April 6, 2022
DHAKA – Reaffirming the importance of protecting human rights and freedom of religion, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said lifting sanctions and resuming training of Rab might take time but he recognised the agency’s crucial counterterrorism role.
He also appreciated that Bangladesh is re-examining the Digital Security Act as Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen met him in Washington DC on Monday.
Admitting that Rab might have done some excesses, Momen in the bilateral meeting said there is an built-in system for accountability and those who did something wrong were brought to book.
He also noted that there have been some noticeable developments in the last four months on human rights sector and, a number of personnel have been penalised.
“Bangladeshi law enforcers need training from the US on rules of engagements,” he added.
The talks were held at the Department of State to celebrate and reflect on the 50 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Momen also met US Administrator Samantha Power and later attended a programme at the Bangladesh embassy marking the occasion.
Asked by reporters at the embassy about Blinken’s response, he said there is a certain process that they have to follow. “I am very hopeful about withdrawal of sanctions on Rab.”
Replying to the query if they discussed politics, Momen said they did. “I said we have a transparent, free and fair election system. All parties join the polls, except for one party that was formed by the military.”
He argued that the BNP does not participate in the elections though Bangladesh has a fair and transparent election functionary. “It is your challenge to bring them to election … Our Election Commission is independent. During the elections, they are the boss,” he told Secretary Blinken.
Replying to the question why he was asking the US to bring the BNP to the election, Momen said they complain that the elections in Bangladesh are not free and fair.
It can be mentioned that the US has been critical of the national elections held in 2014, which was boycotted by the BNP, and also the 2018 polls, which the BNP participated from the Oikya Front alliance.
The foreign minister said BNP men are contesting elections independently and they are even winning, yet the party says it doesn’t want to participate in the polls.
Since 2009, when the Awami League assumed office, there have been regular elections in Bangladesh. And voter turnout in Bangladesh is much higher than that in the US, he added.
Momen said he is an Awami League MP from Sylhet where the mayor is a BNP leader. “We work together very well.”
Momen told Blinken that the US has more than 250 years of democracy; yet the US faces problems whereas Bangladesh is a democracy of only 50 years and military-backed regimes ruled for 18 years.
WITHDRAWAL OF SANCTIONS
“Secretary Blinken reaffirmed the importance of protecting human rights, the rule of law, and freedom of religion as the basis for safe and prosperous democratic societies,” said State Department Spokesperson Ned Price in a press statement on the bilateral talks.
This statement is particularly significant as the Biden administration imposed sanctions on Rab and seven of its current and former officials in December on human rights grounds.
It also did not include Bangladesh in the Democracy Summit — a decision that apparently frustrated the Awami League government.
Momen has argued why the sanctions on Rab and officials need to be withdrawn.
“I said there were major problems of militancy and terrorist activities in Bangladesh. There was a grenade attack on an Awami League rally, leaving 24 people dead and over 300 injured. So, people were in fear. Rab was created in this context,” he told Blinken.
“Your former ambassador James Moriarty also said Rab is the FBI of Bangladesh.”
Now, because of the US sanctions, the young people will be discouraged to join Rab that also played important role in combating human trafficking and drug smuggling, he said.
The US secretary of state thanked Bangladesh for voting for the humanitarian resolution on Ukraine in the UN General Assembly, and appreciated the extraordinary generosity in hosting nearly one million Rohingya who fled genocide in Myanmar.
He said he was looking forward to the next 50 years, with tremendous potentials.
Momen, on the other hand, appreciated the US recognition of Rohingya genocide and opined that the US should suspend GSP and re-impose sanctions on Myanmar. He also thanked the US for providing 61 million Covid-19 vaccines.
He sought the secretary of state’s attention and assistance for realising the deportation of Rashed Chowdhury, the convicted killer of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
He wished to work closely with the US for further strengthening the democratic process, and invited Secretary Blinken to visit Bangladesh in the near future.