Eamon Gilmore (L) and Uzra Zeya

The US and European countries have been urging continuously over the last couple of months for the next parliamentary election in Bangladesh to be held in a free, fair and peaceful manner.

As part of this effort, four delegations from the US and the European countries are scheduled to visit Dhaka this month.

Diplomatic sources in Dhaka, Washington and Brussels said issues like fair elections and human rights will be prioritised during the visit of the four delegations.

US Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, Uzra Zeya, is scheduled to visit Dhaka in the second week of this month.

US Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, Jose Fernandez, is supposed to arrive in the third week of this month. Two delegations of the European Union are scheduled to arrive in Dhaka around that time.

Diplomatic sources said US Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Affairs, Donald Lu, is supposed to accompany Uzra Zeya during her four-day visit. This would be Donald Lu’s second Dhaka visit. He came to Dhaka in January.

Sources also said Uzra Zeya will meet foreign minister AK Abdul Momen during her scheduled visit from 10 July. She would also hold meetings with politicians and civil society representatives.

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Afterwards US under secretary for economic growth, energy, and the environment Jose Fernandez is scheduled to arrive. He will attend a meeting of the Bangladesh-US business council.

Jose Fernandez may hold a meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s private industries and investment affairs advisor Salman F Rahman.

Meanwhile, a four-member independent expert team will arrive on 9 July to make an assessment on sending election observers for the upcoming national election in Bangladesh.

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EU special envoy for human rights Eamon Gilmore will visit Dhaka for a few days from 24 July. He is scheduled to hold meetings with the law minister, the foreign minister and civil society representatives.

Speaking to Prothom Alo on Sunday afternoon EU ambassador in Dhaka, Charles Whiteley, said the visit of two delegations of European Union has been confirmed.

He said earlier EU senior representative Josep Borrell informed them about the preparation of sending election observers. A independent expert team is arriving in Dhaka to make an assessment for sending observers for the elections in Bangladesh.

Charles Whiteley also said the expert team will exchange views with different political parties, civil society members and media persons. They will assess the situation of inclusive elections. They will submit a report of assessment to Josep Borrell, who will take the final decision on sending EU mission for the observation of Bangladesh election, he added.

Special attention to the visit of two US officials

US officials of different levels haved visited Bangladesh from January to May. Bangladesh foreign minister AK Abdul Momen and foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen also went to the US. Earlier, tensions cropped up in relations between Bangladesh and the US when the latter imposed sanctions on the law enforcement agency Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and several of its current and former officials in 2021, on allegation of violating of human rights. The tensions started to abate following the visit of US National Security Council’s senior director for South Asia Rear Admiral Eileen Laubacher in January this year and the US assistant secretary of state Donald Lu.

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During his visit, Donald Lu placed emphasis on the challenges to ensure democracy, human rights and right to freedom of expression in Bangladesh. The US assistant secretary of state's stand clarified that the Biden administration will stress democracy and human rights as two of its central precepts to carry forward US relations with Central and South Asian countries.

Later, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new visa policy for Bangladesh on 24 May. Through this the US once again sent a message to Bangladesh that the country’s position on a free, fair and peaceful parliamentary election in Bangladesh will not be changed.

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Speculations are peaking in Bangladesh’s political arena over the visit of US under secretary Uzra Zeya and Donald Lu, to take place just after one and a half months of the announcement of the new visa policy.

Diplomatic sources said elections, democracy, civic rights and other of human rights factors would feature in meetings between Uzra Zeya and foreign minister AK Abdul Momen, foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen and other political leaders and representatives of civil society members. Besides, she would visit Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar.

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Diplomatic sources also said though another US under secretary Jose Fernandez would come to Dhaka to hold a meeting with Bangladesh-US business council, he would meet a high level delegation of the government, representatives of the civil society and workers. He is likely to place stress on developing an environment for doing business, and ensuring labour and human rights.

Speaking to Prothom Alo about the visits of the US and EU delegations, former foreign secretary Touhid Hossain said recent steps of the US clearly indicate that their stand on Bangladesh’s election this time is different from the past. They want a fair election to be held. They announced the new visa policy for Bangladesh to ensure that. The second visit to Bangladesh of South and Central Asia Affairs US assistant secretary Donald Lu within six months is also a significant development. This visit once again highlights US' special attention to Bangladesh.

Speaking about the stand of EU, Touhid Hossain said the European Union had been more vocal about democracy and fair elections when the US was not so vocal on these issues. But the EU cannot do anything alone in the case of taking bigger steps. EU might remain linked to measures taken by the US.

* The report was originally published in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam and Shameem Reza