Sunday, July 20, 2008

Restore democracy in Bangladesh

Restore democracy and rule of law in Bangladesh, say MEPs
July 10, 2008
Source: European Parliament

(In three resolutions adopted at the end of the Strasbourg session, Parliament calls for an inquiry into allegations of mass graves in Kashmir, for the speedy restoration of democracy in Bangladesh and for a fresh trial for Troy Davis, an American who sits on death row despite strong evidence that he may be innocent).

The state of emergency should be lifted, mass arrests of the government's political opponents and journalists should cease, the military should withdraw from politics and elections should be held as soon as possible, says the EP's resolution on Bangladesh.

The resolution states that, on 11 January 2007 amid violence in the run-up to the election, the caretaker government of Bangladesh imposed a state of emergency, with the suspension of many civil rights. On 11 June 2008 a new Counterterrorism Ordinance was adopted, "violating fundamental freedoms and basic fair trial rights".

The number of people reportedly arrested since the introduction of the state of emergency has risen to well over 300,000. Although most have since been released, a large number are alleged to have been tortured. Since 28 May 2008 more than 12,000 more people have been arrested.

Progress on elections recognised
On a positive note, the resolution acknowledges the caretaker government's progress in preparing for parliamentary elections. It also "applauds the Bangladesh Government for banning former war criminals from standing in elections and calls on it to follow up this positive step by forming an independent committee of inquiry to initiate the trial of war criminals". The release of former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on humanitarian grounds is welcomed.

MEPs urge swift restoration of rule of law
However, MEPs believe swifter progress is needed. They call on the government to lift the state of emergency in order to prepare for the holding of the elections and so that local council elections can take place in August 2008. The resolution also calls for the armed forces to withdraw from involvement in the political process.

Ethnic minority voting rights and press freedom stressed
MEPs urge the government to ensure that Bangladesh’s ethnic and religious minorities are in a position to cast their votes freely. And the resolution "calls for freedom of the press in the pre-electoral period".

The government is urged to ensure that its new Anti-Terrorism Ordinance meets internationally recognised legal standards on combating terrorism. In addition, MEPs call for abolition of the death penalty and an end to the recent wave of mass arrests and the harassment of political opponents and journalists.

Democracy and climate change
MEPs point out that a further reason for holding elections is that "an elected government would make it easier to deal with the effects of climate change", which poses a particular threat to Bangladesh and will require large-scale mobilisation of all sections of society.

EU action
Lastly, Parliament wants the European Commission and Council to impress on the Bangladesh Government the need for a speedy and complete lifting of the state of emergency. And to ensure free and fair elections in accordance with international standards, the EU Election Observation Mission should resume work as soon as possible.

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