Democracy imperative for peace and development: PM

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday said that absence of democracy and social justice can be linked to sustenance of poverty, inequality, deprivation and marginalization, which in turn instigates extremism and terrorism.

“Indeed, there is no alternative to democracy for attaining peace, a pre-requisite for development,” she said adding that her government is working meticulously to root out terrorism and extremism from Bangladesh.

The Prime Minister was addressing the inaugural session of a two-day international conference on ‘People’s Empowerment and Development’, as a follow up on a new peace model moved by her in the United Nations.

Foreign Minister Dipu Moni presided over the inaugural session of the conference held at Rupashi Bangla Hotel in the city.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Nepal Narayan Kaji Shrestha, Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka Prof. GL Peiris, Rural Development Minister of India Jairam Ramesh, Works and Human Settlement Minister of Bhutan Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, Deputy Foreign Minister of Maldives Ali Hameed, UN Undersecretary General Dr Joan Clos, and Deputy Director General of UNESCO Getachew Engida also spoke at the inaugural session.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had presented the ‘People’s Empowerment and a peace-centric development model’ at the 66th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and later it was adopted by G-77 plus China and subsequently by the UNGA. .

Addressing the conference organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hasina said the effectiveness, global acceptability and sustainability of the People’s Empowerment Model “lie in its inherent strength in addressing all forms of deprivation and disempowerment.”

She said that with millions living in conflict and deprivation of their fundamental freedoms and human rights, peace remains elusive with all forms of extremism thriving.

The Prime Minister said that new and emerging challenges such as rising oil and food prices, the global financial meltdown, the debt crisis, climate change, the lack of green and clean technology and the digital disconnect further isolate and marginalize poorer societies and the poorest from the global mainstream.

She also said that in addition, absence of participatory democracy and social safety measures is destabilizing societies and giving way to people’s uprising in parts of the world. “It thus appeared to me that for sustainable peace, justice is the vital factor and this is attainable when people are empowered for meaningful engagement in development.”

While presenting her ‘Peoples’ Empowerment’ model in the 66th UNGA, the Prime Minister had said that empowerment in turn requires eradicating poverty and hunger; reducing inequality; mitigating deprivation through social safety protection programs; creating jobs for all; greater inclusiveness; accelerating equitable sustained growth and human development; and countering extremist forces and terrorism.

She further said that these are all interlinked and mutually reinforcing.

Hasina informed the audience that she has been trying to realize this model of empowerment for the 160 million people of Bangladesh through pro-poor programs aimed at bringing about holistic justice and equality, and thereby strengthening democracy and achieving development.

In the spirit of the empowerment model, she said, the government has been allocating highest budget in education for accelerating human development.

For school attendance, the government is providing free text books up to secondary level with gradual provision for lunch to students, and cash incentives to parents, she added.

The Prime Minister also mentioned that a Trust Fund has also been established to support students to pursue their education up to graduation level. The government is providing internet services free to schools and have set up 4,501 Union Information and Service Centers in a bid to establish ‘Digital Bangladesh’ by 2021.

Hasina said that to ensure gender parity and empowerment, the government has made education free for girls up to secondary level, and are encouraging women to take equal and active part in all aspects of national life.

“I’ve ensured direct election of women to 12,828 reserved seats, with 20 as chairpersons at the lowest tier of the local government.”

In this regard, she said that at the national level, beside her and the Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Leader, a Whip, there are five cabinet ministers, 19 directly elected women MPs with 50 more elected against reserved seats.

“Women occupy 30 percent of all posts in government offices, and serve in armed forces, law enforcement agencies and in UN peacekeeping Missions earning accolade for the nation.”

The Prime Minister also said that the government is ensuring secularism and equality irrespective of race, religion, caste and gender, including the marginalized, disadvantaged, disabled, and the aged.

She said: “We are also ensuring equal rights of the ethnic minorities in accordance with the 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord, concluded during my last tenure as Prime Minister. We are also meticulously rooting out terrorism and extremism from our soil.”

Hasina said that all these efforts have helped the government to reduce poverty by 10 percent, attain GDP growth rate of 6.5 percent, increase per capita income, and attain MDG 4 on infant mortality and MDG 5 on maternal mortality. “Our aim is to lift our poor people out of poverty by MDG timeframe of 2015.”

She said that all these were possible despite the challenges of global warming, climate change, threatened sea level rise and migration of climate induced migrants.

Around 80 foreign delegates from 62 member states of UN are expected to join the two-day international conference to give Hasina’s peace model a global shape so it can help people especially in the developing countries to reduce inequality, disparity, deprivation and poverty while strengthening global efforts towards democracy, human development and curbing terrorism.

The conference will focus on seven interlinked and mutually reinforcing elements essentials for peace and empowerment: (i) eradication of poverty and hunger; (ii) reduction of inequality; (iii) mitigation of deprivation; (iv) creation of jobs for all; (v) inclusion of excluded people; (vi) acceleration of human development; and (vii) combating terrorism.

The inaugural session will be followed by a plenary session and seven working sessions. Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to UN AK Abdul Momen, Chair of G-77 and China Murad Benmehdi, and Principal Secretary to the PM Shaikh Md Wahid Uz Zaman will make statements at the plenary session.

There will be a joint interaction with press on the concluding day of the conference tomorrow (Monday) and the summary of the outcome of the conference will be released to all as an UN official document of the UN.

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