December 3 and 4 London witnessed Awami League and BNP law makers sitting together and debating a range of political issues confronting Bangladesh, from how to ensure free and fair elections in 2013 to minority persecution.
Two meetings were held in the Palace of Westminster in the presence of British parliamentarians and international human rights organisations.
The December 3 meeting in Portcullis House was attended by senior representatives of the AL and the BNP. Hosted by the Conservative Party’s Anne Main MP, Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group on Bangladesh and chaired by Liberal Democrat Lord Avebury, Vice Chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, the discussion centred on the forthcoming general election.
The Bangladesh government & Awami League delegation was led by Hossain Toufique Imam, Adviser to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and included Dr Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury MP, State Minister for Women and Children Affairs and Saber Hossain Chowdhury MP, Standing Committee on Climate change and Environment.
The BNP delegation led by M K Anwar MP, Member, Standing Committee and former Minister. He was accompanied by Shamsher Mobin Choudury BB, Vice Chairman and Foreign Affairs advisor to Khaleda Zia, Amir Khasru Mahmud, Member Advisory Committee BNP and Barrister AM Mahbubuddin Khokon, MP, Joint Secretary General, BNP.
The opposition argued that a return to the system of a Caretaker Government to hold the reins during the election campaign was the only reliable way of ensuring free and fair elections. They claimed that stateb institutions had been politicised, and would not act impartially during the campaign. The AL pointed out that 14 Parliamentary by-elections, several City elections, and thousands of lower tier local elections had been held during the present Parliament under the current Election Commission without any material challenge from the opposition, and there was no reason to suppose that the EC was not equally capable if conducting the general election.
The UK Parliamentarians urged their Bangladesh colleagues to sort out any concerns about alleged bias within the present framework, since the constitutional provision that allowed for a caretaker government during an election period had been repealed. UK Parliamentarians present in addition to Anne Main MP and Lord Avebury were Rushanara Ali MP and Baroness Pola Uddin.
On December 4 a further discussion was held in Committee Room G, also chaired by Lord Avebury, co-sponsored by the International Bangladesh Foundation and the Netherlands NGO Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD), on the question of violence and intimidation of minorities in Bangladesh, with a side-glance at the much larger problem in Pakistan.
Among the speakers were Jenny Lundström, Human Rights Officer, GHRD; Shahriar Kabir, Acting President, International Forum for Secular Bangladesh; Sameena Imtiaz, Executive Director, Peace Education and Development Foundation, Pakistan; Khushi Kabir, Coordinator Nijera Kori; Lal Amlai, Jumma Peoples Network; Salim Malik, Ahmadiyya Muslim Association UK; Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International, and lawmakers from theAwami League and BNP.
On the Ramu attack in which Buddhist and Hindu temples and houses belonging to those communities were destroyed by a mob, the AL representative said that the government were determined to bring the perpetrators to justice, and 430 persons had been arrested so far. Compensation would be paid for injuries suffered and for loss and damage to property. The BNP said they had condemned the attack, and were issuing an account of their own preliminary investigation of the event. Neither Party attempted to set Ramu in the context of the communal, ethnic and religiously motivated violence which had plagued Bangladesh for decades, starting at the time of the independence war.
The final speaker was the newly appointed Bangladeshi High Commissioner to the UK, Mr Minhajul Kayes. He said the government were conducting an inquiry into the background to Ramu and was going to publish the report.