- European Parliament resolution deplores prison sentences of Odhikar Secretary Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Director Nasiruddin Elan
- Calls on the Bangladesh to immediately and unconditionally rescind the penalty and reinstate Odikhar's registration
- Expresses deep concern at worsening human rights situation
- Wants Bangladesh government to work with the UN to establish a special mechanism to investigate allegations of enforced disappearances
- Bangladesh's eligibility to get GSP facility questioned
- Calls on govt to pass cybersecurity legislation that fully complies with international standards
- Calls on the government to guarantee the conditions for free, fair and participatory elections in 2024
- Underlines that unfettered domestic and international observation is a key international standard
Expressing deep concern at the deteriorating human rights situation in Bangladesh, Members of European Parliament (MEPs) called on the government to restore a safe and enabling environment for NGOs, human rights defenders, activists and religious minorities.
"Bangladesh must uphold the country's international commitments, particularly under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," said a statement by the European Parliament after adoption of a resolution.
It says authorities must also ensure that civil society organisations can access foreign grants.
"An EBA enhanced engagement process remains ongoing with Bangladesh owing to its serious violations of international conventions," MEPs recall, denouncing the Odhikar case as a "regrettable" backward step, putting into question "whether EBA preferences should continue to apply to Bangladesh".
Analysts say this is a signal from Bangladesh's largest trade partner that it should take human rights issues seriously. Otherwise, they say, getting GSP plus would be uncertain.
"This is a signal from the EU and Bangladesh should take it very seriously," said Prof Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, commenting on the adoption of the resolution.
M Humayun Kabir, former Ambassador of Bangladesh to the United States, suggested that while this resolution may not carry immediate actionable implications, it could potentially create a negative impression of Bangladesh among EU nations.
He noted that this development occurs during a crucial period when Bangladesh is engaged in negotiations with the EU regarding the GSP Plus status following its graduation from the LDC category.
Also, he highlighted that Bangladesh has been a beneficiary of the EBA scheme in the EU since 2003, significantly boosting the country's exports to the European Union.
"The mention of the EBA in the resolution introduces a new element of risk for Bangladesh," he said.
The resolution, brought by seven parliamentary groups, was adopted by show of hands-on Thursday (14 September), according to a press statement published on the European Parliament website.
The EU provides trade preferences to many developing countries through various trade agreements, such as the GSP and EBA initiatives. A deterioration of human rights conditions in a beneficiary country can lead to a review of these preferences.
Also, companies may be hesitant to invest or trade with countries facing significant human rights issues. Even public awareness of human rights concerns in a particular country can lead to calls for businesses to withdraw from that market.
Exporters and trade analysts expressed their concerns about the European Parliament's acceptance of this resolution. They said as this resolution becomes the official position of the European Union, it will exert significant civil society pressure on European countries and their executive bodies. Also, it is expected to strongly influence any forthcoming bilateral talks or negotiations.
Of particular concern is the impact on the ongoing enhanced engagement process between the EU and Bangladesh, which includes discussions about the future of GSP facilities and business arrangements beyond that.
Several apparel exporters, requesting anonymity, voiced their apprehensions that this development might discourage European buyers. This situation is expected to pose challenges for exporters across various sectors, especially in the apparel industry, given that the EU serves as the largest export destination for Bangladesh.
This issue arises at a time when Bangladeshi exporters are seeking a three-year grace period extension following their graduation from the Least Developed Country (LDC) status, set to occur by 2026. This extension is crucial for maintaining preferential market access.
Also, the exporters pointed out that the resolution's language resembles that of the USA, which seeks guarantees for free, fair, and participatory elections in 2024. They anticipate that the resolution's outcome will have a highly unfavourable impact on exporters.
However, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) president Faruque Hassan expressed a differing view, stating that the resolution will not exert pressure on business relations. He said that buyers are content with the assurance of safety at the factory level, the industry's transition to renewable energy, and the alignment of labour laws with international standards. These measures have instilled confidence among buyers regarding sourcing from Bangladesh, according to the BGMEA president.
He also expressed confidence that the government will take necessary steps to ensure well-accepted elections.
Echoing these sentiments, Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association (BKMEA) Vice President Fazlee Shamim Ehsan stated that the government has already initiated efforts to ensure justice in the case of the trade unionist Shahidul Islam's murder. He said the government's commitment to ensuring justice in any murder case.
Given the challenging circumstances posed by the Russia-Ukraine war, Ehsan highlighted that, during such times, any actions that could negatively affect the GSP facility are not expected in the industry. He expressed belief in the government's ability to make the right decisions.
What's in the resolution
The European Parliament resolution "on the human rights situation in Bangladesh, in particular the case of Odhikar" addressed several issues including the human rights situation in Bangladesh, free and fair election, imprisonment of Odhikar leaders, cybersecurity legislation, murder of RMG worker Shahidul Islam, etc.
Prison sentence of Odhikar leaders
The EU resolution on "Human rights situation in Bangladesh, in particular the case of Odhikar" deplored the prison sentences of Odhikar Secretary Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Director Nasiruddin Elan.
According to the full text of the resolution published on EU Parliament website, the block called on the Bangladesh government "to immediately and unconditionally rescind this penalty and reinstate Odikhar's registration, as well as ensure that civil society organisations can access approved foreign grants,"
Worsening human rights situation
"[EU] insists that the Government of Bangladesh must restore a safe and enabling environment for NGOs, human rights defenders, activists and religious minorities and comply with the country's international commitments, in particular under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," reads the resolution.
Furthermore, the resolution called on the Bangladesh government of Bangladesh "to work with the UN to establish a special mechanism to investigate allegations of enforced disappearances."
It insisted that international observers must be allowed to attend court hearings.
Calls for legislation compliant with int'l standard
The EU block reiterated its call on Bangladesh to repeal the Digital Security Act and encouraged it to pass cybersecurity legislation that fully complies with international standards.
Free fair election
The resolution also expressed concern at the mass arrests of opposition representatives and the excessive use of violence against protesters in Bangladesh.
It called on the "Government of Bangladesh to guarantee the conditions for free, fair and participatory elections in 2024." Moreover, it underlined that unfettered domestic and international observation is a key international standard.
The resolution also called on the European External Action Service, the EU Delegation and the embassies of the member states in Bangladesh to raise human rights concerns at the highest levels and to increase their support to local human rights defenders, trade unionists and journalists being attacked, including by stalking.
Killing of RMG worker leader
The EU resolution expressed its disgust at the brutal killing of trade unionist Shahidul Islam in June 2023 and called for those responsible to be brought to justice.
It also called on the Bangladesh government to "comply with the core standards of the International Labor Organization and to implement its labour roadmap, in line with its commitment under the enhanced cooperation process."
The EU parliament instructed the president to forward the resolution to the European Council and the European Commission, the vice-president of the commission and high representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the government and parliament of Bangladesh.