Delivered in Plenary - 16th November 2006
It must be a top EU priority to ensure free and fair elections next year in Bangladesh, a traditionally secular and democratic country of 140 million people.
For many years since its foundation in 1971, Bangladesh was the exception in the Islamic world as it pursued its independent course as a Bengali nation in a peaceful and democratic fashion. Regrettably, since 2001 there has been increasing Islamicisation of Bangladesh as Islamists have attempted to fill the vacuum left by corrupt warring secular parties. The NGO Task Force against Torture has documented over 500 cases of torture and intimidation by radical Islamists who have also murdered supporters of the Communist Party. Indeed, Hindus, Ahmadis, Christians, Chittagong Hill Tract tribal people and Buddhists have also been targeted.
Recent civil unrest took to the streets with violent outbreaks as the Awami League opposition doubted the impartiality of the electoral commission, the integrity of the voters’ list or even the impartiality of the original caretaker prime ministerial nominee.
The EU-Bangladesh Cooperation Agreement of 2000 is based on respect for democratic principles pursuant to Article 1, and its breach can lead to the suspension of the agreement and with it the significant EU Generalised System of Tariff Preferences and EU foreign aid, which amounts to 70% of Bangladesh’s total foreign aid.
The EU and all the major donors must now coordinate to keep up the pressure for reform and full respect for democracy, a free press and human rights for all of Bangladesh’s citizens prior to the parliamentary elections scheduled to take place next January. We must send short-term political observers from the European Parliament in substantial numbers. These elections are crucial and it is essential that the EU maintains a visible major presence throughout the Caretaker Government period, as otherwise some frustrated, power-hungry general might consider launching a military coup.