Opening Statement by Mr. Md. Shahidul Haque, Foreign Secretary, Government of Bangladesh at the Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean on 29 May 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand
We thank the Government of Thailand for convening this Special Meeting. The gathering here reaffirms the importance we attach to addressing the grave challenge we are confronted with.
2. Bangladesh is deeply concerned over the unfolding humanitarian tragedy in the Indian Ocean. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Government considers this to be a direct challenge to our ‘zero tolerance’ approach to human trafficking. We are determined to go all the way to stop and reverse this trend. It is perhaps time for us to say ‘enough is enough’.
3. Some of the trafficking victims rescued this month are reportedly Bangladeshi nationals. We thank Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar for bringing the victims to safety and providing them necessary humanitarian assistance.
4. No sooner had we received news of these tragedies, we asked the Bangladesh Missions concerned to immediately rush to the ground. Our officials have already collected antecedents of self identified Bangladeshis, or have obtained consular access for doing so. Our Envoys are personally supervising the matter. According to our initial estimates, there are about 30% of Bangladeshis among the victims recently rescued. We shall arrange to conclude the nationality verification of these people within the shortest possible time, and shall repatriate them to Bangladesh preferably within a month or so.
5. Let me assure you that we take the responsibility to repatriate Bangladeshi citizens in irregular situations abroad with utmost seriousness. We are maintaining heightened surveillance, including through our law enforcement agencies and local governments, to prevent further victimization or deception of our people by the traffickers.
6. From our initial interview with the victims, it appears that they were allured or enticed by the traffickers with the false prospect of high-paid, secure jobs abroad, often without asking for any advance payment. Some others were reported to have been tricked and forced on to the boats by the traffickers. The current cases are, therefore, not irregular migration by sea. These are manifestations of a human trafficking trade at its worst. And certainly this is a recent trend, not seen in the past in Bangladesh.
7. We have mobilized all our concerned law enforcement and border security agencies for patrol across our maritime borders. Since 01 May 2015, our Coast Guard has intercepted a number of boats in our waters and rescued 132 people. Our naval forces remain on alert to go up to the High Seas to rescue victims and bring the culprits to justice.
8. As we respond to the current challenges, we are not necessarily reinventing the wheel. We are guided by a robust policy framework, laid down by our government and that is being translated into a range of bold and targeted actions. Our unstinting commitment to combating human trafficking is linked to our pursuit of peace and sustainable development.
9. In the legal domain, we have:
i)acceded to the Palermo Convention in 2010;
ii)enacted the Human Trafficking Deterrence and Suppression Act in 2012;
iii)adopted strong anti-money laundering and mutual legal assistance laws in 2012.
iv)finalized a set of Rules for implementing the laws;
v)initiated a process to set up separate tribunals as stipulated in the counter-trafficking law; and,
vi)formed an inter-ministerial committee at the Ministry of Home Affairs to follow a number of important trafficking cases under trial.
10. To put all these into context, in 2014, there were 682 trafficking related cases involving a total of 2,834 accused. Among those convicted, 12 were sentenced to life imprisonment.
11. In terms of administrative arrangements, we have:
i)set up Counter-Trafficking Committees (CTC) up to the Union level, the lowest tier of the local government;
ii)ensured participation of relevant NGOs and CSOs in the CTCs at all administrative levels;
iii)operationalized a Monitoring Cell at the Police Headquarters to collect and analyse data on trafficking;
iv)set up a seamless intelligence network across concerned law enforcement and border security agencies;
v)drawn up a time-bound plan to invest in capacity building of Bangladesh Coast Guard and other relevant agencies;
vi)introduced counter-trafficking issues in training curricula for judicial, law enforcement and investigation agencies; and,
vii)developed an effective mechanism for victim protection and rehabilitation through GO-NGO partnership.
12. With regard to information campaign, we have:
i)ensured dissemination of counter-trafficking messaging through national broadcasting media and other means;
ii)enlisted the support of local opinion and religious leaders to transmit the messages;
iii)delivered the messages at the grass roots, through public meetings, folk theatres and musical concerts; and,
iv)studied the impact to devise further information strategies.
13. Our multi-pronged national efforts have been matched by our visible, contributing and responsible engagements at the international level. As a country of origin, transit and destination, Bangladesh has positioned herself at the forefront of global and regional counter-trafficking initiatives.
14. At the United Nations, Bangladesh actively promotes the implementation of the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons.
15. At the regional level, Bangladesh:
i)remains committed to implementing the SAARC Convention on Prevention and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution and further enhancing its scope;
ii)actively engages with the Bali Process to benefit from its information sharing and capacity building support.
16. At the bilateral level, Bangladesh has been engaging with her neighbors. With India, Bangladesh has been successfully implementing joint anti-trafficking programs through multilayered institutional cooperation, including under the Joint Committee on Rescue, Recovery, Repatriation and Integration (RRRI). With Myanmar we have initiated a process for setting up a Border Liaison Office across our borders. We also proposed an MOU on security cooperation and dialogue that includes countering trafficking in persons, drug and arms smuggling.
17. Our persistent efforts to combat human trafficking have been reflected in Bangladesh’s graduation to Tier II in the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report in 2012 that we have maintained since then.
18. We, however, realize that despite our enabling legal and administrative systems, there remain some implementation challenges, such as resource and capacity constraints that need to be addressed through long term concerted efforts. We need to focus on creating further deterrence and awareness to counter the false allure being peddled by traffickers. Within our Government, along with our civil society and NGO partners, we have embarked on serious introspection to identify and address the weak links in our counter-trafficking regime.
19. Contrary to general perception, our reading is that poverty is not necessarily the main driver pushing some of our people into the hands of traffickers. In Bangladesh, we have sustained an average GDP growth rate of 6.2% over the last six years. We have reduced poverty by nearly 2% each year, and lifted 50 million people out of poverty during this time. Within a limited resource base, we have made impressive gains in human development that have captured international headlines. We have attained almost all of the MDGs ahead of time, while remaining on track with the others. In such a context, there must be some other factors or forces at play beyond our immediate control that create vulnerability or false incentives for our people to risk their own lives at sea. In search of these factors, we may have to look for external factors and forces.
20. The UN Secretary General has recently urged the regional countries to address the root causes of the current exodus in the region. If we read through the international headlines, the message seems to be writ large on the wall. We must demonstrate the courage to deal with the underlying root causes for decisive and long lasting solutions to the challenge before us.
21. There is no doubt that we have little time to wait. In fact, we are already late. While we grapple with the root causes, we cannot afford to let the traffickers win over us. As the present case indicates, we are pitted against an organized transnational criminal network that has acquired the capacity to challenge our national efforts. We shall succeed in dismantling this network only when we coordinate our efforts across the entire spectrum at sources, during transit and at destinations. We must intensify our regional cooperation in all sincerity and determination.
22. There appears to be strong political will to find an effective, comprehensive and sustainable solution to address all forms of irregular movements and human trafficking in the region. This meeting is a test case of our resolve to translate this will into a meaningful and far-reaching outcome.
23. Let me conclude by saying that we are talking about human beings who are victims or potential victims. They deserve our compassion. Our collective endeavor should be to protect their lives, alleviate their sufferings and uphold their dignity. To this end, Bangladesh stands ready to join any regional or global effort to address human trafficking by sea in the Indian Ocean region in an integrated and comprehensive manner.