Led by the Honourable Jean Lambert, Chairperson of the Delegation for relations with South Asia, a Delegation of the European Parliament (EP) undertook a mission to Bangladesh on 24-25 March 2014. This was the first high-level visit from the European Union (EU) since the 5 January 2014 elections.
The EP Delegation held extensive discussions with Commerce Minister Tofail and stakeholders in the ready-made garment sector, which employs over four million workers and whose exports to the EU have increased by 57% over the past three years. The European parliamentarians assessed the progress made to improve factory safety and workers’ rights, notably with the reform of the Labour Law and the commitment to hire 200 new safety inspectors. Still, they could see that much remained to be done: European buyers and Bangladeshi owners should continue to fulfil their commitments under the EU-Bangladesh Global Sustainability Compact. Likewise, the government should adopt implementing rules for the Labour Law, deploy the inspectors, ensure a comprehensive publication of their reports, enforce the rise of the minimal wage and the compensation and rehabilitation of all the victims of the Rana Plaza building collapse. Time matters: it is crucial that these measures be effective by 24 April 2014, which will mark the first anniversary of the catastrophe. As Chair Lambert stated: “when the European consumers purchase clothes, they want to be sure that these have been produced by people who are safe at work and earn a decent living”.
During its meeting with Foreign Minister A. M. Ali, the EP Delegation discussed the new Bangladeshi efforts to address the plight of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar. The EP Delegation stressed the need for the new government strategy to keep a strong humanitarian focus and preserve access to the international agencies and NGOs assisting the refugees and host communities.
The Delegation welcomed the steady and multi-faceted improvement of the relationship with India, including the considerable reduction of border killings. It also expressed its appreciation for the long-standing cooperation between the EU and Bangladesh in international fora on global issues such as poverty reduction, climate change and gender equality.
The EP Delegation met with both Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia Begum, the Chairperson of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). To the leaders of the two main political parties, the Delegation expressed its concern about the current situation resulting from the January 2014 elections and the reported incidents of violence and vote rigging in the current local elections. The Delegation expressed its view that the two parties should engage in a dialogue. Both shared the responsibility for finding a way forward which would give the Bangladeshi people a chance to express their democratic choice in a fully representative way.
The EP Delegation called for a reinforcement of the independence of the Elections Commission, to which the EU has contributed 10 million Euros over the past few years and expressed its view that there should be a full investigation of the disruption to polling.
The EP Delegation called on the government to ensure space for the civil society and maintain freedom of expression, notably by amending the Information and Communication Technology Act, which it is feared could lead to the arbitrary criminalization of citizens. Concerned by reports of attacks on minorities, extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances, the EP Delegation called on the government to fully investigate these reports and to effectively implement its ‘zero-tolerance’ policy on police abuse and launch an invitation to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture and on Extra-judicial Executions.
On the eve of Bangladesh Independence Day, the EP Delegation paid homage to the victims of the 1971 Liberation War and wished well to all Bangladeshi citizens. Thanking all her interlocutors for their generous hospitality, Chair Lambert expressed her ‘confidence that the country would overcome its current crisis and pursue its development as a democratic, secular and tolerant State’.
The members of the cross-party EP Delegation are:
Ms. Jean Lambert (UK, Greens/European Free Alliance, Chair of South Asia Delegation), Mr. John Attard-Montalto (Malta, Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, Vice-Chair of South Asia Delegation), Mr Salvador Sedo i Alabart (Spain, European People’s Party, Committee on Industry, Research & Energy) and Mr. Niccolò Rinaldi (Italy, Alliance of Democrats and Liberals, Committee on International Trade).
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