Bangladesh sanctions to remain until police reform: US

Visiting US State Department counsellor Derek Chollet briefs the media at the foreign ministry in Dhaka on 15 February 2023.Collected

The United States will not lift sanctions on an elite Bangladesh police unit accused of extrajudicial killings until it is reformed, a top US envoy visiting the country has said.

State Department Counselor Derek Chollet visited the South Asian country this week where he discussed security cooperation with government representatives in Dhaka.

The diplomat is one of the most senior US officials to travel to Bangladesh since Washington sanctioned the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) over human rights violations.

"If there's an erosion in democracy anywhere, it starts to put a limiting factor on what we can do together," Chollet said at the conclusion of his trip on Wednesday.

"We are committed to continuing to help Bangladesh strengthen the rule of law and security," he said of the sanctions.

"Until we see accountability, until we see sustained reform, we are not going to be able to turn the page on this."

Dhaka and Washington normally have warm relations. They cooperate on security issues and Bangladesh often votes alongside the United States at the United Nations.

But the United States and other Western governments have expressed concern over the political climate in Bangladesh, where Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's party dominates the legislature and runs it virtually as a rubber-stamp parliament.

Around 2,500 Bangladeshis have allegedly been killed by security forces since Hasina came to power in 2009, according to rights group Odhikar.

The RAB is accused by rights groups of killing political opponents and staging gunfights to deny victims due legal process.

The government denies the allegations of disappearances and extrajudicial killings, with one minister saying that some of those who went missing in fact fled Bangladesh.

The US sanctions, imposed in December 2021, include asset freezes and visa bans on seven top current or former RAB officials.

Chollet met with Hasina in Dhaka and is concluding his South Asia tour with an official visit to Pakistan.