Dhaka: Gregory W Meeks, the chair of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, on Saturday backed the Biden administration’s targeted sanction on an elite Bangladeshi security agency over alleged human rights issues last year, but said the situation did not warrant any “wholesale” action on the entire country.

The US State Department and Treasury Department on December 10, 2021 slapped separate sanctions on Bangladesh’s elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and seven of its present and former top or senior officials over allegations of serious human rights abuse.

I believe sanctions can be most useful when they are targeted and don’t believe wholesale sanctions on Bangladesh are currently warranted, said Meeks, a Democrat, in a statement issued by the foreign affairs committee.

Meeks said: “I continue to support the strengthening of the US-Bangladesh relationship and look forward to working to help address human rights and democracy challenges in the country, including ensuring that the country’s next elections are free and fair in 2023.”

RAB draws personnel from army, navy and air force alongside regular police while Bangladesh’s incumbent police chief Benazir Ahmed too was one of the men to be named in the list while he previously headed the elite unit.

The US simultaneously barred two officials from travelling to the United States and might even have their assets in the US confiscated.

The US decision, however, drew a sharp reaction in Dhaka with the government criticising the sanctions and calling for its reconsideration.

“We are surprised by the move. We think there is scope for re-examination against the allegations,” foreign minister AK Abdul Momen wrote in a letter to his US counterpart Antony Blinken.

Defending RAB, he added: “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”.

Rights groups and critics welcomed the US move to ensure the security agencies’ accountability while according to media reports no major extra-judicial killing took place since the sanction was slapped.

Most extra-judicial killings previously were dubbed as cross fires on the line of encounters with criminal gangs when law enforcement agencies fought in self-defence.

“Widespread allegations of serious human rights abuse in Bangladesh by RAB as part of the Bangladeshi government’s war on drugs threaten US national security interests by undermining the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the economic prosperity of the people of Bangladesh,” the US Treasury Department had said.

It also referred to NGOs allegations that RAB and other Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies were responsible for more than 600 disappearances since 2009, nearly 600 extrajudicial killings since 2018, and torture and some reports suggest these incidents target opposition party members, journalists, and human rights activists”.

The State Department announced travel bans on police’s incumbent and RAB’s former chief Ahmed and Miftah Uddin Ahmed, a military lieutenant colonel and former commanding officer of RAB’s Unit 7.

Both were targeted for their “involvement in the May 2018 extrajudicial killing of coastal Teknaf City Municipal Councilor Ekramul Haque in the Bangladeshi coastal district of Cox’s Bazar.”

Several of the cases, however, were referred to the judicial system while a court in a small coastal Cox’s Bazar town earlier this week handed down death penalties to two police officers for their direct involvement in the extra-judicial killing of a retired army officer.

The two police inspectors made an abortive attempt to stigmatise ex-military major Sinha Mohammad Rashed as a drug peddler while he emerged as documentary maker and protested the police activities.

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