At upcoming talks, Dhaka to urge Washington to lift sanctions on RAB

Jesmin Papri
At upcoming talks, Dhaka to urge Washington to lift sanctions on RAB Members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) detain Bangladeshis for carrying marijuana during a drive against drugs in a park, in Dhaka, Sept. 29, 2018.

 Bangladesh will press the U.S. to withdraw sanctions that Washington placed on the Rapid Action Battalion security force over human rights concerns, when the foreign secretary meets with a senior State Department official here on March 20, officials said Thursday.


The upcoming Partnership Dialogue meeting was delayed for two years as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and will be the first in a series of high-level bilateral talks scheduled for the coming weeks in the Bangladeshi and American capitals.


At all the meetings, Bangladesh will emphasize the strengthening of political relations and the lifting of sanctions from RAB, a foreign ministry official said.

“Dhaka will make strenuous efforts to get the sanctions on RAB removed as soon as possible” the official told BenarNews on the condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

On Dec. 10, Washington imposed financial sanctions on the notorious 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.”

A day after Washington announced the measures, Bangladesh summoned the U.S. ambassador to protest the financial sanctions, saying the superpower was undermining a government agency.

A spokesman for RAB claimed that the force does not violate human rights but protects the rights of people and maintains 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 will be the first one between officials of the U.S. and Bangladesh since the sanctions were imposed on RAB. Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen and Victoria Nuland, the U.S. under-secretary for political affairs, will lead their respective sides in the dialogue.

Then on April 4, U.S. Secretary Antony Blinken and Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen are to hold a bilateral meeting in Washington, followed by bilateral talks there on security two days later, Bangladeshi officials said. Nuland is expected to arrive in Dhaka on Saturday.

Shabbir Ahmad Chowdhury, Secretary (West) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told BenarNews: “The issue of sanctions on RAB was discussed at high levels several times immediately after the [sanctions were imposed]”

“A security dialogue will be held with the U.S. in the first week of next month, [and] the issue will be discussed in that meeting also,” he added, referring to the sanctions.

Ehsanul Haque, an analyst, sees the forthcoming U.S.-Bangladesh meeting as a “great opportunity” for Bangladesh.

“This meeting will create a scope to explain that there were some misunderstandings over imposing sanctions on RAB,” Haque, chairman of the international relations department at Dhaka University, told BenarNews without elaborating.

“Bangladesh should address the sensitive issue through diplomatic efforts.”

BenarNews contacted the U.S. State Department for comment but did not immediately hear back.


Rapid Action Battalion personnel stand guard in front of the national mosque in Dhaka, Dec. 4, 2012. [Reuters]


Meanwhile earlier this week, United Nations human rights experts alleged that Bangladesh’s government was retaliating against activists and families of missing people who had worked with international bodies to bring enforced disappearances to light.

The experts said that since the U.S. imposed sanctions in December on RAB, which is allegedly involved in such disappearances, the homes of at least 10 relatives of missing individuals had been raided by Bangladeshi authorities.

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch urged the government to respond meaningfully to the U.N.’s concerns.

“The Bangladesh government is seeking greater influence at the U.N. while simultaneously ignoring the U.N.’s inquiries into human rights violations by Bangladesh security forces,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“Bangladesh authorities are only jeopardizing the country’s standing in U.N. peacekeeping operations by ignoring allegations of abuse and failing to clean up their act.”

Bangladesh was the biggest contributor to U.N. peacekeeping operations in 2020, deploying 6,731 uniformed personnel on various missions.

When BenarNews last month asked the Bangladesh government what it was doing to address the U.S. concerns on RAB, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said the government had not needed to take any extra measures.

“We did not get any recommendation on reforming RAB, we just received the names [of people] who are being sanctioned,” he told BenarNews on Feb. 24.

“But RAB is working under a law which makes them accountable always. Though I have no exact figures, some members of RAB are now in jail for wrongdoings,” the minister added.

Last August, while responding to a Human Rights Watch report on enforced disappearances, A.K. Abdul Momen, the country’s top diplomat, 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.

According to data compiled by human rights organization Ain-O-Salish Kendra (ASK), 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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