held in a free and fair manner.”

On the arrest of photographer Shahidul Alam during a road safety movement in August last year, the adviser explained that Shahidul was not arrested for giving an interview to Al Jazeera but for spreading misinformation that incited violence.

“Freedom of speech has nothing to do with it,” said Rizvi.

Those with any knowledge of the Bangladeshi media will say that it is free and vigorous, he said.

He added that until 2008, there were few television channels in Bangladesh whereas between 2009 and 2018, Sheikh Hasina approved the establishment of thirty two private television channels – most of which criticise her on a nightly basis.

Addressing the war crimes trial, Rizvi said that Bangladesh is the only country in the world to give war criminals the “full right of representation”.

“Full evidence was placed into the hands of their defence lawyers. They were allowed as many defence lawyers as necessary – the standards followed in the Bangladesh court were higher than that of the Nuremburg trial”.

“No other international tribunal allows an opportunity to appeal. The Bangladeshi rules give an opportunity for judicial review.”

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher