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US slaps sanctions on RAB, seven officials for ‘human rights abuse’

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The United States has imposed sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion, its former chief Benazir Ahmed and six other officials in connection with “serious human rights abuse”, making the individuals ineligible for entry into the US, reports.

The US State Department and the Treasury Department on Friday announced extensive human rights-related sanctions on dozens of people and entities tied to Bangladesh, China, Myanmar and North Korea.

The US State Department linked Benazir, the current inspector general of Bangladesh Police, and Lieutenant Colonel Miftah Uddin Ahmed, former commanding officer of RAB Unit 7, to the “extrajudicial” killing of Akramul Haque, a councillor of Teknaf Municipality in Cox’s Bazar, during an anti-drugs operation in May 2018.

Separately, the Treasury Department designated the RAB, Benazir and five other former and current RAB officials under the Global Magnitsky sanctions programme for “serious human rights abuse”.

The five others are Chowdhury Abdullah Al-Mamun, director general of RAB, Khan Mohammad Azad, additional director general of operations, and former additional directors general Tofayel Mustafa Sorwar, Mohammad Jahangir Alam and Mohammad Anwar Latif Khan.

 “Widespread allegations of serious human rights abuse in Bangladesh by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB)—as part of the Bangladeshi government’s war on drugs—threaten US national security interests by undermining the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the economic prosperity of the people of Bangladesh,” the Treasury Department said.

RAB is a joint task force founded in 2004. Its mandate includes internal security, intelligence gathering related to criminal activities, and government-directed investigations. NGOs have alleged that RAB and other Bangladeshi law enforcement are responsible for more than 600 disappearances since 2009, nearly 600 extrajudicial killings since 2018, and torture. Some reports suggest these incidents target opposition party members, journalists, and human rights activists.

Asked about the US sanction, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan defended the action of the law-enforcement agencies as “self-defence”.

“A country of 170 million people naturally has some criminals. And drug dealers use firearms. Our trained forces use arms, and casualties occur when gunfights take place.”

The minister claimed all “extrajudicial killings” are investigated by a magistrate and officials face legal action if they are found to be negligent.

 “So, the term ‘extrajudicial killing’ is incorrect.”

On Friday, the United States also added Chinese artificial intelligence company SenseTime Group to an investment blacklist, Reuters reports.

Canada and the United Kingdom joined the United States in imposing sanctions related to human rights abuse in Myanmar, while Washington also imposed the first new sanctions on North Korea under President Joe Biden's administration and targeted Myanmar military entities, among others, in action marking Human Rights Day.

“Our actions today, particularly those in partnership with the United Kingdom and Canada, send a message that democracies around the world will act against those who abuse the power of the state to inflict suffering and repression," Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in the statement.

The North Korean mission at the United Nations and the Chinese, Myanmar and Bangladesh embassies in Washington did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

UN experts and rights groups estimate more than a million people, mainly Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in China's far-west region of Xinjiang.

China denies abuses in Xinjiang, but the US government and many rights groups say Beijing is carrying out genocide there.

The Treasury said North Korea’s Central Public Prosecutors Office had been designated, along with the former minister of social security and recently assigned Minister of People’s Armed Forces Ri Yong Gil.

US President Joe Biden gathered over 100 world leaders at a virtual summit this week and made a plea to bolster democracies around the world, calling safeguarding rights and freedoms in the face of rising authoritarianism the "defining challenge" of the current era.

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