Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman left Dhaka for New York on 23 September 1974 to attend the 29th session of the UN General Assembly. He addressed the General Assembly session on 24 September in Bengali. No one has ever addressed the UN General Assembly in Bengali before. He had internationalised ‘Bangla’ through this speech at the gathering of the world leaders and representatives from all over the globe. It was possible only for Bangabandhu to make the history of taking up the mother tongue of the Bangalee nation to such a prestigious height.
Bangabandhu said, “Today as I stand before the august Assembly, I share with you the profound satisfaction that the 75 million people of Bangladesh are now representing in this parliament. For the Bangalee nation this is a historic moment, marking the culmination of the struggle to vindicate the rights of self-determination.”
He added, “The Bengali people have fought over the centuries so that they may secure for themselves the right to live in freedom and with dignity as free citizens of a free country, they have aspired to live in peace and friendship with all the nations of the world. The noble ideals enshrined in the UN Charter are the very ideals for which millions of our people have made the supreme sacrifice. I know that the souls of our martyrs join us in pledging that Bangalee nation fully commits itself to the building of a world order, in which the aspirations of all men for peace and justice will be realised. It is particularly gratifying that Bangladesh has been admitted to this Assembly when its presidency has been assumed by one who has been an active fighter for freedom. I recall Mr. President, the valuable contribution made by you to the success of the Summit Conference of Non-aligned nations held in Algiers in September last year.”
Bangabandhu expressed his gratitude to those countries and peoples who had supported Bangladesh in its struggle for freedom as well as rendered valuable assistances to Bangladesh in consolidating its independence, reconstructing the war-ravaged country and meeting its challenges. He also expressed sincere thanks to all those who had welcomed Bangladesh into the United Nations.
Defining the struggle of Bangladesh as the universal struggle for peace and justice, Bangabandhu said that Bangladesh from its very inception had stood by the side of the oppressed people of the world. He added, “The experience of a quarter of a century since the United Nations was established has shown how a relentless struggle has to be waged against daunting odds in pursuit of these ideals. The right of self-determination which the United Nations Charter promised could only be redeemed through the supreme sacrifice of millions of valiant fighters for freedom in Asia, Africa and Latin America.”
Bangabandhu said that the struggle continued against the illegal occupation of territory by aggression, against use of force to negate the legitimate rights of the people, against the practice of racial discrimination and apartheid. He mentioned that great victories had been won in Algeria, in Vietnam, in Bangladesh and in Guinea-Bissau, and such victories proved that history was on the side of the people and that justice ultimately triumph. He also mentioned that injustice and oppression were persisting in many parts of the world- the Arabs were fighting for the complete vacation of the illegally occupied territories, the Palestinians were fighting for their legitimate rights, people of Zimbabwe (southern Rhodesia) and Namibia were engaged in a grim struggle for freedom and national liberation.
On challenges to be faced, Bangabandhu said, “Today, the nations of the world are faced with critical choices. Upon the wisdom of our choice, it will depend whether we will move towards a world haunted by fear of total destruction, threatened by nuclear war faced with the aggravation of human sufferings on a tremendous scale marked by mass starvation, unemployment and the wretchedness of deepening poverty, or whether we can look forward to a world where human creativity and the great achievements of our age in science and technology will be able to shape a better future free from the threat of nuclear war and based upon a sharing of technology and resources on a global scale so that men everywhere can begun to enjoy the minimum conditions of a decent life. The great economic upheavals which have recently shaken the entire world generate a sense of urgency about building a just international economic order. The special session of this Assembly earlier this year took note of the grave implications of the present international economic situation.”
Describing the economic situation in Bangladesh, Bangabandhu said that since liberation, Bangladesh had been plagued by a series of natural disasters and the latest one was the unprecedented floods of that year. He thanked the United Nations and its agencies for helping Bangladesh in meeting the situation.
While appreciating President Boumedienne and Foreign Minister Bouteflika of Algeria for appealing to the non-aligned group of countries to come forward to help Bangladesh, Bangabandhu also mentioned that all friendly countries and humanitarian organisations had been responding positively.
As due to the global inflation, countries like Bangladesh, were suffering from a balance of payments gap, Bangabandhu said that the people with a meagre annual per capita income of less than a hundred dollars were facing with the prospect of a severe reduction in even their current subsistence level of living. He said, “People, who are consuming less than the minimum considered necessary for mere survival by the World Health Organisation, now face starvation. The forecast for the future of the poorer countries is even gloomy. Food grain of which the developed industrial nations are the main exporters, are gradually going out of their reach as a result of steadily increasing price. Their efforts to achieve self-sufficiency in food production are also being severely affected because of rising cost and growing scarcity of vital agricultural inputs. Side by side, as a result of global inflation, the countries already faced with grinding poverty and massive unemployment are threatened with the dire possibilities of cut backs in their modest development plans envisaging growth rate of five to six per cent per annum. This inflation has not only increased manifold the cost of development projects, but has also adversely reduced their ability to mobilise their own resources.”
Bangabandhu said that unless the nations of the world could concert their action to meet this situation, human misery would be aggravated on a bigger scale. He noted that only a regeneration of the feeling of human solidarity and brotherhood and acknowledgement of interdependence could bring about a national solution.
Mentioning that no greater challenge had been faced by the United Nations than that of marshalling the forces of reason to bring about a just international economic order, Bangabandhu said, “This order must not only ensure the sovereignty of each state over its natural resources, but would also seek to establish a framework of international cooperation based upon recognition of the over-riding common interests of the countries of the world in a stable and just economic system. This is the moment when we must reaffirm in unequivocal terms that there is an international responsibility to ensure that everyone everywhere shall enjoy the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for the dignity and the free development of his personality as guaranteed to him by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This responsibility, according to the universal declaration should extend to ensuring to everyone the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family.”
Bangabandhu said that the economic crisis could be dealt with only in an environment of peace, international amity and understanding. In that context, he said that urgent measures to control the present arms race were important not only for the creation of such an environment, but also to release massive resources being wasted on armaments, for the common good of mankind.
Mentioning Bangladesh’s adoption of a non-aligned foreign policy based on the principles of peaceful co-existence and friendship towards all, Bangabandhu said, “Our total commitment to peace is born of the realisation that only an environment of peace would enable us to enjoy the fruits of our hard won national independence and to mobilise and concentrate all our energies and resources in combating the scourges of poverty, disease, illiteracy and unemployment.”
Bangabandhu welcomed every effort aimed at advancing the process of detente, relaxation of tension, limitation of armaments and the promotion of peaceful co-existence in every part of the world, whether it is in Asia, Africa, Europe, or in Latin America. He said that Bangladesh had been consistently supporting the concept of a zone of peace in the Indian Ocean area as well as in the South East Asia.
He said, “We believe that the nations of the emerging world assembled in the non-aligned conference provided powerful support to the cause of peace. They have reaffirmed the common determination of the overwhelming majority of the people of the world to preserve national independence and to promote peace and justice. Peace is an imperative for the survival of mankind. It represents the deepest aspirations of men and women around the world. Peace to endure must, however, be peace, based on justice.”
Referring to Bangladesh’s commitment to peace, Bangabandhu said that Bangladesh had striven to promote the process of reconciliation in the sub-continent and had contributed towards creating a structure of peace and stability so that the confrontation and strife of the past could be replaced by relations of friendship and cooperation for the well-being of all peoples. He further mentioned that Bangladesh had not only developed good neighbourly relations with its immediate neighbours, India, Burma and Nepal, but had opened a new chapter of relations with Pakistan. In this context, he said, “We have spared no effort towards liquidating the legacies of the past and made our ultimate contribution by granting clemency even to those 195 prisoners of war, against whom there was over whelming evidence of having committed grave crimes, including crimes against humanity.”
Regarding 63,000 Pakistani families remaining in Bangladesh, Bangabandhu said that they had declared their allegiance to Pakistan and registered with the International Committee of the Red Cross for repatriation. He added that they had the right to go to the country to which they had declared allegiance, according to the law and international agreements. He urged an immediate solution of that humanitarian problem.
Bangabandhu also raised the issue of the distribution of wealth of the former Pakistan. He said that Bangladesh was ready to re-establish friendship and hoped that the unresolved problems would be resolved on the basis of mutual understanding in the interest of the well-being of the people of the sub-continent, so that the process of normalisation could be successful.
Bangabandhu said that Bangladesh would maintain good neighbourly relations with all its neighbouring countries on the principles of peaceful co-existence, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of others. He reaffirmed Bangladesh’s continuous support towards all initiatives for peace in the region and the world.
On the role of United Nations, Bangabandhu said that despite its difficulties and obstacles, the United Nations had been able to make significant contributions to humanitarian progress in political, economic, social and cultural fields during its twenty-five years of operation. He said, “No one has done as much as Bangladesh has realised about the specific successes and possibilities of the world body. The dynamic leadership of Kurt Waldheim and the dedicated efforts of his colleagues made it possible for the United Nations to erase the scars of the Bangladesh war, restore the war-torn economy and rehabilitate one crore refugees returning from India.” Bangabandhu expressed his gratitude to the Secretary General, his colleagues and all humanitarian organisations for taking part in those programmes in Bangladesh.
While appreciating the constructive leadership of the United Nations in solving the unresolved issues of the sub-continent, Bangabandhu mentioned the efforts of the United Nations to raise funds for the victims of the recent catastrophic floods in Bangladesh. He said, “I would like to end my speech by believing in the invincible power of man, the power of man to make the impossible possible and the unwavering belief in the power to conquer the invincible. The belief is strong in countries like ours which have established themselves through struggle and self-sacrifice. We can suffer, but we will not die. The determination of the people is the ultimate strength to face the challenge of survival. Our goal is self-reliance. Our path is the united and joint efforts of the people. There is no doubt that international cooperation and operations also need to be facilitated. The rise of the new world is happening. We need to believe in our own strength. And we will move forward through the united and coordinated efforts of the people to meet the goals and build ourselves for a better future.”
The Far East America Council and Asia Society hosted a luncheon on 24 September in honour of Bangabandhu. In his speech, Bangabandhu said, “I would like to reiterate that the difficulties my country faces are no doubt formidable. But, we believe that these are not insurmountable.” He also resumed the ongoing development activities in Bangladesh as well as the investment policy and opportunities in various sectors of Bangladesh.
Bangabandhu informed that Bangladesh had evolved an integrated approach to agricultural development and that approach had envisaged establishment of rural administration infrastructure, provision of credit and training peasants to adopt improved agricultural practices. He expressed the hope that Bangladesh would be self-sufficient in food production within next three to four years, if necessary resource supports were provided. On the foreign assistance, Bangabandhu said that in the gigantic task of reconstruction and rehabilitation, such assistance was indeed valuable.
On 26 September, the Bangladesh Prime Minister and the UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim met for an hour-long discussion. At the meeting, which was held at the UN Headquarters, the two leaders reviewed the economic situation in Bangladesh and the problems caused by global inflation and catastrophic floods. The Secretary General assured all possible assistance to Bangladesh.
On 29 September, Bangabandhu gave a television interview with the National Broadcasting Corporation. In that interview, he highlighted our war of liberation, Pakistan’s atrocities, Bangladesh’s foreign policy and relations with other countries as well as the economic situation in Bangladesh.
Bangabandhu was presented with a key of the New York City by its Mayor. In his address of welcome the City Mayor described the presentation of the key of the City as a sign of friendship between the peoples of Bangladesh and the United States. Bangabandhu said, “I shall always remember with gratitude the way the people of America supported the cause of our liberation struggle.” He also expressed his appreciation for the American assistance since the independence of Bangladesh.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary
A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman
The Daily Sun | 24 September, 2020