DHAKA: Bangladesh Foreign Secretary on Saturday, December 11, 2021, summoned the US Ambassador to express Dhaka's disappointment over the sanctions imposed by Washington on seven present and former officials of the elite anti-crime unit Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), allegedly over human rights abuses and extra-judicial killings.
On Friday, Benazir Ahmed, now a General Inspector of Police and a former Director-General of RAB, and six other officials were designated by the US Department of Treasury under the Global Magnitsky sanctions programme in connection with human rights abuse.
"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," a US Treasury press release said on Friday.
In a simultaneous announcement, the US State Department barred Ahmed, and another former RAB official Lieutenant Colonel Miftah Uddin Ahmed, from travelling to the United States.
"The Foreign Secretary (Masud Bin Momen) met US Ambassador Earl Miller and expressed the Bangladesh government's disappointment over the decision taken unilaterally by the US administration without any prior consultation," a foreign ministry statement said.
"Human rights violations and abuses were reported to be committed by wayward elements within law enforcement agencies in many countries, including in the US. But that would not justify singling out the high officials of any law enforcement agency for targeted sanctions," the statement said.
Momen lamented that the issues cited for imposing the designated sanctions remain under active discussions, including under the framework of the regular institutional dialogues between the two countries, and the US decision came without prior intimation.
Sources said that the sanction meant that the seven law enforcement officials could get their property in the United States, if any, confiscated.
Momen said that the allegations made against the RAB over certain specific incidents had been explained, along with information on the corresponding justice and accountability measures undertaken, to "not just to the US administration, but also to a number of UN human rights mechanisms on multiple occasions".
Despite these measures, he said, the US has decided to "undermine" a Bangladesh government agency that was at the forefront of combating terrorism, drug trafficking and other heinous transnational crimes "that were considered to be shared priorities with successive US administrations".
Momen regretted that the decision targeting the Bangladesh officials was made in tandem with those concerning certain countries that stand alleged to have committed serious international crimes, like "text book example of ethnic cleansing", by the UN and other concerned international bodies.
"All uniformed services in Bangladesh followed a set of legal and administrative procedures to address any allegation of wrongdoing against any of their members, and that RAB was no exception in this regard," the statement quoted Momen as telling the US Ambassador.
The Foreign Ministry statement said that the US Ambassador took note of Bangladesh's concerns, and assured that they would be conveyed to Washington.
"He (Miller) concurred that the excellent multi-faceted relations between two countries could be further deepened through established consultation mechanisms and high-level visits. He further expressed willingness of the US government to remain closely engaged with Bangladesh in the coming days on issues of mutual interest," the statement said.
Meanwhile, the RAB has rejected these allegations, saying that being a specialised wing of the police force, it was not involved in extra-judicial killings and does not support any such activity either as it operates in line with the Bangladesh Criminal Procedure Code.
In recent times, however, the elite force has increasingly come under criticism for extra-judicial killings, custody deaths and forced disappearances of the opposition activists.
"However, at times 'unwanted' incidents of gunshot exchanges occur with armed terrorists and drug peddlers while we conduct operational campaigns to arrest criminals," RAB spokesman Ashik Billah said.