UK Refuses to Sanction Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion

    Photo: Abir Abdullah/EPA

    The Facts

    • According to an Al Jazeera investigation, the UK reneged on imposing sanctions on Bangladesh’s anti-terrorism paramilitary unit Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) despite the US doing so in 2021. Though the Foreign Office hasn't clarified or explained the decision, UK barrister Toby Cadman believes a "lack of evidence" may be a factor.

    • In December 2021, the US Treasury Department imposed human rights-related sanctions on RAB and seven of its present and former top officials for alleged human rights abuse and repression. The sanctions were imposed under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.


    The Spin

    Narrative A

    Sanctions against the RAB are immoral and illegitimate. The group has protected Bangladesh against terrorism for 18 years and, as an elite security force, it's entirely within its rights to handle sensitive and potentially deadly cases as it sees fit. The sanctions club Bangladesh with human rights violators like North Korea, China, Russia, and Iran, which could profoundly affect Bangladesh's status as the third most peaceful country in South Asia.

    Narrative B

    It may hide behind a veil of legitimacy, but the RAB is no different from global militant groups who kill and quash human rights at their discretion, without any accountability. The so-called security force is a de facto death squad, that has roamed the streets of Bangladesh and operated with impunity for decades. Mere whispering of its initials brings chills down the spines of activists and political rivals. The US sanctions are justified, as crossfires have become synonymous with extra-judicial killings in Bangladesh.


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