US Increases Diplomatic Pressure on Bangladesh for Police Reform
Héloïse Regnault de Montgon
East & South Asia Human Rights Researcher
Global Human Rights Defence
On February 15, 2023, US State Department Counselor Derek Chollet visited Bangladesh as part of a South Asian tour, where he met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka (France 24, 2023). During his visit, Chollet discussed security cooperation with Bangladeshi government representatives. This issue is normally a point of agreement between the US and Bangladesh. The counter-terrorist policies led by Bangladesh facilitate cooperation with the US, which maintain good relations with the South Asian country (France 24, 2023).
However, the US has expressed concerns over the state of human rights and the political climate in Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina’s party, the Awami League, has been running the country as an authoritarian regime. At the end of his visit, Chollet stated: “"If there's an erosion in democracy anywhere, it starts to put a limiting factor on what we can do together. We are committed to continuing to help Bangladesh strengthen the rule of law and security. Until we see accountability, until we see sustained reform, we are not going to be able to turn the page on this" (France 24, 2023).
Chollet was the most senior diplomat to visit Dhaka since the US imposed sanctions on the regime for the actions of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladeshi police (France 24, 2023). The RAB has been sanctioned by the US over allegations of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings (Regnault de Montgon, 2023). The repression of political opponents remains strong in the country, and over 2,500 Bangladeshi have allegedly been killed by the police since 2009. The regime denies these accusations (France 24, 2023).
Bangladesh has violated several international obligations concerning the protection of human rights. While the country has not ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED), it has ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) in 1998, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2000 (United Nations, n.d.). Article 9(1, 4, 5) of the ICCPR states: “1. Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention,” “4. Anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that that court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful, ” and “5. Anyone who has been the victim of unlawful arrest or detention shall have an enforceable right to compensation.”. Article 17 of the ICCPR states: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation” (UN Human Rights, 1966). Many political opponents of the regime have been forcibly removed from their home, publicly accused of terrorism and imprisoned without a trial. All of these acts clearly violate Articles 9(1, 4, 5) and 17 of the ICCPR.
In addition, alleged acts of torture of political opponents is a clear violation of the CAT, and especially of Article 2: “Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction” (UN Human Rights, 1984). As this was allegedly committed by Bangladeshi police officers, this is a crime and a violation of the CAT which Bangladesh ratified in 1998 (United Nations, n.d.). The fact that the police shot and killed political opponents who were protesting against the regime is also a violation of Article 21 of the ICCPR: “The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized” (UN Human Rights, 1966). The rights of political opponents such as BNP members (the opposing party), who organised a peaceful protest were also violated as per Article 21 of the ICCPR.
The US has generally been cordial with the Bangladeshi government for reasons of mutual security interests over counter-terrorism in the region (France 24, 2023). Although they sanctioned the regime over human rights abuses, Bangladesh remains a strategic partner.
DFID - UK Department for International Development. (2014). Sheikh Hasina, Honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh[photograph]. Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/oqt7jp.
France 24. (2023, February 16). US says Bangladesh sanctions to remain until police reform. AFP. https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20230216-us-says-bangladesh-sanctions-to-remain-until-police-reform.
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UN News. (2022, March 14). UN experts urge Bangladesh to end reprisals against human rights defenders and relatives of the disappeared. UN News. https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/03/un-experts-urge-bangladesh-end-reprisals-against-human-rights-defenders-and.
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