Bangladesh has requested the United States to withdraw the ban it has imposed on the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and some of its incumbent and former officials.
"We are surprised by the move. We think there is scope for reexamination against the allegations," Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen wrote in a letter to his US counterpart Antony J Blinken, according to sources at the foreign ministry.
"RAB is a credible organisation. Because of RAB, criminal activities in the country have decreased, so have drug-related cases and human trafficking, which also fall in line with the US' goal," Momen wrote in the letter sent on 24 December.
The minister also conveyed new year's greetings, the sources added.
Momen also conveyed Bangladesh's firm commitment to promoting democracy and human rights, saying as a nation it made supreme sacrifice to defend the democratic rights of its people.
"The shared commitment to democratic governance and human rights serves as the fundamental basis for Bangladesh-US relations," Momen wrote in his letter to Blinken.
The United States on 10 December 2021 imposed sanctions on RAB and seven of its present and former top officials over allegations of serious human rights abuse.
The officials, designated by the Department of the Treasury under the Global Magnitsky sanctions programme, are Benazir Ahmed, former director general of RAB, Chowdhury Abdullah Al-Mamun, director general of RAB, additional directors general (operations) Khan Mohammad Azad, Tofayel Mustafa Sorwar, Mohammad Jahangir Alam, and Mohammad Anwar Latif Khan, and Lt Col Miftah Uddin Ahmed, former commanding officer of RAB Unit 7.
Besides, the US State Department barred Benazir and Miftah from travelling to the United States. Due to the sanctions, they will not get a US visa, and may even have their assets in the US confiscated.
RAB is designated pursuant to EO 13818 for being a foreign entity that is responsible for or complicit in, or has directly or indirectly engaged in, serious human rights abuse, it said on its website.
"NGOs have alleged that RAB and other Bangladeshi law enforcement are responsible for more than 600 disappearances since 2009, nearly 600 extrajudicial killings since 2018, and torture. Some reports suggest these incidents target opposition party members, journalists, and human rights activists," it noted.
In his letter, Momen praised RAB's role in curbing terrorism and militancy in the country, and requested the US authorities to lift the sanctions imposed.
"We have cordial relations between our countries for 50 years. We have scopes for dialogue over the matter," Momen said he wrote in the letter.
Refuting the allegations of forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings against RAB, Momen wrote, "Almost a thousand people are killed in your country every year. No one deems them as 'forced disappearances'. Those are deemed as 'in the line of duty'. When something like that happens in our country, newspapers deem it as 'extrajudicial killing'. Both are extrajudicial killings."
When asked if there had been any response from the US in reply to the letter, the foreign minister said currently the US is observing the Christmas holidays, and a response is expected after it.
On 11 December, Momen said whether there would be any impact on Dhaka-Washington relations following the sanctions on RAB and individuals depends on the US.
Earlier, US ambassador to Bangladesh Earl R Miller was summoned by Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen to convey Dhaka's discontent over the designated sanctions.
Commitment to promote democracy, human rights
Perhaps, Momen wrote, Bangladesh is one of the most vibrant countries in the world in terms of press and media with 43 private TV channels, 550 national dailies and thousands of online newspapers.
All these media outlets are functioning with full freedom and independence, the government thinks.
Access to information has also been "greatly enhanced" through widespread and unhindered internet infrastructure, Momen conveyed to Secretary Blinken.
At times, the foreign minister said, such unregulated medium of communication does create social problems that harm freedom and privacy of the individuals.
In view of the ever-changing nature of cyber threats, defamation and other forms of misuse of cyber domain by the criminals, a Digital Security Act is in place, Momen conveyed to his US counterpart.
"The Act continues to help us guarantee and create safe and conducive cyberspace for all. However, we are cognizant of the views of our partners on some of the provisions of the Act," Momen mentioned in his letter, adding Bangladesh remains engaged with the UN and its partners to address the concerns.
Momen said they are "dismayed" by the "fabricated and unfounded" stories about persecution of minorities in Bangladesh.
He said Bangladesh is a land of religious harmony and "ours is a secular Government under the leadership of Prime minister Sheikh Hasina."
Bangladesh says its government allows people from all religions and faiths to freely exercise their rights and privileges.
"We never discriminate against the individuals on the basis of religion, race or color. For instance, nearly the majority of the Police Officers serving at Police Stations are Hindu although the Hindu constitutes only 9% of the total population in the country," Dr Momen conveyed to Secretary Blinken.
People with extremist political views and ideologies are, however, utterly upset with the secular image of the Government, he mentioned.
Momen mentioned the recent death of minority people in Cumilla and Rangpur saying it is a manifestation of such an "ill-motivated attempt" to destabilise the communal harmony in the country in the name of bigotry and extremism. "We consider it as a regrettable but isolated incident."
Momen shared with Secretary Blinken some recent developments concerning the issue of labor rights.
Currently, Bangladesh is closely working with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and our partners to further improve the labor situation in the country.
A few months back, Bangladesh submitted an action-oriented and time-bound Roadmap on the labor sector reforms in Bangladesh spanning over a period from 2021 to 2026 (copy enclosed).
"Now, we are in the process of the implementation of the Roadmap. All these actions certainly underline the seriousness of our government's commitment to promoting and protecting labor rights in the country," Momen mentioned in his letter.
As Bangladesh and the USA prepare to celebrate the 50 anniversary of relationship next year, the foreign minister said, he would like to surmount all stumbling blocks standing in the way with mutual trust and confidence in order for ushering in a new chapter of cooperation and partnership.