US: Bangladesh must do more to make RAB accountable for its actions

Jesmin Papri
2022.03.21
Dhaka
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US: Bangladesh must do more to make RAB accountable for its actions United States Under Secretary of Political Affairs Victoria Nuland (right) and Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen address the media in Dhaka after the U.S.-Bangladesh Partnership Dialogue, March 20, 2022.
[Photo courtesy Bangladesh Foreign Ministry]

Bangladesh needs to do more to make a notorious security force accused of human rights violations accountable for its actions, a senior United States diplomat said after a bilateral meeting in Dhaka this weekend.

However, Victoria Nuland, under secretary for political affairs at the U.S. Department of State, acknowledged that the human rights situation in Bangladesh had improved somewhat since Washington in December sanctioned the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), which local and international rights activists have accused of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

“We have concerns about how RAB has performed – about extrajudicial killings, about disappearances…More work [needs] to be done,” Nuland told reporters Sunday after the eighth U.S.-Bangladesh Partnership Dialogue held in Dhaka.

“That said, we have seen progress in the last three months with regard to mitigating these things.”

Nuland noted that her counterpart, Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen, had requested that the sanctions on RAB be lifted.

Momen told reporters that he presented to Nuland a dossier on the measures Dhaka had been taking to improve RAB’s human rights record, although when BenarNews last month asked the Bangladesh government what it was doing to address the U.S. concerns, the home minister said the government did not need to take any extra measures.

On Dec. 10, Washington imposed financial sanctions on the Bangladeshi security force and six of its current and former officers, saying they were responsible for serious human rights abuses. In addition, Benazir Ahmed, a former director general of the force, was barred from entering the U.S. “due to his involvement in gross violations of human rights.”

At the time, a spokesman for RAB claimed that the force did not violate human rights but protected the rights of people and maintained law and order in the country.

RAB, which comprises members of the police, army, navy, air force, and border guard, is accused of more than 600 enforced disappearances in the past 12 years, a similar number of extrajudicial killings, and use of torture, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement.

Founded in 2004, the force is tasked with internal security, intelligence gathering related to criminal activities, and government-directed investigations, according to the U.S. Treasury.

The meeting on Sunday was the first between officials of the U.S. and Bangladesh since Dhaka summoned the U.S. ambassador one day after the sanctions were imposed.

In talks with Nuland, Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen also raised “deep concerns” about the sanctions on RAB, saying they were affecting the unit’s ability to carry out its duties, a foreign ministry statement said.  He urged the sanctions be lifted, the statement added.

“He expressed concern that the [U.S. sanctions] might encourage radical elements in the country and might cause a deterioration in law and order and create regional instability,” the statement said.

Nuland said she expressed Washington’s willingness to engage with Bangladesh to help improve the human rights situation in the country.

Last August, while responding to a Human Rights Watch report on enforced disappearances linked to RAB, Foreign Minister Momen said that allegations contained in it were “fabricated.”

And RAB and government officials have often said that allegations of extrajudicial killings were just that, because when suspects were killed, it was usually in incidents of “crossfire” or when law enforcement was trying to protect itself.

Imtiaz Ahmed, a professor of international relations at Dhaka University, told BenarNews that the U.S. sanctions on RAB should have come after discussions with the Bangladesh government.

“But they were imposed suddenly. So the government termed the U.S. sanctions political,” he said.

“[But] since the sanctions, the number of extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh has come down.”

According to data compiled by human rights organization Ain-O-Salish Kendra, the last “crossfire” incident in Bangladesh by a security force took place on Dec. 10, the very day the U.S. imposed sanctions on RAB. None has occurred since the sanctions were imposed.

By comparison, 51 incidents of “crossfire” by security forces took place in the rest of 2021, of which 30 were carried out by RAB.

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