Conspiracies against Bangladesh UN peacekeepers

A recent Deutsche Welle report titled “Torturers deployed as UN peacekeepers” and a YouTube video titled “From torturers to peacekeepers” have aroused considerable controversy in Bangladesh and beyond. Both the report and video claim that the UN is blindly hiring peacekeepers from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka who are implicated in human rights abuses in their home countries.

How far the DW stories are true is a matter of secondary importance. In the first instance, a couple of things come to our notice. The US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu visited Bangladesh on May 14-15, 2024. The United States slapped sanctions on the former chief of the Bangladesh Army General (Retd) Aziz Ahmed on May 20, and the DW report and video appeared on the following day May 21, 2024.  This chain of events has every reason to believe that the  gripping narrative of Bangladeshi peacekeepers carefully crafted by DW team is a premeditated attempt to discredit the Government of Bangladesh particularly the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. 

Such deliberate attempts to malign Bangladesh are nothing new. On February 1, 2021, Al-Jazeera aired a similar video titled “All the Prime Minister’s Men” which was a blast for Bangladesh Army with Gen Aziz as the sitting Chief. Strangely enough, the two allegations that United States has brought against Gen Aziz are the same that Al Jazeera brought in its “All the Prime Minister’s Men”, report. The US notification of sanctions seems to have been copied from the Al Jazeera documentary. Now the point remains if the DW, Netra News, Al Jazeera are teaming up with the US state machineries to deliberately damage the reputation of Bangladesh. 

These pieces of news claiming to be “investigation reports” give us a broad hint of a conspiracy theory. Intellectuals like University Grants Commission’s former chairman Professor Abdul Mannan see eye to  eye with this view. He made a categorical statement about how the US is complicit in Bangladesh bashing mission. As he puts it, “It’s a conspiracy against Bangladesh… The West, led by the USA, plotted such conspiracies in the past and will continue to do so in the future. The scheme to drop Bangladesh from the peace missions began years ago… Various international media outlets are paid to run intentional reports. The money comes from non-government organizations that are, in turn, funded by foreign agencies…In most cases, the news is run without any evidence,” (Somoy News, May 22, 2024).

A close examination of the DW May 21 report and video reveals the fact that they are full of questionable assumptions and sweeping generalizations. A particular number of RAB officers in Bangladesh may be implicated in human rights violations (this is gospel truth that any elite force of any country in the world must have officers like those in Bangladesh or Sri Lanka), but laying the blame on the entire force and proposing to exclude them from the UN peacekeeping mission really weirds us out. It smacks of an intrigue. A political or geopolitical intrigue!   DW alleges that the UN is turning a blind eye to Bangladeshi peacekeepers while hiring them. But the prying eyes of the DW and its investigation team do not fall upon the outright violations of human rights in countries such as Pakistan, Myanmar, Israel and even the USA. How the peaceable anti-government demonstrators in Pakistan, the luckless Rohingyas in Myanmar, the wretched Palestinians in Gaza and the anti-genocide protestors in USA are being killed and persecuted in broad daylight. So, DW’s extra-special interest in Bangladesh UN peacekeepers does not really stand up to scrutiny.

Bangladesh has a proud history in UN peacekeeping operations. Since 1988, it has been a consistent contributor to UN peacekeeping. It has, as statistics show, participated in 54 peacekeeping missions in 40 countries spread over 5 continents, and deployed more than 175,000 uniformed personnel including over 1,800 female peacekeepers to conflict zones across the globe. Presently, around 7,000 military and police personnel are participating in 10 missions (Source: Armed Forces Division). Bangladesh proudly holds the top spot as the largest troop-contributing country to UN peacekeeping forces. Bangladeshi peacekeepers have demonstrated unwavering dedication, professionalism and bravery, and earned global commendations for their contributions beyond the call of duty. They carried out their duties amid overwhelming odds. Their contributions have transcended the bare maintenance of peace and security and encompassed humanitarian assistance, medical aid, engineering support, and civil affairs services extended to help local communities rebuild their lives. However, Bangladeshi peacekeepers have also paid a heavy price for their service and sacrifice. More than 144 have lost their lives and 247 sustained major injuries in the line of duty.

Recently, Bangladesh has played a pivotal role in some of the most challenging UN peacekeeping missions. For example, Bangladesh became the largest contributor of troops to the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from 2013 to 2017. In 2015, Bangladesh went down the annals of UN history by assembling the world’s first all-female Muslim peacekeeping unit, that served in the Republic of Haiti. The unit, composed of 160 Muslim female troops, became the subject of a documentary titled “A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers”, which showcased their challenges and achievements in a male-dominated terrain. This pioneering initiative not only shattered gender barriers but also showcased the exceptional capabilities and determination of Bangladeshi women in the field of peacekeeping, (Dr. Rashid Askari, Daily Sun, June 22, 2023).  

Bangladesh’s contributions to UN peacekeeping have been acknowledged by the international community. In 2018, Bangladesh was awarded the UN Peacekeeping prize for its outstanding service to the cause of peace in South Sudan. Though some sections of people, both at home and abroad, are trying to cast aspersions on Bangladesh UN peacekeepers, Bangladesh remains committed to its global peacekeeping efforts. The government seeks to further enhance its involvement in UN peacekeeping missions and solidify its standing as a key contributor to global peacekeeping efforts. Bangladesh wants to further strengthen the partnership with the UN in the field of peacekeeping.  Bangladesh’s impressive track record, its extensive participation in UN peacekeeping missions and deployment of a large number of personnel can situate the country as a reliable and experienced partner in maintaining peace and security in the world. 

Bangladesh is proud of its role in UN peacekeeping and is committed to continuing its support for the UN’s efforts to maintain global peace and security. It is hoped that the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations at the United Nations Jean-Pierre Lacroix’s visit to Bangladesh on June 25, 2023 has strengthened the partnership between Bangladesh and the UN which will open up new windows of opportunity for Bangladesh peacekeepers to serve in more diverse and complex missions. It is also hoped that the UN will acknowledge Bangladesh’s efforts to uphold the highest standards of conduct and discipline among its peacekeepers, much as detractors shout from the rooftops a vicious slander on its good name. 

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