In an abrupt and unexpected move, the United States imposed sanctions on seven current and former officials of the Rapid Action Battalion- popularly known by its abbreviation RAB, an elite paramilitary force of Bangladesh founded in 2004 - ostensibly for its human rights abuses while conducting the government's anti-drugs campaign.
The move came on International Human Rights Day, which coincided with the closing day of the first Summit for Democracy, aBiden administration initiative that consisted of a virtual talkathon hosted by the White House, to which Bangladesh was pointedly not invited.
Bangladesh reacted to the sanctions in an agitated but somewhat sporadic way which didn't really drive to the solutions of the problems that the country could face in the coming days.
"The allegation is untrue," Home Minister Asaduzzman Khan Kamal said in his first media interaction after the sanctions were announced. "The decision of imposing sanctions was not taken objectively, they rather took the decision based on the exaggerated news stories."
The home minister also said that no one from Bangladesh's law-enforcers can take the gun and shoot someone. "If such an incident is reported, a judicial inquiry is carried out by the magistrates. If a government agency violated human rights, legal action is taken in Bangladesh," he said, turning down the allegation of violating human rights by RAB.
According to the foreign minister of Bangladesh, AK Abdul Momen, the sanctions imposed on the police chief and others are "unfortunate". He said: "They (US) said that more than 600 people were killed in the last 10 years, but we have no information about who were killed by RAB. They say what they like to say."
The Foreign Ministry was also tasked with summoning Earl R. Miller, the US ambassador, to express Dhaka's disappointment. Bangladesh foreign secretary Masud bin Momen talked to the US ambassador. "He was somewhat surprised about the announcement of the sanctions," Abdul Momen said about the US ambassador. "And he also said that he would convey our disappointment to the US authorities."
Abdul Momen claimed that around 1000 people are killed in the US by the police every year, but none is held to account for those killings. He addressed RAB as a "disciplined" force and said the people of the country have confidence in RAB as they work hard to make the country free from terrorism.
Law Minister Anisul Haque pushed back by saying the allegation of human rights violations by RAB is "imaginary". "There was no extrajudicial killing that took place in Bangladesh," Anisul Haque said.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud echoed the law minister. He said the allegation of the US is futile. He brought the example of Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, and said: "Modi was also banned by the US, and later he was accorded a red carpet reception by them. So these sanctions are futile."
Khan Mohammad Azad, the additional director general of RAB, who is among the sanctioned individuals, said RAB are the biggest human rights activists. While talking to the media after the sanctions were announced, he said: "If bringing down a criminal under the law is a violation of human rights, then we have no objection to violating these human rights in the interest of the country."
The sanctions were announced first by the United States Department of State, and then by the United States Department of the Treasury. According to the sanctions, Benazir Ahmed, the current chief of Bangladesh Police and former head of RAB, won't be eligible to enter the USA along with others including the current head of RAB, Chowdhury Abdullah Al-Mamun.
The sanctions were also imposed on the current Additional Director General of RAB Khan Mohammad Azad, and former officials of RAB Tofayel Mustafa Sorwar, Mohammad Jahangir Alam, Mohammad Anwar Latif Khan, and Miftah Uddin Ahmed.
Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, said while announcing the sanctions: "We are determined to put human rights at the center of our foreign policy, and we reaffirm this commitment by using appropriate tools and authorities to draw attention to and promote accountability for human rights violations and abuses, no matter where they occur."
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