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On 20 December 2016 in Brussels, the European Union and Bangladesh held their biennial meeting of the Sub-group on Good Governance and Human Rights in the framework of the EU-Bangladesh Cooperation Agreement (CA). Both sides consider human rights to be a cornerstone of their bilateral relations, as recognised by the Cooperation Agreement.
The EU consulted with civil society ahead of the dialogue, holding meetings with NGOs.
There was a full and frank exchange in a constructive spirit on a number of matters of common interest. These included: the rule of law and law enforcement, human rights cooperation in the UN, the rights of minorities, freedom of expression and of the media, freedom of assembly, the death penalty, the situation of the Rohingya, the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord, womens' and children's rights and the rights of people living with disabilities, fundamental labour rights, trade unions' registration and fair labour practices.
The EU expressed concerns on extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, the death penalty, freedom of association and freedom of expression, and overall on shrinking space for civil society. The EU also raised the situation of minorities, child labour and domestic violence.
The EU encouraged Bangladesh in forming an independent, impartial, non-partisan and highly-qualified Election Commission to hold the next general elections in a fully participatory way.
The EU encouraged Bangladesh to issue a standing invitation to UN Special Procedure mandate holders to visit Bangladesh, to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance and optional protocols to the Conventions on Torture, rights of the child, rights of persons with Disabilities, Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Civil and Political Rights, and the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Principal Advisor for gender issues andUNSCR 1325, Ms. Mara Marinaki, offered the EU's support to Bangladesh on developing its Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. This offer was welcomed by Bangladesh.
The EU recognised the long-standing solidarity of Bangladesh with those fleeing violence in Myanmar and urged Bangladesh not to deport them or turn them back, but to provide assistance and protection until the situation stabilises and their safe return can be ensured, thus contributing to the stability of the region.
The EU noted the progress made so far under the Sustainability Compact, but urged that more needed to be done.
The EU drew attention to the June 2016 conclusions of the International Labour Conference which include a “special paragraph" on Bangladesh on particular concerns regarding the implementation of the Freedom of Association Convention. This constitutes a very serious warning that Bangladesh needs to urgently improve respect for this fundamental right. The EU urged Bangladesh to address as a matter of urgency acts of violence and harassment against trade unionists and trade union leaders, and guarantee investigation of these acts. The EU called on Bangladesh to ensure that trade union registration processes are carried out in a transparent and expeditious manner and that the labour law, the implementing regulation and the draft law on Export Processing Zones takes fully into account the ILO convention on freedom of association.
These issues will be further discussed at the EU-Bangladesh Joint Commission, to be held in Brussels in the first half of 2017.
The EU delegation was led by Ms Veronica Cody, Head of Division Regional Affairs, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan in the European External Action Service (EEAS). The Bangladeshi delegation was led by Mr Mohammad Shahidul Haque, Secretary, Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs Division, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs and it included representatives from various ministries.