Why US sanctions on RAB immoral

Published : 15 Jan 2022 08:55 PM | Updated : 17 Jan 2022 01:11 AM

To the biggest surprise of experts and observers of international relations and foreign policy, the US Department of State recently announced visa restrictions under Section 7031 (c) of the FY 2021 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act on seven security officials of Bangladesh, making them ineligible for entry into the United States. Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a security agency in Bangladesh, is designated pursuant to E.O. 13818 for being a foreign entity that is responsible for or complicit in, or has directly or indirectly engaged in, serious human rights abuse. Additionally, some individuals are designated pursuant to E.O. 13818. The order is titled “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption.” EO 13818 allows the US government to sanction any foreign person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Attorney General. Although the EO is linked with the cause of human rights in principle, the US administration has been discriminately and selectively using it targeting its adversaries. Countries such as China, North Korea, Iran, Cuba, and Sudan are commonly targeted by such immoral executive actions. As of 8 May 2020, global Magnitsky sanctions had been applied to 94 persons, including officials from 24 countries, and 102 entities.

The illegal nature of unilateral coercive measures of the United States in the name of violations of human rights in Bangladesh by its elite security agency, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) is the latest display of politically motivated and diplomatically orchestrated application of sanctions. The US has demonstrated mockery and a ridiculous attitude towards its own diplomatic tools, democracy and human rights in world politics on many occasions in modern history. The extent of absurdity, immorality and selectivity that the Biden administration has applied in targeting Bangladesh in the name of human rights could be understood on three grounds.

First, what is RAB doing in Bangladesh? Like any other state in the world, RAB is an elite security force to deal with sensitive and sophisticated cases of crimes such as deadly attacks by terrorists, drug and narcotics smuggling, recovery of illegal weapons and ammunition, human trafficking, and piracy in the Southern Bangladesh. RAB has a special role in domestic security, recovering illegal weapons, ammunition, explosives and other such items, arresting armed and dangerous terrorists, assisting other law enforcers in the administration only of law, collecting intelligence on terrorists and terrorism, investigating any crime under the order of the government and performing any national duty as directed by the Government. RAB conducted hundreds of operations in performing its duty since its establishment in a volatile domestic security environment of Bangladesh in 2004 marked by the rise of terrorism and militancy and political violence in the country.

Bangladesh has a history of political instability, violence and hartal (general strike). The country suffered enormous economic damages for decades in terms of declining GDP growth, low production in factories and massive disruption in people’s daily lives due to deteriorating law and order situation. RAB has played a huge role in improving law and order and the domestic security situation in Bangladesh for which it received many accolades, including the Freedom Award for its bravery, heroic role, and public service in maintaining law and order. RAB officials have received various medals for their sacrifices to keep Bangladesh safe and secure. The common people have expressed their satisfaction for the contribution of RAB in curbing terrorism, militancy, piracy, human and drug trafficking.

The success and achievements of RAB have certainly come through curtailing the powerful influence of organized criminal networks, vested criminal quarters and applying effective use of violence in Bangladesh. It is almost a common practice all over the world when security agencies are engaged in combating top-level criminals, they face criticisms from within and outside about the extent of use of violence. The Bangladesh case is unique where the role of RAB has deeply been politicised. Opposition political parties, mostly right wing, fundamentalist and religious outfits have attacked RAB for violations of human rights. International rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have highlighted the operations of RAB, not the outcomes and law and order situation of Bangladesh. However, every country maintains RAB-type elite forces and faces similar criticisms from civil society organisations. In the case of Bangladesh, domestic politics has made the issue diluted and distorted. Besides, the local media in Bangladesh have highly polarised, politicised and exaggerated views of domestic issues, which foment the equally politicised civil society to drum up the issue with the international donors and diplomatic missions for better funding opportunities. RAB has its own mechanisms to rectify any abuse of power. The Bangladesh government maintains a strict process of oversight and supervision to the operations of security agencies.   

Second, coming to the practices in different countries in the world, one can see that the elite force has been engaged in high-stake criminal cases and deeply criticised by the local and global media and civil society. From the Philippines to Ukraine, Mexico to Kazakhstan, issues of terrorism, organised crimes such as arms smuggling, narcotic trafficking, human trafficking, fake currency trade, piracy, and chronic local crimes have demanded heavy handed involvement of security agencies to put law and order situation in track. Under the Westphalian order, almost all nations have used their law enforcing agencies to the highest order for maintaining social peace and political stability. Countries like India, Pakistan, China, Nigeria, Ukraine, Colombia, Mexico, the Philippines, Poland, Israel, Hungary, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, Myanmar, Sudan, Thailand, Indonesia, and many more have been continuously engaging their military, para-military, and law enforcing forces in preserving law and order situation and domestic stability in their respective societies. Amnesty International and several human rights groups have graphically published reports on massive violations of human rights in these countries. How many of them have received sanctions from the US and its allies? What has the US done to Israel since 1948 when the country captured the Palestinian territories and instituted one of the worst cases of genocide in human history? 

Third and more ironically, what is happening in the US? It is quite significant to ask when the US has established a self-styled moral police and exercises self-declared global authority of human rights, what are its security agencies doing? Extrajudicial killings, police brutality and torturous practices such as Guantanamo Bay are common in the US. Systemic racism, structural violence, and covert dangerous actions of police motivated by racial supremacy have created a reign of human rights violators in the US. The availability of guns and gun violence has reinforced the violent character of US society. It is widely documented that the US cannot charge security agencies, usually enforcement or army personnel, over extrajudicial executions. Torture and extrajudicial executions tend to overlap, for instance, when abuse concludes in death. In the US, after killing George Floyd by three Minneapolis police officers, the Black Lives Matter Movement of 2020 ignited a groundswell of attention domestically and worldwide. The Movement was founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, three black political organisers in 2013 as a response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer.

Police action resulted in the deaths of at least 1,004 civilians in 2019 and at least 400 in 2020. African American women and men and Latina males are more likely to be slain than white men. African Americans are 2.5 times more likely than white guys to be killed by authorities. Many analysts feel that official government data on police abuse undercount the number of violent confrontations. Unarmed African American men are four times more likely than unarmed white men to be killed by cops when compared to their general population. The police forces target around 4.9 unarmed black men per 1 million American populations. Furthermore, the police authority targets 1.6 Hispanic men per 1 million American populations.

Against this backdrop, it is a rational and logical question that who will impose sanctions on the US security officials? To what extent has the US moral authority to impose sanctions on other countries albeit selectively and arbitrarily? Undoubtedly, the US has lost its case to impose sanctions against Dhaka on such a baseless and diaphanous reason. Yes, there are cases like Myanmar or Israel, where there is an overwhelming global consensus to punish these states for their genocide and ethnic cleansing, but the US remains silent. Why has Dhaka been targeted to impose unjust and immoral sanctions? Does the US policy establishment fall short of ideas and strategies to deal with Bangladesh? It appears that a degree of hollowness and vested interests exist in the corner of the State Department under the current Administration against the interests of Bangladesh. Besides, such a decision undeniably suffers from a romanticised and mooned thoughts and facts from their parrots and unreliable and intensely politicised sources in Bangladesh.

In the conclusion, the US has imposed unilateral coercive measures against a country that has been widely applauded for its moderate and non-communal identity being a Muslim majority nation, democratic polity, women empowerment and humanitarian support to 1.2 million Rohingyas. RAB as an elite security force is performing its own duty in a challenging environment of highly empowered terrorist and criminal networks. The US has deliberately violated its own standard of immorality, selectivity and double standards by applying the so-called sanctions. It has thoroughly compromised credibility of the US as a great power, when such sanctions are introduced without any moral authority and ground. This kind of immoral and unilateral act demonstrates rapid decline of the US power and capability of playing any meaningful role in the present or future regional or global settings. Regardless of the US actions, Bangladesh, a peaceful, friendly and democratic nation in the world, will continue to maintain its head high and contribute to international peace and development.

 - Philip Sarker, a Bangladesh-based journalist and an independent observer of Southeast Asian politics.