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Bangladesh’s RAB gets foreign intelligence training in EU | Investigative news


A day later Al Jazeera’s Investigation Unit (my unit) covering the infamous Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) of Bangladesh trained in surveillance and cybersecurity in the UKit can reveal that nine of its members have also received goods and training in at least two European Union countries by 2022.

RAB as an organization and seven individuals currently or previously employed by the organization were sanctioned by the United States in December 2021 under the Global Magnitsky Act for alleged involvement in the conduct human rights violations.

The following year, nine members of the RAB, including one of seven individuals sanctioned by the United States, received training or other services in the Netherlands and Poland.

Since 2010, human rights groups have written extensively about the RAB’s allegations of human rights abuses, which range from forced disappearances to extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) Southeast Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly told Al Jazeera: “We are concerned that these governments may be facilitating the abuses that the RAB has been subjected to. accused and held accountable”.

“These documents suggest that the RAB traveled the world to purchase equipment and receive training.”

When the United States penalize RAB and seven current and former senior RAB officials in 2021, it cited evidence that the organization was involved in at least 600 forced disappearances since 2009 and more than 600 murders. illegals since 2018.

Foreign intelligence training

In March 2022, RAB officers arrived in Poland, where they received training in foreign intelligence, according to documents and statements obtained by Al Jazeera.

Among them was RAB Additional Director General Khan Mohammad Azad, one of seven people sanctioned by the US.

The training in Poland is provided by a company called the European Security Academy (ESA), which provides training to military personnel, law enforcement organizations and private military companies. core.

Later that year, in September, three RAB members traveled to the Netherlands to “take part in a pre-delivery inspection” of police dogs purchased from a company called the Police Dog Center for Team Dogs. of the RAB, the documents reveal.

This is the second time in three years the RAB dog team has come to the Netherlands for such an inspection.

According to RAB documents obtained by Al Jazeera, the Polish and Dutch governments have been forwarded copies of travel notices by the RAB.

Magnitsky Punishment Act

Under the US Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, created to punish human rights violators, US property owned by a sanctioned individual or entity is frozen. and U.S. companies and individuals are prohibited from doing business with them.

According to Amanda Strayer, attorney who oversees the accountability staff at US-based human rights group Human Rights First, RAB officers traveling to Europe show why allies need to work with when it comes to sanctions against human rights violators.

Strayer told Al Jazeera: “We are talking about them going to Europe for training to improve their work.

“The UK, the European Union, Canada, they all have very similar style global Magnitsky sanctions schemes. They all have the ability to sanction the Rapid Action Battalion and sanction those senior officers.”

However, Strayer said, implementing those types of sanctions is particularly difficult for the EU because it is such a large multilateral organization.

“The EU consensus is not something that is easy to come by and that is probably one of the reasons the RAB feels: ‘We should come here because we will be more likely to get out of it’.” she said.

More than 25 European trips

Additional data collected by I-Unit shows that RAB officials have traveled to Europe more than 25 times since 2017. Some of those trips were for training in the use of mass surveillance equipment and other things. Another trip is to test equipment before delivery.

In 2017, then-leader Benazir Ahmed, one of the individuals sanctioned by the US, was a speaker at a police conference in Germany.

RAB members also traveled to China, Russia, Thailand, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates during that time.

All of these trips took place despite reports of human rights abuses by human rights groups for years by the RAB, with reports of abuse by group members returning . More than 10 years.

Force, established in 2004was involved in extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances and torture and was dubbed the “death squad” by HRW.

In March 2021, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said allegations of abuse and torture had been a “longstanding concern”.

Bangladesh is the world’s largest contributor to UN peacekeepers and a UN working group has expressed concern about former RAB members’ eligibility for missions. the case or not.

That poses significant risk, according to Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman, liaison officer at the Asian Commission on Human Rights.

“Organizations like the United Nations need to seriously reconsider if they want murderers to build peace in the world.”

Ashrafuzzaman said the UK and EU should take a close look at their policies towards the RAB: “Despite the US designation of sanctions, the UK and some EU countries are providing training and supplying goods. for these people.

“Diplomacy and development partnerships… should not be outside the very basic principles of democracy and human rights… the core values ​​of the UK and the European Union.”

‘This will raise an eyebrow’

Member of the European Parliament Thijs Reuten from the Netherlands, commenting on the RAB’s trips to the European Union, told Al Jazeera that the reality is that “services can be used for internal repression, especially by an organization that is clearly involved in human rights violations, being able to get in the Netherlands with such ease will certainly raise The Hague’s eyebrows.”

Reuten also referred to a 2014 EU resolution calling on Bangladesh to end RAB punishment, saying he still supported that resolution and that the Bangladesh government should conduct independent investigations into the killings. and forced disappearance.

Although Reuten has made it clear that the EU, US and UK are all separate jurisdictions with separate human rights sanctions regimes, he said: “This new evidence of RAB training on land The EU shows a clear case for better coordination among like-minded partners.”

Reuten told Al Jazeera: “Pending a clear and provable commitment to such investigations, the EU may need to consider harmonizing restrictive measures on the RAB with those of the other parties. his work.

Right to reply

In response to questions from I-Unit, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was aware of US sanctions against the RAB and that it was aware of the human rights situation in Bangladesh, but that the EU had no sanctions. similar and the government is not involved in the purchase of dogs.

It explains that “specially trained dogs are not considered strategic goods (military or dual-use goods), and therefore no export license is required for such transactions. Therefore, the State Department is not involved in the export of specially trained dogs to Bangladesh.”

The spokesman continued: “It is possible that RAB delegations have come to the Netherlands independently over the years. The Dutch embassy or government has no role in such visits. The Netherlands does not offer visas in Bangladesh; this service is performed by another Schengen country.”

The Dutch government said it could not determine whether it received a copy of the intended travel plan.

The Police Dog Center said it “did not recognize the statement mentioned in your letter, we did not have any members of the RAB visiting us in September 2022, nor did we have any any business with them.”

The Polish government, the European Security Academy and the Rapid Action Battalion did not respond to Al Jazeera’s questions.

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