The US State Department has claimed it had ended assistance to the Rapid Action Battalion, the elite force of Bangladesh Police, in 2018 based on what it called credible information of gross human rights violations.
It comes in response to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent comments that RAB was established based on recommendations by the US and is working as per the training provided by them.
“Well, the fact is that based on credible information implicating the Rapid Action Battalion or the RAB in gross violations of human rights, we did end assistance to the RAB in 2018,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Wednesday.
“This was some four years ago that we ceased our assistance to this group, and in fact, in December – December of last year, December of 2021, we sanctioned the RAB as well as six current and former officers under what’s known as our Global Magnitsky sanctions regime in connection with the RAB’s involvement in serious and gross human rights abuse,” he added.
However, the US official directly ducked the question involving his country’s role in training the Bangladeshi force.
Speaking in a regular media briefing at his office in Washington, he added: “And we publicly designated two former RAB officials under a separate authority, 7031(c), for their involvement in gross violations of human rights.”
The US Treasury Department on December 10, 2021, imposed sanctions on the RAB and six of its serving and former officials, including ex-director general Benazir Ahmed, under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
On the same day, the State Department imposed sanctions on Benazir and another RAB official.
PM Hasina, briefing the media on October 6, said: “When the USA imposes sanctions and raises allegations, I would like to say one thing that they (RAB) have conducted their activities in the way it (the US) trained them.”
The premier said they have curbed terrorism using the RAB and raised a question of whether the US is unhappy about that.
She questioned what the imposition of the sanction on them means and said it means supporting the terrorists.
The US and the UK trained the Bangladeshi force as part of a counterterrorism strategy since at least 2008, say leaked US diplomatic cables.
Britain trained RAB members on human rights issues, investigative interview techniques and other skills, according to a cable written by US Ambassador James F Moriarty in May 2009.
British police, The Guardian in May 2011 reported, have helped train RAB teams since 2007, around the time that UK intelligence agencies began seeking closer counter-terrorism co-operation with the RAB and Bangladeshi intelligence agencies.
Mentionable, Benazir visited the US in late August to attend a UN summit and at an event in New York, he said: “They [the US] alleged that 600 people have gone missing under the RAB’s watch since 2009. But I joined the force in 2015. So why am I included in the list?
“I don’t want to blame the US administration or Americans because this was done by those who did not support Bangabandhu [Sheikh Mujibur Rahman] in the 1970 elections and opposed the Liberation War of 1971,” he added.
In Wednesday’s briefing, the US official said that the sanctions and the visa restrictions aim to promote accountability and reform for the RAB and to deter human rights abuse globally.
“And just as we hold these actors accountable, we’ll continue to partner with countries to develop their own capacity to fight crime, to administer justice, and to safeguard the rule of law. Our training to Bangladesh security forces promotes these very principles,” he concluded.
The Treasury Department while imposing the sanctions said the RAB and other law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh were responsible for more than 600 disappearances since 2009 and nearly 600 extrajudicial killings and instances of torture since 2018.
On that note, Benazir said: “The big truth is that in 2009, I was working as the first secretary of the Bangladesh Mission in New York. The real truth is that no list of 600 missing people has been published anywhere.”