United Nations Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh Mia Seppo has said the UN is in talks with Bangladesh's law ministry to review the Digital Security Act (DSA) and stop its misuse.
"A review of the DSA is one of the UPR [Universal Periodic Review] recommendations that actually was supported by Bangladesh and the recommendations centre around making sure that the law is compliant with the international human rights standard," Seppo said at a discussion with diplomatic reporters on Sunday.
Besides, the United Nations resident coordinator said the UN is concerned over signs of shrinking civic space, growing inequality and violence against women in Bangladesh.
She also said that the UN will provide electoral assistance to Bangladesh if the government requests. "The UN does not provide electoral assistance unless we are asked to provide," she said.
The UN official said Covid-19 pandemic has amplified the challenges of inequality, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and gender disparity.
Referring to Bangladesh's graduation from the Least Development Country (LDC) status, she said it will bring many opportunities for Bangladesh.
"But it will prove unsustainable if the country cannot address emerging challenges associated with the pandemic impact such as inequality, gender-based violence, climate vulnerability and a high prevalence of informality in the labour market," she added.
On the Rohingya issue, Mia Seppo said the crisis is not only humanitarian but also political. The crisis is not being resolved politically as members of the Security Council failed to reach any consensus.
In reply to a journalist query on the DSA, she said, "We have had some good discussions with the law minister."
"We certainly stand ready to support a review of that legislation, making sure that misusing is minimised – making sure that it is compliant with international standards," she added.
Seppo also said this relates to "the general challenge of regulating digital space, which is part of the consideration and conversation".
"I think it is important to recognise that there are fundamental freedoms in terms of freedom of expression and opinion that Bangladesh is a signatory to.
"It is really the challenge of striking the balance between some control over the digital space while respecting these rights.
"Based on the UPR review, the view is that the DSA falls short of finding that balance at this current time," said Seppo.
World Bank's Rohingya proposal was misunderstood
Bangladesh strongly opposed a recent proposal of the World Bank to integrate Rohingya Muslims into the country, which is already hosting over 1.2 million of the displaced people.
The country fears that such a policy would directly affect the main focus — repatriation of the Rohingyas.
While answering a question, Mia Seppo said the World Bank's proposal has been misunderstood.
She said the United Nations supports the World Bank's global refugee policy, although many countries have and will have differences in global policy with local policy.
In the first week of this month, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said, the World Bank has prepared a long-term programme for 16 countries that are hosting refugees for their integration, welfare, equal employment and better communication between refugee and host communities.
"But we are not included in the definition of what the World Bank has meant. Rohingyas are not refugees in our definition. Rather, they are persecuted and displaced people whom we offered temporary shelter," he said.
"Our priority issue is they should go back to their own land [in Myanmar]," he emphasised while speaking to reporters in the capital.
Bangladesh only recently came to know about the World Bank report on integrating refugees into their host countries from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Momen said the report "suggests extending Rohingya the right to own land, property, businesses, rights of election and mobility and equal rights in employment as exercised by Bangladeshi citizens as part of the integration process, and if we agree with the proposal, then it will provide financial support to this effect out of a $2 billion World Bank fund."
Despite Bangladesh's rejection of the World Bank's policy, Mia Seppo said, "This funding is very much needed for the Rohingyas and local people in Cox's Bazar. We hope the government will continue the dialogue with the World Bank. The biggest challenge for Bangladesh is to raise funds to maintain humanitarian assistance to Rohingyas."
She, however, said that the Bangladesh government has made its position clear on how they will deal with the Rohingya problem.
Meanwhile, the WB clarified its position on its website on 3 September regarding the issue.
It said the World Bank is helping Bangladesh address the needs of the displaced Rohingya population until their safe and voluntary return to Myanmar.
Asked whether the Afghan crisis is diverting the international community's attention from the Rohingya issue, the UNRC said: "Many see the Rohingya crisis as a long-term problem. The reality is that Afghanistan is getting a lot of attention at the moment and that is increasing the challenges here."
Explaining her statement, the UN envoy said, "There is no doubt that it is a challenge to keep the global attention on a long-term crisis. When a crisis becomes a long-term one, providing resources to resolve it also becomes a big challenge."
Regarding the Bhasan Char issue, Mia Seppo told reporters the UN is at the final stages of starting operations for the Rohingyas in Bhashan Char. The memorandum of understanding to start the UN operation in Bhasan Char is final and is likely to be signed soon. The UN is already in talks with Bangladeshi NGOs working in Bhashan Char on how to work effectively there.
She said the Bangladesh government has made huge investments in Bhashan Char to make it a livable place, but there was, rather, negative publicity.
"The solution to the Rohingya refugee situation lies with Myanmar. The most viable, durable solution is the voluntary repatriation of refugees in safety, dignity and sustainability," she said.
Regarding school reopening, she said that the UN welcomes the decision by the government to reopen the schools effective on 12 September.
DCAB President Pantho Rahman and its General Secretary AKM Moinuddin also spoke at the "DCAB Talk".