US Imposes Sanctions on Top Officials of Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion Over Human Rights Abuse
New Delhi: The US government has imposed sanctions on seven former and current high-level officials of Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) over allegations of large-scale human rights abuse. The most-prestigious anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit of the country’s police force has been at the receiving end of rights’ bodies for alleged extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances even as it has declared a war on drugs.
Among the most high-level officials who was placed under Global Magnitsky human rights-related sanctions by the US department of treasury is the current inspector-general of police and former director-general of RAB Benazir Ahmed. Current RAB director-general Chowdhury Abdullah Al-Mamun, ADG (Operations) Khan Mohammad Azad, former ADG (Operations) Tofayel Mustafa Sorwar, Mohammad Jahangir Alam, and Mohammad Anwar Latif Khan have also been put under the same sanctions. Benazir and a former official of RAB Lieutenant Colonel Miftah Uddin Ahmed have also been barred from travelling to the US, Bangladesh-based daily The Daily Star reported.
“Today, on International Human Rights Day, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is designating 15 individuals and 10 entities for their connection to human rights abuse and repression in several countries around the globe, pursuant to multiple sanctions authorities,” said a press statement issued by the department of treasury, which added RAB as a foreign entity responsible for or complicit in serious human rights abuse.
The US acted against RAB after several NGOs alleged that the police unit is responsible for “more than 600 disappearances since 2009, nearly 600 extrajudicial killings since 2018, torture” and also targeting of opposition party members, journalists, and human rights activists under the garb of Bangladesh government’s war on drugs. The US government said that such allegations “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 press statement particularly noted the May 2018 extrajudicial killing of Teknaf City Municipal councillor.
The US government had first issued an executive order titled “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption” against RAB officials in 2017. The sanctions on Friday, also the International Human Rights Day, would not prevent or restrict access of these individuals to all properties and assets that they own in the US.
The officials under the scanner refused to comment on the sanctions when contacted by the Bangladesh-based media houses. However, speaking to the Daily Star, Commander Khandaker Al Moin, director of the Legal and Media Wing of RAB, said the agency did not have any official information about the sanctions. “We came to know about it from the media. If we are informed formally or get any letter, we would address the issue through Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Al Moin said.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said that the US action may have been “based on exaggerated information” and was not “in line with facts”.
Along with RAB officials, the US government also imposed similar sanctions on officials of China, Myanmar, and North Korea, even as it blacklisted Chinese artificial intelligence startup SenseTime Group. Two Myanmar military entities were also placed under sanctions for allegedly providing weapons to the police to target opponents of the military’s February 1 coup.
Sanctions by the US Treasury once again puts the spotlight on large-scale human rights abuses in Asia, especially growing incidents of flagrant violations in South Asia. The RAB was founded as a joint task force during the BNP-Jamaat government in 2004 and comprise officials of multiple military and paramilitary agencies. With mandate as large as overseeing internal security, intelligence gathering, and government investigations, the RAB has had a controversial record even since its inception.