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RAB’s legal and media wing director Khandaker Abdul Moin told Prothom Alo that the elite force wants the continuation of its ongoing mutual cooperation with the USA.

Asked about the sector where RAB got the US assistance, Khandaker Abdul Moin said the RAB officials have been receiving training under the US programme titled International Criminal Investigation Training Assistance since 2011.

US trainers visited various battalions from September to November that year and held discussions with the commanders. An Internal Inquiry Cell started work officially the next year. Five batches received the training as of 2019. The training was on human rights, human dignity, crime investigation and ways of interrogation.

RAB also said the helicopter used in airlifting patients during corona times was bought from the US. RAB bought the Bell 407 helicopter in 2012. A total of 14 officials in four phases went to the US as of 2018 to get training on the maintenance of the helicopter

The trained RAB men formed its Internal Inquiry Cell. Over 500 RAB men have so far been punished after being convicted by the inquiry cell.

RAB also said the helicopter used in airlifting patients during corona times was bought from the US. RAB bought the Bell 407 helicopter in 2012. A total of 14 officials in four phases went to the US as of 2018 to get training on the maintenance of the helicopter.

Different intelligence equipment, bomb disposal and drug detection gear RAB uses for fighting militancy and in anti-drug drives were bought from the US. 22 RAB officials in eight phases were trained in the US at that time.

Some sources of the law enforcers on condition of anonymity said the US sanctions have given rise to some questions and uneasiness among the RAB men.

Contract cancelled, what next?

RAB was negotiating with a US software company about procuring software. It has been learnt that the US company has already informed them that they would not sell the software to RAB anymore.

Relatives of some RAB officials are at present studying in the US and Canada. Many of them fear that sending money to them or continuation of their studies might get hampered. Some officials are scheduled to go to the US for training and they have their visas. It is not clear if the visa would remain valid or not.

Sources of law enforcers said there had already been indications that RAB might be sanctioned. Even a bipartisan group of senators in last year’s October urged the US state and treasury departments to impose sanctions on senior commanders of RAB.

What needs to be done?

Allegations of serious violations of human rights against Bangladeshi law enforcers are nothing new. Within just 10 months of RAB’s formation, a leaked diplomatic cable of the US embassy in 2005 referred to the extrajudicial killings of RAB and said the elite force’s activities can impact the 2007 general election and US interests in Bangladesh.

RAB officials ask why the sanctions were imposed so long after expressing concern in 2005. But regardless of the reason for sanctions, RAB wants the matter to be settled diplomatically. They apprehend that they will have to face more problems till the next election.

Hasan Mahmud Khandakar was director general of RAB from 2007 to 2010. Prothom Alo asked him whether the allegations of US authorities such as extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance against RAB should be investigated.

Hasan Mahmud, also a former ambassador to Spain and former inspector general of police, maintained that the US could have specified the reasons for imposing sanctions as friendly relations exist between the two countries. These matters could be discussed in diplomatic channels.

Hasan Mahmud, also a former ambassador to Spain and former inspector general of police, maintained that the US could have specified the reasons for imposing sanctions as friendly relations exist between the two countries. These matters could be discussed in diplomatic channels.

Asked if any incident of extrajudicial killing took place during his tenure, the former RAB DG said, there might be incidents of killing but no killing can be defined as extrajudicial unless defined as such by the court. Many incidents happen during raids. Some might even engage in criminal activities and face legal actions for their wrongdoings. But it is not condign to raise wholesale allegations.

It has been learnt that the US authorities in recent times asked the government to investigate the killing of Ekramul Haque and at least six others and inquired about the government’s stance on these killings. The senators also referred to 400 incidents of extrajudicial killing.

The treasury department alleged that there were “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 US treasury department also quoted NGOs as saying that RAB is responsible for more than 600 disappearances since 2009, nearly 600 extrajudicial killings and torture since 2018.

The US state department imposed sanctions on the inspector general of police Benazir Ahmed and former commander of RAB-7 Miftahuddin Ahmed over the murder of Teknaf municipality councillor Ekramul Haque. Police claimed that the incident is under trial but Ekramul’s wife Ayesha Begum told Prothom Alo that she does not know anything about the trial.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Galib Ashraf.

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