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United Nations and Bangladesh : 40 Years of Partnership

The Beginning of Bangladesh and UN Partnership

The relationship of Bangladesh and the United Nations began in the formative Liberation War of 1971, when the 1970 elections in Bangladesh (formerly known as East Pakistan) was won in a landslide victory by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who would have been Prime Minister of Pakistan, yet was not recognized by the Pakistan central Government. Up to this point, there had been ongoing tension between the citizens of West and East Pakistan, and the election was perceived as the final straw. Bengali nationalists initiated guerilla warfare in the territory, and in response the Pakistani army cracked down on the citizenry. In March 1971, millions of people sought refuge in neighbouring India, and on the 23rd of April 1971, the Government of India requested the United Nations to provide humanitarian assistance to East Pakistan refugees.

Then Secretary-General, Kurt Waldheim, initiated the UNHCR led response with initial assistance from WFP and UNICEF. The Secretary-General was gravely concerned with the situation in East Pakistan and the responsibility of the United Nations. Negotiating with the Pakistan Government, it was agreed that the UN would monitor the administration of humanitarian aid to the people of East Pakistan, and ensure unrestricted communication and safe passage of the international humanitarian community to deliver assistance. This mission would become UNEPRO (the United Nations East Pakistan Relief Operation), spearheaded by Bagha A. El-Tawil, who was appointed as the representative of the Secretary-General for the operations.

In July 1971, a coordinating body was established with the Government of India that included UNICEF, WFP, FAO, WHO and the League of Red Cross Societies. With escalating conflict in the region, the Secretary-General placed a memorandum before the Security Council expressing concern both for humanitarian issues and the threat to peace and security. By this point India and Pakistan were waging a conflict of their own at the Jammu and Kashmir border, with both sides contributing to the political instability in the region.

Negotiations and debate on the conflict in the sub-continent continued at the UN in New York, but were otherwise unsuccessful. The Netherlands, New Zealand, and Sweden sponsored a draft resolution for the General Assembly to appeal to both India and Pakistan to promote voluntary repatriation of refugees, and to continue humanitarian efforts of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner of Refugees. During the General Assembly, Member States debated in favour of cease-fire and troop withdrawal in India and Pakistan. Part of these discussions included the fate of East Pakistan, with India recognizing the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

On 16 December 1971, India announced at the Security Council that Pakistan armed forces had surrendered, and reaffirmed it had no ambitions to claim territorial ownership of East Pakistan. The Security Council met again on 21 December 1971, and the President announced that an agreement had been reached. Resolution 307 (1971) was adopted, which called for a ceasefire, the repatriation of refugees, and continued relief operations in the region. Finally, on 2 July 1972, India and Pakistan signed the Simla Agreement, ending their conflict and committing to observing the principles and purpose of the United Nations Charter. With the regional conflict winding down, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh emerged as a new state.

This timeline of UN "milestones" presented is not exhaustive but rather illustrative of Bangladesh and UN partnership, and in turn what Bangladesh has contributed to the global community. UN programming may not always be visible, but initiatives highlighted here have contributed to development progress in the country. Please click on each year and title to expand and read more about these milestones.