On 13 April 2022 US Secretary of State Antony Blinken launched The US State Department's annual global report on human rights.
The report stated that there were reports of widespread impunity for security force abuses and corruption in Bangladesh.
"Significant human rights issues included credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance; torture or cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or its agents on behalf of the government," said the 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Bangladesh report.
The report also stated, "The government took few measures to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption and abuse and killing by security forces".
On 17 April 2022, the government of Bangladesh said the US human rights (HR) country report "heavily underplayed" Bangladesh's existing system of accountability over law enforcement agencies while Dhaka remains "intensely engaged" with the UN mechanism and US recommendations to protect human rights.
"The report appears to encourage creating a society of lawlessness to destabilise the society and the government," a statement of foreign ministry said. It added that the legal system of Bangladesh does not allow killing by arbitrary use of firearms.
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam said the government will seek explanation from the US on the report noting that there are fundamental flaws in the report.
'Bangladesh did not assign US this responsibility, nor did the UN'
Professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka
Bangladesh has a multidimensional relationship with the US spanning across multiple sectors.
I think there are three things we need to remember about this report.
Firstly, the report is based on findings from different NGOs and most of these NGOs are donor funded. They do not undertake such projects with their own funding. Since these NGOs are donor funded, especially western ones, they have a compulsion to collect negative news because they fear if there is only positive news their funding will stop. Politics also might or might not play a role here.
Since they are funded by donors, they naturally feel loyal towards whichever country is providing the funding. Even the big NGOs are donor funded, and if they don't get necessary funding, they struggle. This is exactly what happened during the pandemic. The NGOs were not very active during the pandemic. As the western world was also reeling from the effects of the pandemic they couldn't provide the NGOs much money. There is a limitation in this regard.
Secondly, there is a question about the methodology in which this information is collected. Those who collect the information, their methodology is not uniform. The methodology they [local NGOs] use and the methodology used in the USA are not the same. This is an area of weakness as well. In my opinion, both countries need to come together and establish a common methodology.
Thirdly, Bangladesh did not assign this responsibility to the US, nor did the UN. Who burdened them with this responsibility of creating reports on other countries. What is the law regarding this? It is their own law. Is there any credibility of this report in the international community. Neither Bangladesh nor India, nor China - no country gave them this responsibility.
Whatever they are doing might be logical but if they did this after discussing with Bangladesh that would have been ideal. Since we have a strategic partnership with them, whenever those discussions were going on they could have also discussed this.
Bangladeshis also need to know about human rights abuses in the US, otherwise this initiative will lose its credibility. Plenty of instances of human rights abuse in the US are also present. The US police commit extrajudicial killings. Every year on average there are around 1,000 such cases in the US. There was also the Black Lives Matter movement.
Since students from our country go to the US to study they need to know about the human rights abuses there, otherwise they might get into trouble. In fact not only Bangladeshi students, students from the whole Indian subcontinent face similar issues. Hate crimes also take place there.
Whatever the US is doing is important, it is important for all countries. The number is not important, even if there is one extra judicial killing it needs to be prevented.
Bangladesh and the US need to work together in preparing these reports. Otherwise it doesn't help us as the government in power would not accept such reports. The methodology is questionable and the sources are dependent on donors (they were not authorised by the government either). These things need to change. otherwise these reports will only become political issues instead of strengthening democracy.
I don't think this episode has weakened the US-Bangladesh ties. Soon, our army chief is going to visit the US. Since we have a multifaceted relation with the US, I don't think there will be any major issues. But we need to bring extra judicial killings and forced disappearances to zero and all countries should work towards that goal.
'Despite all these reports our exports to the US are steadily increasing'
M Touhid Hossain
Former foreign secretary
To speak frankly, this new human rights report has not really created any new tension. The United States has released reports like this before, throughout the last few years. And there is no real difference between those and this new report.
Our response to the report has also been largely the same. It has become a standard response. The new inclusion is asking for an explanation. Citing the flaws in the report, the government will be demanding an explanation. As far as I know, we have not done this before.
At the same time, wanting an explanation will not amount to much either. It does not necessarily obligate the US government to send a response of its own. Nor would a response from them guarantee a change or improvement in our relations on this topic.
Looking at this report from a strictly domestic point of view, we still have several issues left to solve. Overcoming all of this will not happen suddenly.
The US did not include Bangladesh in President Biden's Democracy Summit held in December last year. But countries ranked lower than us on the Democracy Index were included. So based on that there is already an existing tension and pressure between the two countries.
We have recently had the US-Bangladesh Partnership Dialogue where we discussed several important topics ranging from military cooperation. Despite all these reports our exports to the US are steadily increasing and it is my belief that this will continue.