6 MEPs write to EU high representative about ensuring free, fair polls in Bangladesh
Six Members of European Parliament (MEPs) have asked the EU High Representative Joseph Borrell to contribute to ensuring free, fair, and impartial general elections in Bangladesh, "possibly under a poll-time neutral caretaker government".
They also called for ending the violation of human rights, release of Khaleda Zia, and engagement of the government with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and other major political parties to find a sustainable and democratic solution to the ongoing crises.
The Members of European Parliament (MEPs) who wrote the letter to Borrell are Ivan Štefanec (EPP, Slovak Republic), Michaela Šojdrová (EPP, Czech Republic), Andrey Kovatchev (EPP, Bulgaria), Karen Melchior (Renew, Denmark), Javier Nart (Renew, Spain) and Heidi Hautala (Greens/EFA, Finland).
Charles Whiteley, EU ambassador to Bangladesh, confirmed the authenticity of the letter, saying it reflects the opinion of the MEPs.
"With this letter, we would like to express our concerns about the violation of human rights in Bangladesh, and call to restore democracy and the rule of law in Bangladesh in view of its upcoming general elections," said the letter, dated June 12.
It said the current government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in power since 2009, has curtailed the democratic space for the citizens and failed to show respect to their fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution.
"To consolidate its powers, the regime has been resorting to extrajudicial killings, abductions, tortures and false cases against the leaders and activists of the opposition political parties. Freedom of expression including the freedom of press have undermined in recent years, most notably since the enactment of the Digital Security Act 2018 (DSA)."
The letter says allegations of custodial torture and other ill-treatment remained common, often in connection to Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion (Rab). The abuse has not been restricted only to the government's political opponents, but to ethnic and religious minorities as well, including the minority Christian population in Bangladesh.
High rates of extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances in the past decade continued to garner national and international concern, including from UN human rights mechanisms such as the UN Committee against Torture (CAT).
"We would like to emphasise the importance to focus on the upcoming 12th general elections in the country, which are expected to take place in the end of 2023 or in the beginning of 2024.
"We must bear in mind that the right of the people to choose their representatives is yet to be determined as no mechanism is in place for acceptable elections in the country. This is a problem, as riggings, manipulations, and non-attendance of the voters marred the 10th and 11th parliamentary elections."
The MEPs said while the 10th general elections were non-participatory with the major political parties including the BNP boycotting the polls,the 11th was concluded the "night before". Consequently, the governments have had no or little mandate from the people of Bangladesh and have failed to gain the approval of the international community.
"In view of the above-described, we would like to reiterate the EU leadership in promoting diplomacy, rule of law and human rights across the world, and consequently, we believe the EU has strong reasons to stand with the people of Bangladesh as the country is our long-time partner in the trade and development cooperation," the letter said.
The MEPs said thus, the EU needs not only to remain in constant dialogue with Bangladesh's authorities on human rights agendas, but also to produce tangible outcomes.
"Potential measures such as restriction of entry into the EEA zone of those responsible for and complicit in the human rights abuses, or regular reminding of the conditions for the GSP+ incentive to which Bangladesh is a bidder may be evaluated."