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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Dhaka (Bangladesh)

02 November 2008

Opening remarks at press conference in Dhaka

[Unofficial transcript]

Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen of the media. It is a great pleasure to see you, and thank you very much for your participation. Assalamualaikum.

I would like to say what a pleasure and privilege and honor for me to [visit] Bangladesh, this time as Secretary General of United Nations.

Before I begin, let me express my deepest thanks to the government and people of Bangladesh for their warm welcome and hospitality extended to me and to my delegation. I was overwhelmed and very much impressed by such warm hospitality. And I was very much shocked and impressed by all the changes and achievements you have realized during last few decades. My last visit was in 1975. During that time, right after your independence, I had the opportunity of visiting your country to discuss bilateral matters between Korea and Bangladesh. It is now 33 years after. During 3 decades, you have achieved and you have made a sea change in socioeconomics and democracy. And I commend for that.

In particular, I would like to express my honest appreciation and thanks to many, many people who have already been greeting me, and welcoming me, and sending their best wishes to me, along all the streets and at the villages where I have visited today. Now, because of all practical reasons which you may understand, I was not able to meet them in person, all of them, and express my sincere gratitude. I hope you can convey my warmest thanks to all of them. And I am very much impressed by them.

Now I have seen for myself the resilience and resourcefulness of Bangladesh and its people.

The evidence is all around: innovative micro-credit programs for development. The way government authorities and UN specialists have worked together to deal with flooding and natural disasters along the Jamuna river. Your success in balancing economic growth and poverty-reduction. Your success with family planning, getting girls into schools and reducing child mortality.

Earlier today, I had a chance to visit the Grameen Bank Projects, where I was extremely moved by the tremendous efforts by the people of Bangladesh to attain self-sustainability. Particularly, I had a very good exchange with women of Bangladesh working towards self-empowerment. What I have witnessed today will certainly set an example for the rest of the developing countries. This kind of determination will help Bangladesh become a middle-income country in ten years’ time. Visiting the Project also gave me a stronger resolve to work harder towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. I also can see hope and enormous potential for positive social change.

I am concerned, however, about the effect of world events on Bangladesh. Rising food prices could affect growth and living standards. The global financial crisis threatens the world’s most vulnerable people, many of them in Southeast Asia.

That is why I have called, loud and clear, on the industrialized countries to honor their commitments to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. I promise to you that I will push hard this month at the G-20 Summit Meeting which will be held in Washington, and at the Financing for Development Conference, which will be held later this month in Doha, Qatar.

Times of global crisis demand global solidarity. We cannot allow the financial crisis to turn into a prolonged human crisis.

For the same reason, we cannot allow the financial crisis to impede our efforts to fight climate change.

A one-meter rise in sea levels would displace 30 million Bangladeshis and deal a catastrophic blow to economic growth and development here.

I know I need not tell you this. That is why Bangladesh has been at the forefront of disaster prevention and preparedness efforts.

Also during this visit, I had the opportunity to visit the Comprehensive Disaster Management Project of Baghbati Union in Sirajganj to see first hand the impact and day-to-day reality of the issue.

I was especially gratified to hear directly from the Bangladeshi people about their concerns and aspirations. Most of all, I was greatly encouraged by the way they are taking the problem into their own hands, and working with the Government, donors and the United Nations to do something about it.

Bangladesh is an example to the world community on how a vulnerable developing country can strengthen its resilience against recurrent catastrophic events. Your best practices and lessons learned can help your country and others in the region prone to natural disasters.

This visit has left a strong impression on me – an impression that I will take back to UN Headquarters and address.

These are the themes I stressed in my meetings during my short but productive visit. I had very quick, good meetings with the President, Chief Advisor, military leadership and other senior government officials and political party leaders.

I expressed my deep gratitude for Bangladesh’s tremendous contribution to UN peacekeeping efforts around the world.

Bangladesh is the second-largest contributor of personnel to UN peacekeeping operations, with more than 9,000 troops and police officers serving in our peacekeeping missions. Not only are you building your own country, but you are contributing to peace and better lives everywhere you go.

For Bangladesh, much depends on good governance. Perhaps never before has it been so important for the nation’s diverse people and political leaders to pull together — to fight corruption, to uphold the rule of law, to respect institutional checks and balances and to promote democracy.

This was my message to all I met: government authorities, political parties, civil society leaders and ordinary citizens. I saw clearly that democracy belongs in Bangladesh; there are no insurmountable obstacles to ushering in a better, brighter, more sustainable democracy after the elections in December.

The UN stands ready to help. As a friend of Bangladesh, I have an obligation to speak frankly and, I hope, lend my advice and personal assistance in any way that I can.

I have informed the Government authorities and the political parties that the UN will dispatch a small team of highly capable and prominent individuals, who will visit in the coming weeks to assess the conduct of the election and report to me.

It is in the world’s — and your — best interest to see Bangladesh achieve its full potential for democratic development through free and credible elections.

The December ballot is a historic opportunity. Now is the moment to stand against the polarization and violence that have characterized past elections.

What is needed now is to put the larger interests of the nation above other interests. The incoming government will need to reach out to the opposition in Parliament. The opposition must engage constructively with the new government to consolidate the reforms begun by the current caretaker government—particularly those dedicated to fighting corruption.

For its part, the government must ensure that the fundamental rights and freedoms necessary for a free, fair and credible election are guaranteed. And it must ensure that the elections take place in a peaceful and secure environment.

Thank you very much for your attention. I will be happy to answer your questions.