A Canadian delegation led by Rev. Majed El Shafie, President and Founder of One Free World International (‘OFWI’), visited Bangladesh from December 16 to December 21, 2013. The delegation included two Honourable Canadian Members of Parliament: Mr. Brad Butt, Member of Parliament (Mississauga-Streetsville), Co-Chair of Canada Bangladesh Parliamentary Friendship Group; Mr. Jay Aspin, Member of Parliament (Nipissing-Timiskaming). The two Members of Parliament participated in the capacity of observers.
The OFWI-led delegation met with representatives of the government and opposition parties, as well as civil society and religious minority leaders. The delegation expressed its support for religious freedom and minority rights in Bangladesh and listened to the concerns and perspectives of Bangladeshi leaders and civil society. The delegation also met with Her Excellency Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to discuss these important issues.
OFWI travelled to Bangladesh in order to stand with the people of Bangladesh against religious extremism in any form. OFWI is deeply concerned by the ongoing and increasing attacks against religious minorities in Bangladesh. OFWI firmly believes that only a clear separation between religion and the state can ensure the rights of all Bangladeshi, including its minorities.
The nation of Bangladesh is at a crossroads in its history. The Bangladesh polity has repeatedly though the constitutional and judicial institutions affirmed the values of secularism, equality, and religious freedom. Today resurgent extremism and resulting attacks on religious minorities threaten to undo the progress made towards meaningful and universal human rights in Bangladesh. In order to choose the path of freedom and justice, the people of Bangladesh must affirm that the rights of religious minorities can only be truly protected by a secular political order that recognizes everyone’s right to practice their religion freely. They must reject the attempts by religious extremist parties to exert influence over the political process and impose a restrictive view of religion that would make political and civil rights contingent on one’s religious identity. The threat of extremism is not only a threat to Bangladesh’s minorities; it is a threat to the Bangladeshi people as a whole.
The road towards universal human rights is far from easy. The current political struggle goes to the very heart of Bangladesh’s collective national identity. If human rights are to prevail, the Bangladeshi people must have the strength of conviction to separate their religious identity from democracy and politics, and affirm everyone’s right to full democratic participation and protection under the law.
OFWI is committed to standing with the people and government of Bangladesh in their efforts to ensure freedom and human rights, and to fight extremism and intolerance.