US wants talks for the sake of free, fair polls in Bangladesh

Uzra Zeya said she heard strong commitment from the prime minister and all the ministers she spoke to supporting free, fair, and peaceful elections.


Uzra Zeya, US under secretary for civilian security, democracy, and human rights, calls on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the Gono Bhaban. The senior American diplomat discussed elections and Rohingya crisis, among other issues, with the premier yesterday. Photo: Courtesy of US embassy

July 14, 2023

DHAKA – Washington wants dialogue between political parties for a free, fair, and peaceful election, said Uzra Zeya, the visiting under secretary of state for civilian security, democracy, and human rights.

“…You know, we are all for dialogue that we do not have any direct involvement in … ,” she said responding to a question on the US stance on the Awami League and BNP being at loggerheads over polls-time government and refusing to hold talks.

She said the large political rallies on Wednesday free of serious violence are a good harbinger that Washington would like to see replicated.

Zeya said she heard strong commitment from the prime minister and all the ministers she spoke to supporting free, fair, and peaceful elections.

“The United States as part of our global human rights policy supports free and fair and peaceful elections and we want to do our part as a longtime partner of Bangladesh to help make this possible,” she said while speaking at a joint press briefing with Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen at the state guest house Padma after lunch yesterday.

She said the US looks to deepen engagement with Bangladesh over the next 50 years.

Zeya, who was accompanied by US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Donald Lu and other US officials, was on a four-day visit since July 11. She was to leave early today.

She visited the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar on Wednesday and held meetings with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the Gono Bhaban, Law Minister Anisul Huq and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan at their ministries yesterday.

She also met civil society members, and Prime Minister’s Private Industry and Investment Adviser Salman Fazlur Rahman over dinner yesterday.

Her visit comes when relations between Dhaka and Washington are somewhat strained because of a recent policy that restricts US visas for “individuals and their immediate family members if they are responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh”.

In December 2021, Washington imposed sanctions on Rab and some of its officials and did not invite Bangladesh to Biden’s Summit for Democracy in 2021 and 2023.


During her meeting with the PM, both spoke about good governance and building strong democratic institutions.

“The United States looks forward to continued collaboration supportive to an inclusive and democratic Bangladesh, in which all the people of Bangladesh can thrive,” she said, according to a US embassy statement.

She emphasised on freedom of journalists to report without fear of retaliation or intimidation and the vital role the civil society plays in democracies — advancing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedoms of expression and association.

She underscored the US desire to deepen its partnership with Bangladesh, in support of their vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific anchored in resilience.

Zeya lauded Hasina for generously hosting more than a million Rohingyas and stressed that other donors should come forward to support the Rohingyas.

On top of the $2.1 billion that Washington provided for the Rohingyas and the host communities in Bangladesh and the region since August 2017, Zeya announced more than $74 million in additional funds.

She encouraged Bangladesh to expand livelihood opportunities for the Rohingyas. The US is also maintaining pressure on Myanmar to end the crisis and create the conditions for the eventual voluntary return of Rohingya to their homeland.


Zeya said the US announced the new visa policy to supplement Hasina’s commitment to hold free, fair and neutral elections, according to the PM’s Press Secretary Ihsanul Karim, who briefed reporters.

The PM said the AL always fought for free and fair elections in the country and held free and fair polls. Transparent ballot boxes have been introduced for polls, she told Zeya, reports UNB.

Hasina said it was the BNP who started vote rigging in the country and she recalled “the atrocities, terrorist activities, and arson attacks of the BNP and their allies” during 2013-15 that left 500 people killed.

Law Minister Anisul Huq, after his meeting with Zeya, told the press that the US delegation sought a proper investigation into the killing of labour leader Shahidul Islam and he assured them of justice for Shahidul.

Anisul said Zeya did not bring up the issue of caretaker government but she did talk about free, fair, and violence-free elections.

He told her that amendments to the Digital Security Act would be done in September.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told Zeya that law enforcers would remain under the Election Commission during the polls as per the law and that the law enforcers have been trained and are ready to assist the EC.

Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen during his meeting with Zeya appraised her of Bangladesh’s achievements in labour safety and the reforms being carried out in the labour sector.

Washington had expressed concerns over the challenges of trade unions and discriminatory laws for the workers inside the EPZs and outside EPZs, as well as poor labour practices and wages.

“We also discussed and exchanged views on civil rights and the upcoming polls, about civilian security including trafficking in persons.”

He requested Zeya to withdraw the sanctions on Rab.

Asked about a China-brokered tripartite initiative for Rohingya repatriation, he said they discussed all options including the tripartite initiative.

“We updated them about the latest situation. They appreciated our concerns and shared some of their thoughts on how to go forward. We will be in touch with them,” Secretary Momen said.

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