The United States on Friday sanctioned RAB and seven of its present and former top officials for "human rights abuse and repression." The US Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated 15 individuals and 10 entities from North Korea, Myanmar, China and Bangladesh.
In addition, the US State Department has barred Benazir Ahmed, current Inspector General of the Bangladesh Police and former Director General of Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), and Miftah Uddin Ahmed, Lieutenant Colonel and former commanding officer of RAB Unit 7, from travelling to the US.
As the reports are making headlines in Bangladesh and across the world, The Business Standard has reached out to human rights activists and international relations experts for their observations on the latest development.
"This sanction has put stain on our national image"
Nur Khan as told to TBS
It seems to me that the six people who have been sanctioned here likely have been held accountable because they hold responsible positions. They are at the top of the chain of command.
Over the past decade, human rights activists and human rights groups in Bangladesh have repeatedly called on the government to set up an independent commission of inquiry into the disappearances and 'crossfires.'
But the problem is that those who run the state of Bangladesh have shown indifference in this regard. Many of their comments on this matter are ridiculous.
For example, they often say that missing persons are indebted, so they are hiding. Attempts have also been made to justify the crossfire incidents as 'gunfire' between the two sides. But ordinary people and human rights activists are convinced that they are all extrajudicial killings or enforced disappearances.
Despite the demands, no action has been taken by the government, it has been side-lined. It has exposed the weakness of the state as well. No state can survive alone in the current world. A state depends on another for business, culture, language and various other reasons. Just the way we depend on the United States for many reasons, similarly, the US is also dependent on us for many reasons. So, a country has responsibilities and obligations with whom it will maintain relations, and do business.
So, the US obviously observes the democracy of a country and its human rights situation. And that is the basis on which they determine their relationship.
Probably this is why the US has imposed sanctions on RAB and some of its officials, and they are also saying that the sanctioned persons' properties in the US will be confiscated. This incident has put a stain on our national image.
If the government had earlier taken action by setting up an independent commission of inquiry into these matters, the responsibility would not be on the state today.
Today's responsibility is not only on the six individuals, but also on the former or current members of the organisation they belong to, and if it continues, the state also will not be able to pass that responsibility.
Nur Khan is a Human Rights Activist
"Bangladesh needs to resolve this issue on its own"
Prof Imtiaz Ahmed as told to TBS
I don't think it will have a big impact. The United States occasionally takes such steps. There is no doubt that extrajudicial killings are very bad. But every year, the US has a higher number of extrajudicial killings than in Bangladesh. Moreover, there are several countries in South Asia where extrajudicial killings are taking place, these take place even in our India-Bangladesh border. It happens in Pakistan as well. But we do not see any such action against those countries.
From that point on, the question remains what kind of information did they (the US) get, and what is the basis of their decision. It could be that they have chosen a few countries to show that they want to work on democracy. However, it will not create an impact on a large scale. And I don't think it will degrade Bangladesh-US relations.
However, as I said, extrajudicial killings are not justifiable, so Bangladesh needs to solve this problem on its own. In our own interest, any extrajudicial killing or disappearance must be thoroughly investigated.
Many extrajudicial killings - not all - are linked to drug trafficking. And it is important for the US to know that many countries have a zero-tolerance policy on drugs. So, will we allow drugs to spread across the country, or will we take a tougher stance against it? If it could always be done lawfully, then it would be better. But that is not possible.
Moreover, as I said, many smugglers are regularly killed on the Indo-Bangladesh border, and almost all of them are unarmed. But the US never takes any action or says anything to India about those killings.
So I will say this again, this is an internal issue that Bangladesh needs to resolve on its own. Bangladesh is the eighth most populous country in the world. However, if I look at the number of extrajudicial killings, the number of such killings in Bangladesh is much less than in the United States.
So if a country itself is plagued by a problem, and they want to solve the same problem of other countries, then there will be no solution. It will remain a political issue.
Dr Imtiaz Ahmed is a professor of International Relations at the University of Dhaka.
"Bangladesh needs to look into the matter with absolute priority"
Shahab Enam Khan as told to TBS
The Sanction that has been issued by the US authority sends a strong message to Bangladesh on multiple grounds including its renewed foreign policy and values that are different from the previous Trump administration.
This is a critical message which has come immediately after the conclusion of the democracy summit. The timing is important here. Therefore, Bangladesh needs to look into the matter with absolute priority. Necessary initiatives to deal with such an allegation and sanctions through diplomatic, political and every other means should be channelised.
However, it is disappointing to see that Bangladesh has been put in line with countries such as North Korea or Myanmar which significantly stands different, both in terms of human rights records and political standing, in the global, regional and the domestic scale.
Shahab Enam Khan is a professor of International Relations at Jahangirnagar University