Inspector General of Police Benazir Ahmed has for the first time addressed the sanctions that were imposed on him by the United States for alleged human rights abuses during his time as chief of the Rapid Action Battalion.
Raising questions about the sanctions at an event in New York on Thursday, Benazir said, "They [the US] alleged that 600 people have gone missing under the RAB's watch since 2009. But I joined the force in 2015. So why am I included in the list?”
"I don't want to blame the US administration or Americans because this was done by those who did not support Bangabandhu [Sheikh Mujibur Rahman] in the 1970 elections and opposed the Liberation War of 1971.”
The 'anti-liberation clique' had been pushing for several years to have the RAB and its representative sanctioned by the US, according to Benazir.
"That quarter hired four lobbying firms at a cost of $25 million annually. Those firms have been trying for three consecutive years to get the so-called sanctions imposed.”
On Dec 10, 2021, Washington imposed sanctions on seven RAB officials, including the force's former head Benazir, citing ‘serious human rights abuses’, reports bdnews24.com.
In response, Dhaka summoned the US ambassador to express its dissatisfaction with the decision. But Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen later said it would require a lengthy process for the US to lift the sanctions.
The move had cast doubts over Benazir's ability to travel to the US in future. But he is currently in New York as part of a Bangladeshi delegation led by Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan for the United Nations Chiefs of Police Summit.
The summit was held at the UN Headquarters from Aug 31 to Sept 1.
After participating in the event, the IGP attended a civic reception organised by the Bangladeshi diaspora in New York. United States Awami League leader Hindal Qadir Bappa presided over the event organized under the banner of the United States Citizens Committee. Consul General of Bangladesh in New York Munirul Islam was also on the stage.
When the sanctions against the RAB were announced last year, the US Treasury Department said there were "widespread allegations of serious human rights abuses" by the force amid the Bangladesh government's war on drugs. This, according to Washington, threatened US national security interests by "undermining the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and Bangladesh's economic progress".
Citing allegations made by non-governmental organisations, the Treasury Department said the RAB and other law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh were responsible for more than 600 disappearances since 2009 and nearly 600 extrajudicial killings and instances of torture since 2018.
The Bangladesh government has always refuted these allegations. Ahead of the trip to New York, Home Minister Khan said that the US imposed the ban "without any specific information".
Benazir, who was appointed as the head of Bangladesh Police in 2020 after a five-year stint as director general of the RAB, did not publicly speak about the issue until now.
"The big truth is that in 2009, I was working as the first secretary of the Bangladesh Mission in New York. The real truth is that no list of 600 missing people has been published anywhere.”
The police chief reiterated the ruling party's concerns about a concerted effort to subvert Bangladesh's sovereignty and government.
“There are 22 information terrorists. They have to answer. If you're a champion of the values you stand for, you have to live up to it."
Highlighting the role of social media in the dissemination of disinformation, Benazir added, “There was once a time when it was thought that social media would revolutionise journalism. But what are we actually seeing now?
“It was hoped that the state of society would be clearly documented. But now, we are seeing the circulation of all kinds of fake and absurd information. Information terrorists are running all kinds of propaganda against the country."
According to him, “spurious materials need to be flushed out as soon as they are seen on Facebook". "We must present the real truth and only then will falsehoods be defeated.”