US-Bangladesh: Would Washington consider removing the sanctions imposed on RAB?

Let’s go back in 2021. The United States imposed sanctions on seven former and current RAB officers on December 10 World Human Rights Day. The country accuses them of gross human rights violations. And with this, a circle within the country went up in arms. Even in 2022, many were hoping that the United States would again impose sanctions on Bangladesh or Bangladeshi individuals or institutions. But the Americans did not put any new restrictions on their hopes. On the contrary, the US minister’s tone is very flexible when he comes to visit.

Our spirits have been tremendously bolstered by the recent remarks made by the top US ambassador regarding the topic of the nation’s human rights (HR) condition. According to him, Bangladesh has advanced significantly in terms of its human resources. The statement was made by Donald Lu, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs. After meeting with the foreign minister of Bangladesh and other high officials in Dhaka on Sunday, he made the comments. The US diplomat brought up a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) statement in this context, noting how RAB has made “tremendous success” in lowering extrajudicial murders.

If we go a bit further back in time to 2020, we can see that Bangladesh received good news from the US State Department in a report titled “2020 Country Reports on Terrorism.” The Ministry of Religion, social and cultural groups, and law enforcement agencies all have significant roles in preventing the growth of militancy, according to the study posted on their website.

The research claims that Bangladesh experienced fewer terrorist incidents in 2020. Along with this, there have been more arrests and inquiries into terrorism. There were no casualties.

In 2020, Bangladesh experienced three terrorist incidents, according to a US assessment. As of right now, nobody has died. In Chittagong, Bangladesh, a bomb detonated in a police box on February 28 of that year. Let’s jump forward to 2021. The United States issued penalties against seven former and current RAB employees on December 10, International Human Rights Day. The nation accuses them of grave violations of human rights. And as a result, a portion of the country protested. Many others continued to hold out hope that in 2022, the United States would sanction Bangladesh or Bangladeshi individuals or organizations once more. The Americans did not, however, set any new ceilings on what they expected. The American minister, on the other hand, can adjust his tone fairly well when he comes. In the assault, two police officers and a civilian suffered injuries. No one passed away.

On July 24 of the same year, a fake bomb was discovered on a police motorcycle in Dhaka. In the Naogaon area, a Hindu temple was stormed on July 31; no one was hurt. Both attacks may have been carried out by terrorists and extremists.

According to the US State Department report, terrorist or militant actions in Bangladesh in 2019 are also listed. Six attacks are claimed to have occurred in all that year. Of them, five involved assaults against police. terrorists detonate a bomb inside that office. All of the incidents were blamed on ISIS.

In light of these, it is said in a report titled Country Reports on Terrorism that from 2019 to 2020, Bangladesh had a 50% decline in this sort of terrorism.

The ISIS terrorist attack on Dhaka’s Holy Artisan is also included in the article. According to reports, 20 individuals were killed in the event, including an American citizen, and the perpetrators identified themselves as ISIS supporters. Seven persons have received death sentences as a result of the incident, but the Supreme Court appeal decision has not yet been made.

The lack of ties between the Bangladeshi government and transnational terrorist organizations like ISIS or AQIS is also noted.

In addition, the RAB and Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit received praise for their work all year long in counter-extremism and rehabilitation.

According to Anthony Blinken, who was the US Secretary of State at the time, the US produces this report each year. The terrorism scenario from the prior year is highlighted. It is crucial to Washington’s decision-making in several areas, including the war against international terrorism.

What, however, transpired in the following year (2021) that branded the RAB and its representatives as human rights violators? In actuality, everything is a self-interest game. Because it harms its own interests, the United States occasionally accuses other nations of being terrorists or violators of human rights. They sometimes designate someone as the champion of humanity for their personal benefit. In the history of the globe, their behavior is quite ancient. The American officials, however, are likely unaware of what takes place in their own nation under the name of human rights. Who keeps track of the number of robberies that occur each day in one New York City? How do they handle the black people that live there? Who is the one who asks that?

Despite the restrictions the Americans placed, Bangladesh was not troubled. Instead, issues with the ban’s justification and the US’s own human rights record have always been brought up. The United States has, in fact, restricted Bangladesh’s ability to exercise its human rights. Have they ever brought up Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights? Have you ever brought up the senseless slaughter of children and people in Palestine? Sanctions ever placed on Israel? No, one violation of human rights does not excuse a subsequent one. Not bringing that up. I used the aforementioned situation only to demonstrate fairness and reason.

After more than a year of sanctions against RAB and seven of its current and former top officers over allegations of serious human rights breaches, the US finally acknowledged the allegations. The hefty sanctions were a complete humiliation for Bangladesh and damaged its reputation. Bangladesh, a democratic nation, is devoted to advancing human rights and democracy. To protect the democratic rights of its citizens, it has made unimaginable sacrifices as a nation. The US review shows that we are making earnest attempts by taking the appropriate remedial action and changing our course as needed. RAB has long been a forerunner in the struggle against violent terrorism and drug trafficking, and the United States upholds a global anti-terrorist policy.

In South Asia’s reality, Bangladesh is geographically significant, and in the previous ten years, there has been a significant improvement in Bangladesh’s socioeconomic situation. The capacity has greatly increased. In the view of superpowers, Bangladesh is now able to speak for itself. Additionally, Bangladesh maintains cordial diplomatic ties with China and India, two large neighbors who have different religions. The United States is keeping an eye on this Bangladesh; do not be alarmed. There is no kneeling in this Bangladesh. Bangladesh is standing tall in this instance. As a result, the US is once again banning with a tone of flexibility in its throat.

A single power or a couple of large rings no longer control the entire world. There are numerous powers in the globe now. Even the former superpowers are now discussing compromise or are being compelled to do so.

I was claiming that Bangladesh has made social and economic progress. As a result, we can observe that the Chinese foreign minister paid a one-hour surprise visit to Bangladesh during the previous week. Arriving was the US Assistant Secretary of State. Bangladesh actually requires all types of development partners. In order to prosper, Bangladesh needs the support of the US, China, Russia, EU, Middle East, and India. Bangladesh should therefore not bother the US. In this situation, the US should help Bangladesh more.

I want to conclude by saying that this Bangladesh is the Bangladesh that will advance. Any disagreements about civil rights or other human rights will be resolved by Bangladesh itself. No snooping or snooping should be done. That day has passed.

Yes, Bangladesh still has a few human rights issues that require attention. Simply put, Bangladesh will find the answers on its own.

Washington should therefore reconsider the situation and lift the harsh sanctions placed on this particular elite force, which was established at the US’s recommendation and was also provided with everything, including training, weapons, helicopters, and even digital and ICT systems, in order to acknowledge the positive role played by RAB.

In order to preserve the favorable trend and undo the harm caused by the unpleasant sanction, Bangladesh must also exercise caution. In the area of human rights, there is always room for advancement, and this must be pursued as an ongoing effort. Additionally, experts call for stronger ties between the US and Bangladesh in order to lift the sanctions.

Samina Akhter
Samina Akhter
Samina Akhter is a Dhaka, Bangladesh based activist, analyst, writer and columnist.