Bangladesh official challenges US sanctions against elite police unit

Ashif Entaz Rabi
Bangladesh official challenges US sanctions against elite police unit Md. Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s state minister for foreign affairs, discusses U.S. sanctions against the nation’s elite RAB police unit during an interview at the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington, June 2, 2022.
Lauren Kim/BenarNews

Bangladesh’s elite police force, the Rapid Action Battalion, has operated effectively despite U.S. sanctions in December 2021 over alleged human rights violations, Dhaka’s state minister for foreign affairs told BenarNews in an interview in Washington.

Md. Shahriar Alam was in the U.S. capital this week as part of a delegation meeting with American officials for the Second High-Level Economic Consultation between the two nations.

During a break in between meetings here, Alam sat down with BenarNews at the Bangladesh Embassy on Thursday night to answer a range of questions, including about concerns over killings and alleged enforced disappearances involving RAB personnel.

“We have established RAB with the help of the United States. It has provided weapons, training, technology and so on,” he said. “Beyond Bangladesh, beyond Asia, there are agencies that play a significant role in curbing militancy, RAB is one of them.

“RAB has never been used to suppress the opposition. There is no record of any senior leader or member of BNP or Jamaat being harassed by RAB or from being killed,” he said, referring to the opposition Bangladesh National Party and the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, a faith-based political party.

On Dec. 10, the U.S. Treasury Department announced the sanctions against RAB and six former and current officers. In a statement, it accused RAB of more than 600 enforced disappearances in the past 12 years, a similar number of extrajudicial killings and use of torture.

“Widespread allegations of serious human rights abuse in Bangladesh by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) … threaten U.S. national security interests by undermining the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the economic prosperity of the people of Bangladesh,” the statement said.

Alam said Bangladesh officials did not have any indication from the U.S. that the sanctions would be lifted any time soon, as he expressed concern about how they were issued late last year.

“What we are trying to say is that they should not make such decisions on the basis of misinformation – that’s why we are taking some action,” he told BenarNews.

Alam was asked about a Swedish media report that RAB officials were involved with the disappearance of Ilias Ali, a BNP lawmaker who was last seen in April 2012. He noted the investigation is ongoing.

“If you are talking about Sweden’s Netra News, I would say this is purely politically motivated,” he said.

Members of the Rapid Action Battalion stand guard during a nationwide protest in Dhaka, Nov. 26, 2013. [Reuters]
Joint statement

Alam traveled to Washington as part of a delegation led by Salman F. Rahman, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s adviser for private industry and investment. Jose W. Fernandez, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, led the U.S. delegation.

In a joint statement issued after Thursday’s meeting, the officials said, “Both countries share a common vision of a free, open, inclusive, peaceful, and secure Indo-Pacific region with shared prosperity for all.”

The U.S. delegation praised Bangladesh for its COVID-19 response, noting that 76 percent of the population is fully vaccinated and 99 percent is partially vaccinated.

It also acknowledged Dhaka’s “progress with respect to workers’ rights in Bangladesh in, for example, instituting safety reforms in the garment export sector, simplifying trade-union registration, developing a publicly accessible trade-union database, establishing helplines to receive complaints, digitalizing labor inspection and strengthening labor courts.”


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Jun 04, 2022 09:31 AM

He is an arrant liar. I cannot even imagine how a state minister lie to your face like this in the world of internet where all evidence are available just by a click in the computer. RAB abducted at least 700 opposition party members since 2009 when his party came to power. 84 of the 700 people were later found dead. Most of the other still missing. At least 3400 opposition party members have been murdered by RAB. Even son of BNP leader Salahuddin Kader, Jamaat Leader Golam Azam's son, and another Jamaat leader Mir Kashem Ali's son were abducted by direct order from the highest level of Bangladesh government. The US sanction is saving hundreds of innocent people's lives as RAB has stopped enforced disappearance and extrajudicial murder since December 2021. Dear Benar news, please present the truth and dont spread Bangladeshi brutal government's shameless propaganda. Thanks.