For Hasina, being one of only three Commonwealth female leaders has distinct advantages. Unjustified praise.


17 March 2021

Sheikh Hasina, in London in 2018 at the Commonwealth conference talking to Queen Elizabeth II. Hasina is one of three female leaders of Commonwealth countries.

On March 1st, a week before International Women’s Day, the Commonwealth posted a video of its Secretary General asking the following question:

She then answered it by stating that she:

These were Jacinda Arden, the prime minister of New Zealand, Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados and Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister of Bangladesh.


Well it should be noted that these are the only three women leaders in the commonwealth, and so it would have been rather undiplomatic to have left any one of them out of praise on international women’s day!

But that, of course, was not what the Secretary General said. She stated:

In a subsequent statement made on International Women’s Day itself, the Secretary General again mentioned the three women leaders:

Human Right Watch (HRW)| has today released a letter which it wrote to the Commonwealth Secretary General asking her to explain why she termed Sheikh Hasina “phenomenal” or indeed praised her at all as a leader. The letter opens by saying:

It then went onto refer to the particular timing of the comments — just days after death of the writer Mushtaq Ahmed in jail:

It remains particularly unclear why Sheikh Hasina should be praised for her performance over Covid-19. It is the case that Bangladesh has (it appears) fared better in terms of rates of death — particularly compared to what was expected — but this has nothing to do with decisions made by the prime minister. The low death rates appear to be a South Asian phenomenon; Bangladesh’s rates are about the same as Pakistan, twice the level of Sri-Lanka and half the level of India — but all these countries have rates of death far lower than Europe and the USA. It is quite possible that people in South Asian may have had immunological advantage or there could be some other factor as set out in this excellent article in the New Yorker. Basically, the government of Bangladesh took a relatively laissez faire attitude to the virus — apart from schools being closed, most people have been living pretty normal lives for quite some months. This could have been disastrous — but Bangladesh was lucky.

And Bangladesh is fortunate again to have been given large quantities of the vaccine by India. By all accounts, its distribution to the urban middle class is efficient. But that is about all that can be lauded.

Moreover, the government did everything it could to minimise the reporting of cases and the level of deaths. Testing was restricted, and deaths were only reported as Covid deaths if they tested positive for the virus before they died. Most people, who died from Covid would have died at home. So we have no idea about the real level of Covid-19 deaths in Bangladesh.

The HRW letter makes a separate point about the inappropriateness of praising the Bangladesh prime minister in relation to Covid.

The HRW ends its letter by asking the Commonwealth Secretary General to clarify the criteria she used in making her remarks — and noting how harmful such unmerited comments are:

It will be interesting to see how the Commonwealth responds.

But, I think we can put it down to Hasina currently being one of the three Woman leaders of the commonwealth — and the secretary general not wanting to leave any one of them out of her praise.