A visiting senior US State Department official has praised the Rapid Action Battalion’s effort to reduce the number of extrajudicial killings after his country imposed a sanction on the elite force, saying the US recognises the effort.
Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Donald Lu, however, did not indicate whether the US authorities would consider lifting the sanction soon.
“We had quite good discussions about the RAB. If you have seen the statement this week by HRW [Human Rights Watch], they recognised and we recognise tremendous progress in the area of reducing extrajudicial killings by the RAB. This is amazing work,” Lu said during a joint press briefing on Sunday after meetings with Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen and Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen. “It shows that RAB is able to carry out this important counter-terrorism and law enforcement function while respecting human rights.”
On Dec 10, 2021, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on RAB as well as seven of its current and former officers, citing serious human rights violations.
Lu also said his country will actively look forward to working with its partners in Bangladesh to establish freedom of speech and expression and offer suggestions if necessary.
“We had very honest and open discussions today. The US has made a commitment to democracy and human rights that we will speak when we see problems and where we can offer suggestions, we will stand up for freedom of speech, freedom expression and we look forward to working very closely with our partners here in Bangladesh,” he said.
During a Q&A session, the US official also highlighted the progress Bangladesh made in labour rights, saying he discussed the matter at great length with Salman F Rahman, Bangladesh prime minister’s private industry and investment adviser, at a meeting earlier in the day, and suggested that there are rooms for improvement there.
“One of the things we are very proud of is our dialogue on labour rights, such an important issue for Bangladeshi people, for our trade relationship,” Lu said.
“We can cooperate on the improvement of labour rights in this country, I am very confident we are gonna make progress here.”
Regarding the American Indo-Pacific Strategy or IPS, Lu said Bangladesh is one of the focal points of the strategy.
“We had a wonderful discussion about the IPS. It’s a strategy, it’s not a club, you don’t join. The US is expressing our desire for more resources, more attention to the Indo-Pacific including right here to Bangladesh,” he said.
While answering a question about Bangladesh’s chances of re-enlisting in the Generalised System of Preference or GSP system, he said the US government is still waiting for a nod about it from the legislative branch, the US Congress.
“We are still waiting for our Congress to authorise GSP to any countries. But we are working very closely with the government. So when it is authorised, the first country on the list will be Bangladesh.”
At the briefing, Minister Momen said the two sides had a “very constructive” discussion regarding bilateral matters and he is glad to find out that both sides are “almost on the same page” on several fronts.
Momen also said his government will consider any suggestion for the welfare of the people of Bangladesh.
“We welcome any suggestion for the welfare of the people of Bangladesh. We surely will take those suggestions into consideration if we fall short on any issue and will try to resolve it,” he said.
Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen echoed the minister at the briefing, saying he also had an open discussion with Lu on issues of mutual interest.
“The US and Bangladesh relationship is multi-faceted and multi-dimensional based on a solid foundation. Ever since his arrival, Mr Donald Lu had a number of useful meetings and I also had a very frank and open discussion with him on issues of mutual interest from trade to investment, labour rights, sanctions, human rights, democracy to development as well as our views on the Indo-Pacific,” he said.
“We reached a consensus that like last year the US and Bangladesh will remain engaged to take forward our discussions on all issues with time-bound concrete goals, through our sincere efforts, utilising all the avenues and existing mechanisms. We would like to elevate our relations to a higher level.”
‘EVERYONE HAS POLITICAL RIGHTS’
The state of Bangladesh’s politics and the next general election came up in the meetings held by Lu in Dhaka.
After his meeting with the US official, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said Lu was happy about the government decision to allow the BNP to hold the party’s Dhaka rally on Dec 10.
“He said everyone has the right to do politics. We said we respect everyone's political rights. This is why we are not obstructing their [BNP’s] peaceful demonstration.”
“But we object to their action when they destroy public property, open fire or block streets. Otherwise, they are free to speak as a political party.”
The home minister said he also noted the law that stipulates the handover of control of the law-enforcing agencies to the Election Commission three months before parliamentary elections.
“We're working to keep the peace until then following orders from the prime minister.”