DHAKA: The Bangladeshi Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the US envoy in Dhaka on Saturday over sanctions imposed on six top security officials related to an elite anti-drug and anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladesh Police.
The US Treasury and Department of State imposed financial sanctions and visa bans on officials and entities in nine countries on Friday, including former and present Bangladeshi officers of the elite crime-fighting unit the Rapid Action Battalion, which it designated as “a foreign entity that is responsible for or complicit in, or has directly or indirectly engaged in, serious human rights abuse.”
Among the sanctioned individuals is the police inspector general, the former RAB chief Benazir Ahmed, who has been rendered ineligible for entry to the US.
To convey Dhaka’s “discontent over the designated sanctions” and “disappointment that the decision was taken unilaterally,” Foreign Secretary Masud bin Momen summoned US Ambassador Earl R. Miller.
The ministry said in a statement that Momen “regretted the US decided to undermine an agency of the government that had been at the forefront of combating terrorism, drug trafficking and other heinous transnational crimes that were considered to be shared priorities with successive US administrations.”
It said that the US decision appeared to have been based “more on unverified or unsubstantiated allegations of command responsibility” than on facts. According to the US Treasury’s notification, “widespread allegations of serious human rights abuse in Bangladesh” 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.”
The notification cited NGO reports alleging that RAB and other Bangladeshi law enforcement personnel were responsible for “more than 600 disappearances since 2009, nearly 600 extrajudicial killings since 2018 and torture.”
RAB was founded in 2004 and composed of members of the police, army, navy, air force, and border guards. Its mandate includes internal security, intelligence gathering related to criminal activities, and government-ordered investigations.
Shomsher Mobin Chowdhury, Bangladesh’s former foreign secretary, told Arab News it was the first time the US had imposed such sanctions on the country’s law enforcement agency officials.
“I haven’t witnessed anything like this earlier,” he said.
Dhaka’s former envoy to China, Munshi Faiz Ahmad, expressed surprise over a lack of consultations with Bangladesh before the sanctions were imposed.
“I don’t think these sanctions have been imposed with much prudence,” he said. “If there was any genuine problem, we could have solved it through bilateral discussions and there was no need for such sanctions. This decision may trigger a negative perception of the US in Bangladesh.”
Prof. Amena Mohsin, of the international relations department at the University of Dhaka, questioned the US Treasury’s rationale behind the decision.
“I don’t understand how the actions of a Bangladeshi law enforcement agency creates national security concerns for the US,” she told Arab News. “The police in US also have many issues concerning human rights as we noticed in the case of George Floyd murder last year.”