Blake says RAB involved in disappearance, extrajudicial killingsDiplomatic Correspondent
The United States has said there were credible reports that the Rapid Action Battalion, a paramilitary law enforcement group made up of policemen and army soldiers, is involved with some extrajudicial killings and disappearances.
‘Due to “Leahy vetting requirements”, we are barred from providing RAB with any form of training other than that related to human rights,’ said Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs in his testimony at Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of U.S. Congress in Washington on Thursday.
He said the U.S. Government embedded a retired U.S. marshal within RAB for four months last year to help stand up and operationalise an internal affairs unit that will provide a much-needed mechanism to hold accountable those who commit human rights violations.
In his testimony on human rights situation in Bangladesh, Blake said during secretary Hillary Clinton’s Dhaka visit in May she also raised many serious concerns about human rights issues with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, as well as with leading members of Bangladeshi civil society and at events with the press and the public at large.
He said the secretary’s public and private remarks underscore this administration’s consistent policy of raising human rights concerns with the Bangladesh government in order to safeguard Bangladesh’s role as a moderate democracy with a vibrant press and dynamic civil society.
Blake said secretary Clinton noted the US concern about the murder of labor rights activist Aminul Islam and the disappearance of opposition leader Ilyas Ali. ‘The rights of workers were also front-and-center on the Secretary’s visit to Bangladesh,’ he said.
On trade union rights, the US state department official said they have urged the
Bangladesh government to allow workers to freely form unions, and allow organisations that seek to protect worker’s rights to operate freely.
‘This is not only an ethical question, but also one that has the potential to have a huge impact on the Bangladeshi economy,’ Blake cautioned.
He said American and other foreign buyers are ‘increasingly unwilling’ to have their valuable brand names associated with abuse of garment workers’ rights and it is clearly in Bangladesh’s interests to make progress on this issue.
Saying that the civil society has been Bangladesh’s calling card for decades, Blake said maintaining the traditional vibrancy of Bangladeshi civil society is a priority for the State Department.
‘… We are concerned by reports from some local NGOs that space for civil society is shrinking. Nearly two years after the resignation of Dr. Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank has been without a permanent managing director at its helm.’
Blake said while the Grameen Bank has continued its good work, the US has emphasized both to the government and the Grameen Board the importance of finding a qualified replacement for Dr. Yunus who is acceptable to all sides and who can preserve the integrity and effectiveness of the Bank.
About the government decision not to receive the Rohingyas fleeing the recent Myanmar violence, he said, ‘We’ve also been disappointed by Bangladesh’s policy of turning away Rohingyas and other individuals fleeing ethnic and sectarian violence in Burma since early June.’
He said: ‘This stands in marked contrast to the country’s traditional policy of non-refoulement. The U.S. Government has and will continue to raise concern for the well-being of these individuals at the highest levels.’
The US official, however, praised the government as encouraging for passing a comprehensive anti-trafficking-in-persons legislation that, when fully enforced, could make a huge difference in protecting some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens.
Blake said while Bangladesh has made progress in protecting women and children victims of trafficking, this law is the first of its kind in Bangladesh that also guards against the exploitation of male laborers.
He described Bangladesh as a successful moderate, tolerant, secular, democratic alternative to violent extremism, and as a model for lifting millions of poverty, providing an important voice for regional stability, contributing more than any other country to UN peacekeeping.
‘Bangladesh is of strategic importance to the United States. But it still faces many challenges that the U.S. is working with and encouraging Bangladesh to address,’ said the US assistant secretary.
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