Rabab Fatima: The odyssey of a Bangladesh diplomat

She becomes the first Bangladeshi female diplomat to be appointed the UN under-secretary general

Rabab Fatima last week became the first Bangladeshi diplomat to be appointed under-secretary general of the United Nations. 

She achieved the feat on June 9 when United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres appointed her high representative for least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states (UNOHRLLS).

Through the development, the Bangladesh permanent representative to the UN becomes the highest-ranking Bangladeshi in the UN system. 

Fatima replaces Courtenay Rattray of Jamaica, who has been appointed chef de cabinet. 

Let’s take a look at her career so far. 

Ambassador Fatima brings to the position more than 30 years of experience in national and international civil service, encompassing bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, policy-making, advocacy, programme planning and implementation.

She is currently serving as chairperson of the UN Peacebuilding Commission -- the first woman to hold this position -- and president of the executive board of UN-Women. She is also vice-president of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly. She has served as co-facilitator of the progress declaration for the first International Migration Review Forum (IMRF), held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 17-20 May 2022.

In 2021, she served as co-chair of the Intergovernmental Preparatory Committee for the Fifth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries to be held in Doha, Qatar, in 2022. That year, she was also vice-president of the executive board of UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS. In 2020, Ambassador Fatima served as President of the Executive Board of UNICEF.  In 2021, she also served as Co-Facilitator of intergovernmental consultations on the alignment of agendas of the UN General Assembly and ECOSOC.

Ambassador Fatima also serves concurrently as the Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), and non-resident Ambassador of Bangladesh to El Salvador, Peru, and Panama, and High Commissioner to Jamaica.

She was tasked with the role of permanent representative of Bangladesh to the UN, New York, in December 2019.

Prior to that, she served as Bangladesh’s ambassador to Japan (2016-2019), director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2015-2016), regional representative for South Asia (2007-2011) and regional adviser for South and Southwest Asia and regional adviser for climate change and migration (2012-2015) of the International Organization for Migration, Geneva, and head of human rights at the Commonwealth Secretariat, London (2006-2007).

Fatima is a career foreign service officer from the 1986 batch of the Bangladesh Civil Service (Foreign Affairs cadre). She started her career as a diplomat in 1989 and has served in various capacities in the Foreign Affairs Ministry and in Bangladesh missions in New York, Kolkata, Geneva and Beijing.

She holds a master’s degree in International Relations and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, and a Bachelor’s degree in Social Science from the University of Canberra, Australia.

She is married to Kazi Imtiaz Hossain, former ambassador of Bangladesh to Australia, Thailand and France. They have a daughter.