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How Justified are the US Sanctions on Bangladesh’s Elite Paramilitary Force?

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Recently, the US imposed sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Bangladesh’s elite paramilitary force, and seven of its current and former officials, accusing human rights violations through enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. This human rights-related sanction means the RAB will neither be allowed to own assets in the US nor engage in any financial transaction with any US body. It is need of the hour to discover whether such sanctions are intended to protect human rights or to have geopolitical mileage and if RAB really deserves to be sanctioned or banned.

To understand the geopolitics of the US sanction, it is important to have a clear idea about the US agenda on fighting terrorism, extremism and militancy. After the September 11 attacks, the USA has declared “war on terror“, an ongoing international military campaign,  targeting extremist groups and terrorist organizations. The US also provides financial and non-financial assistance to different countries and their respective security forces to fight growing extremism across the world. For instance, the Bureau of Counterterrorism alone has delivered counterterrorism training to more than 90 thousand personnel of the law enforcing agencies of 154 partner countries since 1983. This actually reflects the US will in countering evolving terror threats and preventing the spread of violent extremism.

The US State Department’s Country Report on Terrorism (2013) recognized Bangladesh’s anti-terrorism efforts as “remarkable success”. To put it in perspective, the RAB has been the most successful security force in countering extremism through apprehending numerous high-profile terrorists in Bangladesh. This elite force has arrested many extremist such as Bangla Bhai (the military commander of Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh which was affiliated with Al Qaeda), Mufti Hannan (the chief of a radical Islamist organization named Harkat-ul-Jihad) etc. Noteworthy, Lt Col. Abul Kalam Azad, former RAB Intelligence Wing chief, was killed in a bomb blast while raiding an extremist hideout in Sylhet. That is how RAB is working shoulder-to-shoulder with other security forces of Bangladesh in countering extremism and militancy even at the cost of the life of its officials which cannot be undermined in any way.  

From the above analysis, it is clear that the US has a clear intention of preventing violent extremism of any form from every nook and corner. On the other hand, the RAB has been working to implement the government’s “zero-tolerance policy” of Bangladesh against terrorism which perfectly matches with the agenda of the USA on preventing terrorism and militancy. Now, a common question might arise citing that as the RAB and the USA have been working on the same ground, then “why did the US impose sanctions?” “Is it just the human rights issue or is it a part of the geopolitical game?”

The Lancet reported that approximately 32 thousand people have been killed by the US police from 1980 to 2019. It is sad but true that the police killings in the USA are mainly inspired by racism as in the US the Black Americans die 3.5 times more than White Americans. The report also showed that around 55 percent of the police violence in the US is either intentionally mislabeled or officially ignored or not even recorded. As the champion of democracy, the USA, is failing at home to protect human rights, then common people might ask, “how much justified the recent US sanction on RAB?”

RAB, the elite anti-crime and anti-terrorism force of Bangladesh, was formed in 2004 as Rapid Action Team (RAT). It consists of members of the Bangladesh Police, Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Air Force, Bangladesh Navy, Border Guard Bangladesh, Bangladesh Coast Guard and Bangladesh Ansar. The formation of RAB shows that it is not a permanent force rather a specialized unit that has mainly gained fame because of its role in countering terrorism and religious extremism. What RAB did, is doing presently and will do in future is not the responsibility or credit of any specific force from where it is receiving members, rather a combined effort of multiple forces of Bangladesh.

Citing some alienated incidents, the US should not dub RAB as a human rights violator and impose sanctions. Besides, it is also important to keep in mind that an organization should not be held responsible for any actions of any of its officers. Obviously, if the member of an organization does something wrong, the liability beholds to the shoulder of the concerned organization. But that does not definitely mean the organization has been established for the malpractice or the organization itself supporting, patronizing or defending the wrongdoings.

The seven murders of Narayanganj is a glaring example whereby securing justice RAB has proved that organization belongs above its members. The RAB authority always accepts any constructive criticism in a positive manner and work on addressing those issues to have more acceptance among mass people. Not to forget, it is totally an internal matter of Bangladesh that should not be interfered with by any other state rather Bangladesh, as a sovereign state, should take initiative to resolve the issue. If the US really cares about the human rights violations by the RAB, then instead of imposing a sanction, the US should work more closely with the Bangladesh government to train and equip RAB to guide their walk in the road that the US thinks can protect human rights and prevent extremism simultaneously. Not to mention, the sanction is not the ultimate solution rather the US should have tried for bilateral talks with Bangladesh, considering its geopolitical importance and economic noteworthiness, to bring the positive reform in RAB. 

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