Completing the two-day visit to India, US assistant secretary of state Donald Lu arrived in Dhaka from Delhi Saturday night. He along with the US ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas went directly from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport to the Eskaton residence of foreign minister AK Abdul Momen. There he attended a dinner organised in honour of the influential envoy of the US state department.

Donald Lu passed a very busy day on the second day of his visit on Sunday until leaving Dhaka. He began the day with a courtesy call on Salman F Rahman, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s adviser to private industry and investment. Then he exchanged views with labour leaders at Gulshan. From there he went to the foreign ministry and held a meeting with foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen.

We also recognise this progress. This is amazing work. It shows the RAB is able to carry out important counter-terrorism and law enforcement functions while respecting human rights
Donald Lu, US assistant secretary of state for the bureau of south and central Asian affairs

Following this, Donald Lu paid a courtesy call on foreign minister AK Abul Momen and state minister for foreign affairs Md. Shahriar Alam. Later, Lu attended a lunch the foreign secretary organised in his honour. At the foreign service academy.

He also paid a courtesy call on home minister Asaduzzaman Khan and law minister Anisul Huq there. At night, he joined a dinner along with several civil society members at the residence of Peter Haas.

Discussion of RAB positive

Many had eyes on the issue of sanctions the US imposed on Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) especially during the visit of Donald Lu. The sanctions the US imposed on allegations of serious violations of human rights has put the government in an embarrassing situation.

With foreign minister AK Abdul Momen and foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen on either side, Donald Lu at a joint press conference said, “We had quite good discussion on RAB (Rapid Action Battalion). If you notice the statement of Human Rights Watch, you will see it has been admitted about the tremendous progress in decreasing extrajudicial killings by RAB has been achieved. We also recognise this progress. This is amazing work. It shows the RAB is able to carry out important counter-terrorism and law enforcement functions while respecting human rights.

Democracy and human rights

At the joint press briefing the foreign minister, foreign secretary and the US assistant secretary termed the discussions as “very honest” and “open”.

Donald Lu started his speech saying in Bangla, “I’m happy to come to Bangladesh, the country of beautiful rivers and beaches and above all hospitable people.”

Referring to Washington’s position towards democracy and human rights, Donald Lu said, “The United States is committed to protecting democracy and human rights. We will speak up whenever we see a problem and we will offer advice. We will stand for freedom of speech and freedom of expression. We want to work closely with our partners in Bangladesh.”

Foreign minister AK Abdul Momen said, “We can resolve any doubts between us through discussions. We accept any suggestions, we’ve proved that already. If we have any weaknesses, we will take them into account and try to overcome them.

Referring to the election, the foreign minister said, “The government wants free, fair and credible elections. Awami League has always come to power through democratic process.”

Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan also told the media on Sunday afternoon that Donald Lu brought the matter of elections and politics up for discussion. After the meeting with Donald Lu, he said at the Foreign Service Academy, “We ensured an environment for holding their (BNP) rally peacefully on 10 December. They (US) are pleased with that. They (United States) said, everyone has the right to carry out political activities. We said, we follow that. That is why, we do not create any obstacle in any peaceful programme carried out by BNP.”

The home minister further said, “We bar them when they (BNP) damage people’s property, carry out arson and block roads.”

He also said the US assistant secretary of state was informed that the prime minister wants a fair election as well.

Labour rights need improvement

In a joint press conference, foreign secretary Masud bin Momen said, “We had a clear and open discussion with Donald Lu on matters of mutual interest, from trade to investment, labour rights, sanctions, human rights, democracy and development, as well as our views on the Indo-Pacific issue.”

Donald Lu said the US can help improve the labour rights situation in Bangladesh. There is room for improvement in this area. Regarding the reinstatement of Bangladesh’s GSP in the United States, he said, “His government is awaiting the decision of the Congress to approve the GSP. We are working closely on it. Bangladesh will appear on top of the list whenever it gets approval.”

Referring to the discussion on the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS), an initiative introduced by the US, Lu said, “There was an excellent discussion on the IPS. It is actually a strategy, not a club."

Dinner at ambassador’s residence

The United States expects that the upcoming elections in Bangladesh will be participatory involving the major political parties, but not under any outside the pressure or influence. Donald Lu made this comment about the upcoming elections in Bangladesh on Sunday night at a dinner with representatives of the civil society at the residence of US ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas.

Former caretaker government advisor Hossain Zillur Rahman, women activist Shirin Haque, executive director of Ain O Salish Kendra Nur Khan and immigration expert Tasneem Siddiqui joined in the dinner.