Pope Francis wrapped up a high-stakes Asia tour Saturday after meeting Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh in a highly symbolic gesture of solidarity with the Muslim minority fleeing violence in Myanmar.The Catholic leader flew out of Dhaka after visiting a hospital run by the order of Mother Theresa and addressing thousands of students on the final day of a visit to Bangladesh and Myanmar that has been dominated by the plight of the Rohingya.Pope Francis is known for championing the rights of refugees and has repeatedly expressed support for the long-suffering Rohingya, describing them as his “brothers and sisters”.The usually forthright pontiff walked a diplomatic tightrope during his four days in Myanmar — the first papal visit to the country — avoiding any direct reference to the Rohingya in public while appealing to Buddhist leaders to overcome “prejudice and hatred”.In Bangladesh he addressed the issue head-on, meeting a group of Rohingya refugees from the squalid camps in southern Bangladesh in an emotional encounter in Dhaka.Among them was a 12-year-old girl who told him she had lost all her family in a Myanmar army attack on her village before fleeing across the border earlier this year.”Your tragedy is very hard, very great, but it has a place in our hearts,” he told them.”In the name of all those who have persecuted you, who have harmed you, in the face of the world’s indifference, I ask for your forgiveness.”- ‘Clear message’ -The pope referred to the refugees as Rohingya, using the term for the first time on the tour after the archbishop of Yangon advised him that doing so in Myanmar could inflame tensions and endanger Christians.The word is politically sensitive in the mainly Buddhist country because many there do not consider the Rohingya a distinct ethnic group, regarding them instead as interlopers from Bangladesh.He had faced criticism from some rights activists and refugees for failing to address the issue publicly.He did not visit the refugee camps, where only a handful were aware that one of the world’s most high-profile leaders was championing their cause just 300 miles (around 500 kilometres) away.One refugee expressed gratitude that the pope had finally uttered the word Rohingya, and said he believed the meeting would have a big impact.”It is the first time that a great world leader has listened to us,” 29-year-old Rohingya teacher Mohammad Zubair told AFP.”This meeting will send a clear message to global leaders.”But Yangon-based analyst David Mathieson said the tour would “do nothing dramatically to alter the humanitarian disaster of Rakhine” in Myanmar, where the violence against the Rohingya has unfolded.”I think the Pope’s strategy for his visit to Bangladesh was (to) keep international attention focused on the immense humanitarian crisis… and provide some inspiration for the Christians of Myanmar,” he said.More than 620,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh since a militant attack on police posts in late August sparked a deadly crackdown by the Myanmar military.They have given consistent accounts of mass rape, killings and villages deliberately burned to the ground by soldiers and Buddhist militia.The two countries last month signed an agreement to begin repatriating refugees, but rights groups say they are concerned about plans to house them in camps away from their former homes — many of which have been destroyed.During his tour the pope led well-attended open-air masses in Bangladesh and Myanmar, which both have small Christian populations.In the morning he was greeted by hundreds of Bangladeshi nuns at the Mother Teresa House clinic in Dhaka, all dressed in the blue-and-white habit favoured by the woman who dedicated her life to the region’s poorest.Earlier he paid tribute to the works of Catholics in Bangladesh, where schools and clinics run by the church provide a lifeline for poor communities.”I am sure if the pope touches my head and prays for me, I’ll be cured,” Ananda Hira, a kidney patient who receives dialysis at the clinic, told AFP ahead of the visit. “God listens to his prayers.” Pope Francis looks on before departing after his three-day visit to Bangladesh, in Dhaka on 2 December, 2017. Photo: AFP
The government has intensified its efforts to attain UN recognition for the genocide committed in Bangladesh in 1971 by the occupation forces of Pakistan, reports UNB.”Our key aim is to attain UN recognition of genocide committed in Bangladesh in 1971,” state minister for foreign affairs M Shahriar Alam told reporters at his office on Sunday highlighting government’s efforts to raise the grave mistreatment of humanity at international levels.The current government has decided to observe 25 March as ‘Genocide Day’ and the cabinet approved a proposal, to observe 25 March as a Genocide Day on 20 March, 2017.Earlier, on 11 March of the same year, parliament unanimously passed a proposal to observe the day.”The issue of attaining UN recognition remains as a priority of the ministry of foreign affairs since it came up in parliament in March 2017,” he said.Talking about facts, figures and relevant documents, the state minister said governments in the post-1975, especially the BNP-Jamaat alliance, gradually destroyed evidences instead of preserving those.He said now the government has enough documents much of which came through formation of the International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh.Shahriar said prime minister Sheikh Hasina raised the genocide issue during bilateral and multilateral meetings she attended over the last two years.He said the government has sent many relevant documents to various places at international level.The minister said the government’s effort is not limited to attaining the UN recognition as the UN declared 9 December as International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime.He said the government wants recognition from the maximum number of countries that will condemn the genocide.Meanwhile, visiting UN secretary-general’s special adviser on prevention of genocide Adama Dieng remembered all the victims of the genocide that took place in 1971 and recognised the pains and the courage of those who survived. “I’m glad that Bangladesh is remaining very committed to the issue of accountability.”The UN special adviser, who is visiting Bangladesh for the third time, addressed the seminar titled ‘1971 Genocide in Bangladesh’ organised by Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) at its auditorium.Foreign secretary M Shahidul Haque, director, Centre for Genocide Studies and Liberation War Museum trustee Mofidul Haque, BIISS chairman Munshi Faiz Ahmad and its director AKM Abdur Rahman, among others, spoke at the event.Highlighting his mandate, he said all must be prepared to take action when the alarm is heard and must move from reluctant to “preventive approach” when they see the first signs of concerns.Giving much emphasis on building resilience, the UN official said he is extremely pleased to note that such resilience has been demonstrated by the government of Bangladesh.Because, he added, after going such terrible events in this country like 1971 genocide and rebuilding the country that is a great achievement.Speakers at the seminar, talked about the heinous attack of Pakistani military on the unarmed civilians throughout the Bangladesh liberation war.They also mentioned about the current government’s vigorous endeavour towards attaining UN recognition for the 1971 genocide.The observance of the 25th March as ‘Genocide Day’ will be marked as nation’s eternal memorial to the sacrifice of the martyrs in the war of liberation and considered as a testimony of the gruesome massacre committed by the Pakistani occupation forces.