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Wednesday, 13 September 2023 - Strasbourg Revised edition

17.3. Human rights situation in Bangladesh, notably the case of Odhikar
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  President. – The next item is the debate on six motions for resolutions on the human rights situation in Bangladesh, notably the case of Odhikar (2023/2833(RSP))*.

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* See minutes.

 
  
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  Ivan Štefanec, author. – Madam President, dear colleagues. I do believe it’s time to express our deep concerns about current developments in the area of human rights and its violation in Bangladesh. The mass arrests of more than a thousand opposition representatives, the excessive use of force against protesters and persecution of human rights defenders, union workers and journalists, it is the current reality in this large South Asian country.

Dear colleagues, current situation there resulted in the reduction of trust of citizens in democracy and less respect and partnership on the international level. The Government of Bangladesh should restore a safe environment for NGOs, human rights defenders, activists, religious minorities and uphold the country’s international commitments, notably under the ICCPR. Particularly the Odhikar case is a regrettable step backwards.

Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin Elan, two leaders of Odhikar, have been faced for more than 10 years with various legal cases against them. Government should investigate allegations of forced disappearances with permission to international observers to attend court hearings. All of this can be achieved only when the ruling government will initiate a dialogue with all major political parties to find out a sustainable and democratic solution to the ongoing crisis. Basis of these equal conditions should be represented as well by guarantee access to the best possible medical treatment for the former prime minister of Bangladesh, Begum Khaleda Zia.

Especially in the light of the upcoming 12 general elections in the country in the beginning of 2024 you 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. This is a problem as riggings, manipulations and non-attendance of the voters marred the 10th and also the 11th parliamentary elections. Independent internal and international observations mission from EU, UN and other institutions should be ready to help achieving this goal.

Dear colleagues, we believe that 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. Therefore, I consider this resolution as an important call for improvement in the above-mentioned areas. Thank you very much for supporting this resolution, thank you for defending human rights and democracy, and thank you for supporting people in Bangladesh.

 
  
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  Carina Ohlsson, förslagsställare. – Fru talman! Situationen för de mänskliga rättigheterna i Bangladesh har kraftigt försämrats. Vi talar om utomrättsliga avrättningar och tvångsförsvinnanden, samtidigt som yttrandefriheten begränsas kraftigt och arbetstagares rättigheter undergrävs.

Det är en djupt oroande utveckling, som EU måste markera mot. Myndigheterna i Bangladesh måste omedelbart upphöra med kriminaliseringen och förföljelsen av civilsamhällets organisationer som strider för mänskliga rättigheter, såsom Odhikar.

Det går inte att bortse från de systematiska trakasserierna av medlemmar av Odhikar, och att fabricerade brottsanklagelser används mot ledande individer i organisationen.

Odhikar har i själva verket kriminaliserats av landets myndigheter, då deras tillstånd att bedriva verksamhet i landet inte har förnyats. Tio år efter att Odhikar publicerade en rapport om utomrättsliga avrättningar i landet fortsätter organisationens sekreterare, Adilur Rahman Khan, och direktör, Nasiruddin Elan, att utsättas för trakasserier i en juridisk fars. Ett rättsligt utslag väntas under morgondagen där de riskerar upp till tio års fängelse.

Samtidigt är jag förfärad över det brutala mordet på fackföreningsledaren Shahidul Islam i juni i år. I samband med att han försökte bistå textilarbetare med att få en utebliven lön blev han brutalt slagen till döds. Det är både omänskligt och skamlöst.

Bangladesh regering är ensam ansvarig för att säkerställa rättssäkerhet och trygghet för civilsamhällets organisationer, försvarare av mänskliga rättigheter, fackföreningsmedlemmar och religiösa minoriteter.

Bangladesh måste leva upp till sina internationella åtaganden, särskilt FN:s konvention om medborgerliga och politiska rättigheter. Bangladesh regering behöver samarbeta med FN för att undersöka förekomsten av tvångsförsvinnanden, samtidigt som internationella observatörer måste ges tillträde till domstolsöverläggningar.

Jag vill uppmana Bangladesh regering att villkorslöst lägga ner alla anklagelser mot Odhikars representanter, att återställa dess registrering och säkerställa utländska bidrag till civilsamhällets organisationer.

Jag vill uppmana utrikestjänsten, dess delegation och medlemsstaternas beskickningar att ihärdigt lyfta frågan om mänskliga rättigheter på högsta politiska nivå. Stödet måste öka till försvarare av mänskliga rättigheter. EU:s förmånliga handelsavtal med Bangladesh bör kunna påverkas negativt framöver om inte situationen för de mänskliga rättigheterna avsevärt förbättras.

 
  
  

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  Katalin Cseh, author. – Mr President, the EU Bangladesh partnership is a prime example of the prosperity that a principled European foreign policy can deliver globally. The European Union has become the country’s number one trading partner, thanks to our fair terms.

But unfortunately, the global rise of authoritarianism did not avoid Bangladesh, and there is a very much worrying tendency of crackdowns on human rights and political opposition: disappearances, incarcerations, extrajudicial killings and curbing freedom of expression show a real erosion of Bangladeshi democracy.

The ongoing harassment of the country’s most prominent human rights NGO, Odhikar, and the flawed court case against its leaders, crosses a line that we cannot ignore.

Our resolution stands by the fundamental rights of the people of Bangladesh. It urges the government to return to the democratic path, and for the ridiculous charges to be dropped.

I would also like to remind Mr Borrell to show some resolve and stick to binding agreements when representing European interests abroad. Otherwise, how would we expect any country to take the European Union seriously.

 
  
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  Heidi Hautala, author. – Mr President, Commissioner, we are voting tomorrow, on 14 September, on a resolution on the human rights situation in Bangladesh, notably on the case of an important human rights organisation, Odhikar. And this coincides with the knowledge that we have that tomorrow its leaders may be sentenced to long prison sentences and we, of course, need to defend them because these charges are completely trumped up.

So the case of Odhikar is very emblematic in our relations. We do have evolution and progress on our labour law cooperation since many years, but we can only regret that the political rights and the rights of the opposition have deteriorated a lot, and this is something that we cannot ignore.

So we expect that Odhikar will be acquitted, the leaders will be acquitted of these prison sentences, because there is no grounds for those and this legal harassment that has been going on over a decade already.

And we want to remind the government of Bangladesh that we have an enhanced engagement process in the framework of the ‘Everything but Arms’ benefit programme, which is important for us – it’s important for Bangladesh – and we cannot guarantee that there would be no consequences of the sentencing of Odhikar to our trade relationship with Bangladesh.

So we need to give all our support to the civil society and expect that the government will respect their rights.

 
  
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  Stanislav Polčák, za skupinu PPE. – Pane předsedající, odboráři, občanská společnost, členové opozice, pracovníci, ti všichni čelí sledování, fyzickým útokům, svévolnému zatýkání, zneužití státní moci, únosům a dokonce mimosoudním popravám. Takováto je situace v Bangladéši.

Důrazně odsuzujeme zabití Shahidula Islama, ke kterému došlo v červnu letošního roku. Požadujeme transparentní vyšetření této popravy, k níž došlo. Také důrazně odsuzujeme a považujeme za nepřijatelné pronásledování členů organizace Odhikar.

Bangladéš, ale také obchodní korporace, které tam působí, musí posílit pracovní práva pracovníků a také dodržovat základní standardy pracovního práva. Já vím, že Bangladéš je naším obchodním partnerem. To ovšem neznamená, že budeme mlčet v případě, kdy vycházejí najevo takto nepřijatelná jednání. Je naší povinností vznést náš hlas, a zároveň zítra, doufám, schválit navrženou rezoluci.

 
  
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  Svenja Hahn, on behalf of the Renew Group. – Mr President, colleagues, you mentioned it: the human rights situation in Bangladesh is deteriorating. We see reports on extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances and restriction on freedom of expression. The decade-long case against Odhikar is such an example. We see human rights defenders and the opposition being oppressed ahead of the elections next year.

It is this serious violation of international conventions that has led to the EU and Bangladesh being in an enhanced engagement on the current trade preferences. The minimum criteria for preferential access to the single market is meeting international human rights standards. Therefore, we must see Bangladesh comply with ILO core standards and they must guarantee free and fair elections in 2024.

The human rights commitments in order to gain EU trade preferences are not just a checkbox to cross off once. I expect the Commission to work closely with Bangladesh to live up to their current human rights obligation, and in order to meet further commitments under the soon-to-be-revised GSP scheme, because if the human rights situation does not improve, we must draw the conclusions also on the trade side.

 
  
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  Maximilian Krah, im Namen der ID-Fraktion. – Herr Präsident, Frau Kommissarin, meine Damen und Herren! Zunächst einmal ist es bemerkenswert, dass wir uns um diese Uhrzeit über Bangladesch unterhalten. Es ist auch bemerkenswert, dass ein slowakischer Christdemokrat sein Herz für eine islamistische Oppositionspartei entdeckt.

Aber das Entscheidende ist doch: Ich wundere mich über diese einhellige Verurteilung Bangladeschs. Ich bin der Berichterstatter im INTA-Ausschuss für Bangladesch, und ich kenne die Berichte von der Internationalen Arbeitsorganisation, von all den internationalen Organisationen, die die Wirtschaftsbedingungen in Bangladesch überwachen. Und da lese ich von beständigen Fortschritten in Bangladesch. Bangladesch ist ein Land, das eine bemerkenswerte Entwicklung in den letzten Jahrzehnten hingelegt hat.

Und wenn wir dann den Entschließungsentwurf uns anschauen, wenn wir diese Sprache, die von oben herab ein Entwicklungsland, das etwas geschaffen hat, maßregelt, sehen, dann ist das nichts anderes als offener, unsympathischer Neokolonialismus, wo wir meinen, als Europäer mal so eben locker ein Entwicklungsland abkanzeln zu können und belehren zu können.

Nehmen Sie doch eins zur Kenntnis: Die Zeiten, wo man uns das durchgehen lässt, die sind vorbei. Gott sei Dank.

 
  
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  Hervé Juvin (NI). – Monsieur le Président, Madame la Commissaire, chers collègues, c’est une chose grave pour une assemblée comme la nôtre que de mettre en cause le système judiciaire d’un pays souverain et de mettre en cause sa liberté de se gouverner lui-même.

Je ne vous rappellerai pas l’histoire compliquée du Bangladesh: les crimes contre l’humanité qui ont marqué sa guerre d’indépendance, les remarquables progrès aujourd’hui en matière de croissance et de développement, notamment la formation des jeunes, qui en font l’un des pays moteurs du Sud-Est asiatique. Je ne vous évoquerai pas non plus la générosité du Bangladesh dans l’accueil de centaines de milliers de réfugiés rohingyas de la toute proche Birmanie.

Je voudrais simplement souligner qu’en encourageant des ingérences extérieures, en nous immisçant dans le fonctionnement d’institutions, certes à perfectionner, mais qui dans la région restent marquées par un fonctionnement démocratique sur lequel nous devons être prudents, nous pouvons obtenir le résultat inverse de ce que nous poursuivons. Consolider les institutions, consolider la légitimité et la souveraineté du Bangladesh doit être notre objectif. Attention aux ingérences, attention aux manipulations dont nous pouvons être les objets.

 
  
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  Elisa Ferreira, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, honourable Members of the European Parliament, the European Union is closely following the political and human rights situation in Bangladesh. The European Union recognises the immense development and economic gains that the people of Bangladesh have made since their country became independent more than 50 years ago.

But the European Union is also aware of the narrowing political and civic space in Bangladesh. The stifling of freedom of expression and the obstacles presented to political and civil society leaders, such as the leadership of the human rights organisation Odhikar. The European Union remains concerned over the reports of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in Bangladesh.

The European Union joins the United Nations’ calls for an independent mechanism to investigate enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

Bangladesh should also allow a visit by the United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearances.

Elections in Bangladesh are due by January 2024. The European Union encourages all stakeholders to work towards an inclusive election process, which should be credible, transparent and peaceful and allow voters to freely cast their votes. The European Union encourages stakeholders – including institutions, political parties and civil society – to work together to build confidence in the electoral process.

It is crucial to safeguard key freedoms, such as the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Freedom of expression is key to creating a culture of accountability, to creating a society where no one is afraid to denounce cruelty and corruption.

Bangladesh is finding its place on the world stage, taking the lead on issues such as climate change and development. At the start of the year, Bangladesh joined the United Nations Human Rights Council, securing 160 votes – the largest share of the Asian candidate countries. But with the membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council comes a responsibility to uphold high human rights standards. The upcoming Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of Bangladesh in November 2023 will be an important occasion to show progress in addressing the human rights issues mentioned here.

Thank you, also on behalf of High Representative Vice President Josep Borrell.

 
  
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