Between June 20 and 24 I had the great pleasure to visit Bangladesh as I had been invited, as a member of the European Parliament, to participate in the International Conference on Peace, Justice and Secular Humanism in Dhaka. In this rather long bloggpost I will be giving you all a description of all the interesting people I had the opportunity to meet and discuss a wide range of issues with.
I landed, together with my policy advisor Daniel Sjöberg, in Dhaka in the early morning of Sunday 20 June at about 04.30. After checking in to the hotel and grabbing a quick breakfast and some 30 minutes of sleep we headed straight to the Osmani Memorial Auditorium for the opening of the international conference. The conference was attended by many highly interesting people such as attorney William Sloan from Canada, UK terrorism expert Chris Blackburn, Professor Maxim Dubayev of Russia, Dr Peter Custers from the Netherlands, Ms Parvin Ardalan, human rights activist from Iran, Senator Haji Mohammed Adeel from Pakistan and the former speakers of India and Nepal Mr P.A. Sangma and Professor Daman Dhungana.
During the morning session in the Osmani Auditorium I gave a speech on my view on fundamentalism and extremism and the need to fight them through the promotion of an open and tolerant society. Several other speakers also addressed the conference with thought provoking speeches.
During the lunch break the international delegates (about a dozen or so) were taken back to the hotel for a nice lunch meeting hosted by the state secretary at the foreign office and was also attended by the Minister of Finance. The Foreign Minister was supposed to have attended but had just been forced to leave for Europe on urgent business.
After lunch the conference continued at the Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel with three working groups with the goal to start ironing out a Dhaka declaration to be adopted later that evening in plenary. I chaired the working group on the topic Religious Militancy: Regional and Global Perspectives. The work was intense and interesting with many good interventions but also constructive as a general consensus regarding a common text was reached among the delegates. When the working groups had all concluded their work all the delegates returned to the Osmani Memorial Auditorium for a plenary session where the Dhaka declaration was adopted.
By now it was already about 6 pm local time and it was some 30-odd hours since I had last slept. But the day was far from over, back at the hotel there was an afternoon-tea session with many cabinet ministers attending, Being myself a member of the legal affairs committee of the European Parliament I took great pleasure to be seated next to the Minister for law, justice and parliamentary affairs, Mr Shafique Ahmed and we had one of many interesting discussions during my visit over my first cup of tea in Bangladesh.
After a concluding banquet dinner at the hotel, hosted by the Minister for liberation war affairs and nearly 40 hours without sleep, the first day came to an end.