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Call for sanctions on Bangladesh officials over disappearances

Rights groups claim Rapid Action Battalion is linked to many extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: August 31, 2021 05:05 AM GMT

Updated: August 31, 2021 05:22 AM GMT

Call for sanctions on Bangladesh officials over disappearances

Family members and relatives of disappeared people demand government action to get back their loved ones during a human chain in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on May 25, 2019. (Photo: UCA News)

Three leading rights watchdogs have called on foreign governments to impose targeted sanctions against Bangladeshi security force commanders for their involvement in enforced disappearances of hundreds of activists, critics and opposition activists.

The call was made in a joint statement from Human Rights Watch (HRW), Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Asian Human Rights Commission on Aug. 30, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances

HRW published a report on Aug. 16 that documented widespread enforced disappearances by security forces under the ruling Awami League government from 2009 to 2020. However, Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen rejected the findings and told the media the allegations were “fabricated.”

“The Bangladesh government has demonstrated absolutely no interest in investigating the role of its security forces in hundreds of enforced disappearances,” Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, said in the statement.

“Governments should act to ensure that the Bangladesh security force officials responsible face sanctions on their international travel, overseas assets and use of international financial services.”

The groups said many enforced disappearances have been linked to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite anti-terror police unit made up of current and former military soldiers. Since its formation in 2004, the RAB has been hailed for successful anti-terror and anti-drug raids, but it has also became infamous for alleged involvement in extrajudicial killings and disappearances.

HRW has described the RAB as a 'death squad' and repeatedly called on the government to disband it

In 2014, two commanders and 23 members of the RAB were charged with the abduction and contract killing of seven people. On Jan. 16, 2017, a court sentenced them to death for the murders.

HRW has described the RAB as a “death squad” and repeatedly called on the government to disband it.  

Sanjida Islam Tuli, the sister of Sajedul Islam Sumon, a member of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), claims that plainclothes RAB members picked up her brother and his five friends in capital Dhaka ahead of the national election on Jan. 5, 2014. They never came back, Tuli earlier told UCA News, adding that police refused to register any complaint over allegations of abduction against the RAB.

The rights groups said the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, Canada, Australia and other countries have laws authorizing governments to impose sanctions on human rights abusers and prohibit visas or entry, seize assets and block access to banking and other financial services.

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On Aug. 24, the Guernica 37 Chambers law offices made a formal submission to the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office recommending sanctions for 15 current and former senior RAB officers for involvement in human rights abuses and corrupt practices under the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020.

In October 2020, US senators published a bipartisan letter calling for individual sanctions against top RAB officials for extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and torture under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and section 7031(c) of the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020.

Imposing sanctions on high-level officials implicated in enforced disappearances could prompt the resolution of cases, spur accountability and deter future abuses, the groups said.

The activists said UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres should ban RAB officers from participating in UN peacekeeping missions and urged the US Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs to ensure that any of its support is not used to train RAB members for deployment in UN peacekeeping operations.

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