US sanctions elite paramilitary unit of Bangladesh

Published December 12, 2021
Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) officials stand alert inside a truck in front of Central Shaheed Minar in Dhaka, Bangladesh on February 20. — AP
Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) officials stand alert inside a truck in front of Central Shaheed Minar in Dhaka, Bangladesh on February 20. — AP

WASHINGTON: The US government has imposed sanctions on Bangladesh’s elite paramilitary unit called Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) for “serious human rights abuse”.

The sanctions announced on Friday, which was also the International Human Rights Day, targeted 15 individuals and 10 entities in four countries — Bangladesh, Burma, China and North Korea.

“On International Human Rights Day, the Treasury is using its tools to expose and hold accountable perpetrators of serious human rights abuse,” said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo.

“Our actions, particularly those in partnership with the United Kingdom and Canada, send a message that democracies around the world will act against those who abuse the power of the state to inflict suffering and repression.”

Widespread allegations of serious human rights abuse by RAB “threaten US 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,” said an official statement issued in Washington.

RAB is a joint task force founded in 2004 and composed of members of the police, army, navy, air force and border guards seconded to the force from their respective units. Its mandate includes internal security, intelligence gathering related to criminal activities, and government-directed investigations.

NGOs have alleged that RAB and other Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies “are responsible for more than 600 disappearances since 2009, nearly 600 extrajudicial killings since 2018, and torture,” the US Treasury said.

“Some reports suggest these incidents target opposition party members, journalists, and human rights activists,” the statement added.

A number of RAB officials were also designated as human rights violators. They include Chowdhury Abdullah Al-Mamun, director general, Benazir Ahmed, former director general, Khan Mohammad Azad, additional director general (operations), Tofayel Mustafa Sorwar, former additional director general (operations), Mohammad Jahangir Alam, former additional director general (operations) and Mohammad Anwar Latif Khan, former additional director general (Operations).

Bangladeshi authorities summoned the US ambassador to protest against the sanctions, AFP reported.

But Bangladeshi human rights activists welcomed the measures. “It is a perfect move by the US. But more officers who were involved in the abductions and enforced disappearances should have been included,” said Sanjida Islam, an organiser of Mayer Daak, which represents victims’ families.

Most Bangladesh security agencies are involved in enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, she said, but RAB was the main perpetrator and was involved in the abduction and disappearance of her brother in 2013.

RAB has been dogged by controversies and accused of gross human rights violations, including staging gunfights to kill alleged criminals. In January 2017, a court sentenced 26 people, including 16 RAB officers, to death after they were found guilty of involvement in the abduction and murder of seven people.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2021

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