Friday, January 18, 2019

A difficult situation: European MP Jean Lambert on Bangladesh politics

  • Senior Correspondent,
    Published: 2018-02-14 20:13:56 BdST


The visiting European Parliament MP, Jean Lambert, says it is “important” for the BNP to “concentrate” on the upcoming elections as a political party, though she understands Khaleda Zia’s sentencing in corruption case presents a “challenge” to her party.

“We would agree that the situation is a difficult one,” Lambert, the Chair of the European Parliament Delegation to South Asia, said, at a press briefing on Wednesday.

Former prime minister Khaleda Zia is being escorted to the prison after a special court sentenced her to five years in jail for corruption on Feb 8. File Photo

Former prime minister Khaleda Zia is being escorted to the prison after a special court sentenced her to five years in jail for corruption on Feb 8. File Photo

She, however, declined to comment on the court case and the sentence itself.

“But it certainly presents a challenge to madam Zia’s party,” she said, adding during their meeting with the BNP leaders later on Wednesday night, they would discuss what BNP thinks about this.

“I think, however, it is also important for them (BNP) as a political party to concentrate on the election,” she said, indicating that they are also aware of the challenges in that campaign.

“We know there have been challenges so far in terms of organising, in terms of actually being able to conduct the campaign, so this is something we raised with the Election Commission."

Lambert is leading a delegation of 11 MPs in Bangladesh mainly to see and discuss Rohingya issue.

On the last day of their four-day visit, the delegation met the Election Commission and members of the civil society where they discussed the next general elections.

She said elections are not just the periods when it is called, but also the run-up to it.

They asked the Election Commission to do what it can do “to enforce rules so that it's fair to all parties that are contesting the elections”.

MEPs meet election commissioners.

MEPs meet election commissioners.

With the Election Commission, they also discussed “budgets, capacity and management” of the next general election and how that can be “inclusive, free and fair”.

“And where we hope all parties will actually be willing to stand for election to make sure that the people of Bangladesh have a real choice in the ballot box. This is something of real importance for the people," the MEP added.

She said they also asked a number of questions to the Election Commission related to its independence and whether it would be able to safeguard election as an independent body. And they got “very positive” answer which Lambert considers a “good and positive” signal.

The visiting groups include European Parliament's Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) Chair Pier Antonio Panzeri and members Joachim Zeller, Soraya Post and Barbara Lochbiler.

Urmas Paet from the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and Marc Tarabella from the Delegation for Relations with the Countries of Southeast Asia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (DASE) are also with the group.

Members of the Delegation for Relations with the Countries of South Asia James Nicholson, Richard Corbet, Wajid Khan, and Sajjad Karim are also part of the tour party.

In a written statement, they regretted, however, the deterioration of the human rights situation over the past few years, and took note of reports on hindrance to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and violence against women.

They also recalled the issue of child marriage remains a serious concern, and that violence against secular writers and bloggers, against members of religious minorities and against LGBTI people must end.

The ICT Act's Section 57 has drawn criticism for effectively muzzling the freedom of speech and expression. File photo

The ICT Act's Section 57 has drawn criticism for effectively muzzling the freedom of speech and expression. File photo

The European delegation urged Bangladeshi authorities to step up efforts to deal with these concerns and to facilitate the valuable work of civil society in addressing these issues.

They also hoped the political environment would become “less confrontational and hostile in coming months and urged Bangladeshi authorities to facilitate the necessary conditions for inclusive, free and fair general elections in 2019”.

On being asked at the briefing, Lambert said the draft Digital Security Act was the one of the specific issues that the members of civil society raised with them – whether the Act is likely going to allow freedom of expression for civil society as well as media.

She said the government had assured them that the amended ICT Act, once finalised, would not affect individual civil society.

“We look forward to seeing what the draft would be,” she said.

In the written statement, the delegation also welcomed a number of positive developments in several areas, was encouraged by the reduction of poverty and the overall positive economic development.

They also welcomed progress related to the Sustainability Compact, but pointed out that a number of relevant issues in that context remain pending, notably in the area of labour rights.

They stressed the need to fully align the Labour Act and the EPZ Labour Act with ILO standards, in particular Conventions No. 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining.

They also said Bangladesh’s likely graduation to middle-income country status will require a transitional process to implement and monitor the required ILO Conventions.

The MPs in the statement said up to 690 million euro have been earmarked in EU support for Bangladesh in the current Multiannual Indicative Programme 2014-2020. 

They reiterated their wish to remain engaged and to further support Bangladesh in areas such as human rights, good governance and the environment.

They MEPs hoped the “impressive economic growth of the past years and the encouraging progress in the fight against poverty, which have made Bangladesh an important trading partner of the European Union, will further help achieve the goals to which it has committed, in a more inclusive manner”.

Head of the EU Delegation in Bangladesh Ambassador Rensje Teerink was also present during the press briefing at her office.