The infamous Rapid Action Battalion was stationed in Poland and the Netherlands despite being accused of making people disappear on their own and killing them without a trial.
One day after Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit (I-Unit) reported that Bangladesh’s notorious Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) received training in cybersecurity and surveillance in the United Kingdom, it can now reveal that nine of its members will also receive goods and training in at least two countries in the European Union in 2022.
In accordance with the Global Magnitsky Act, the United States penalized the RAB as a whole and seven individuals who are currently or formerly employed by it in December 2021 for their alleged involvement in human rights violations.
One of the seven individuals sanctioned by the United States was one of the nine RAB members who received training or other services in the Netherlands and Poland the following year.
Human rights organizations have written a lot about the RAB’s alleged violations of human rights since 2010, including forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and arbitrary arrests.
Meenakshi Ganguly, director of Human Rights Watch Southeast Asia, told Al Jazeera, “We are concerned that these governments are perhaps enabling the abuses that RAB has already been accused of and found responsible for.”
The RAB has been “traveling around the world acquiring equipment and receiving training,” as these documents suggest.
The US cited evidence that the RAB was involved in at least 600 forced disappearances since 2009 and more than 600 extrajudicial killings since 2018. In 2021, the US sanctioned the RAB and seven current and former high-ranking RAB officials.
Training in foreign intelligence
Al Jazeera obtained documents and statements indicating that RAB officers traveled to Poland in March 2022 to receive training in foreign intelligence.
RAB Additional Director General Khan Mohammad Azad, one of the seven individuals sanctioned by the US, was one of them.
European Security Academy (ESA), a company that offers training to military personnel, law enforcement organizations, and private military companies, provided the training in Poland.
According to documents, three RAB members traveled to the Netherlands in September to “participate in a pre-shipment inspection” of police dogs purchased for the RAB’s canine squad from a company called Police Dogs Centre.
It was the second time in three years the RAB canine crew made a trip to the Netherlands for such an examination.
Al Jazeera obtained RAB documents indicating that the RAB sent copies of the travel notices to the governments of the Netherlands and Poland.
Sanctions imposed by the Magnitsky Act
Under the US’s Worldwide Magnitsky Common freedoms Responsibility Act, which was made to punish basic liberties victimizers, US resources possessed by an endorsed individual or association are frozen and US organizations and people are precluded from working with them.
Amanda Strayer, supervising staff lawyer for accountability at Human Rights First, a human rights organization based in the United States, says that RAB officers going to Europe show why allies need to work together to impose sanctions on those who violate human rights.
Strayer stated to Al Jazeera, “We’re talking about them going to Europe to get training to get better at what they do.”
The United Kingdom, the European Union, and Canada all have global Magnitsky sanctions programs that are very similar. Both the Rapid Action Battalion and those senior officers are sanctionable by any of them.
However, because the EU is such a large multilateral organization, it is particularly challenging for it to implement these kinds of sanctions, Strayer stated.
“EU consensus isn’t easy to come by, and maybe that’s one reason why RAB thought:’ She stated, “We ought to go here because it will be much more likely for us to get away with it.”
25 trips to Europe total
The I-Unit gathered additional information that shows that RAB officers have traveled to Europe more than 25 times since 2017. Some of those trips were for equipment pre-shipment inspections and others were for training on how to use mass surveillance equipment.
Benazir Ahmed, its leader at the time, was a speaker at a police conference in Germany in 2017 and is one of the people sanctioned by the US.
During that time, RAB members also went to China, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and China.
Despite the fact that human rights organizations have been bringing to light the RAB’s violations of human rights for more than ten years, none of these trips took place.
HRW has dubbed the 2004-founded organization a “death squad” for its links to extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, and torture.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated in March 2021 that the allegations of torture and mistreatment had been a “longstanding concern.”
A UN working group has expressed concern regarding former RAB members’ eligibility for UN peacekeeping missions, as Bangladesh is the world’s largest contributor.
That entails a significant risk, as stated by Asian Human Rights Commission liaison officer Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman.
“If they want murderers to bring peace to the world, organizations like the UN need to seriously rethink their actions.”
Ashrafuzzaman stated that the United Kingdom and the European Union should examine their RAB policies closely: The United Kingdom and a few EU nations are providing these individuals with goods and training despite the US designation of sanctions.
“The very fundamental principle of democracy and human rights—core values of the UK and the European Union—should not be outside the realm of diplomacy and development partnership.”
Thijs Reuten, a member of the Netherlands’ European Parliament, told Al Jazeera, “services which can be used for internal repression, especially by an organization so clearly linked to human rights violations, can be obtained in the Netherlands with such ease should certainly raise eyebrows in The Hague,” in reference to the RAB’s trips to the European Union.
This ought to cause consternation.
“Services which can be used for internal repression, especially by an organization so clearly linked to human rights violations, can be obtained in the Netherlands with such ease should certainly raise eyebrows in The Hague,” Dutch Member of the European Parliament Thijs Reuten told Al Jazeera in response to the RAB’s trips to the European Union.
Reuten also mentioned a resolution from the EU from 2014 that urged Bangladesh to end the RAB’s impunity, saying that he still supports that resolution and that the government of Bangladesh should conduct independent investigations into the killings and forced disappearances.
Reuten stated: “He made it clear that the EU, the US, and the UK are all separate jurisdictions with separate human rights sanctions regimes.” This brand-new evidence of RAB training in the EU makes it abundantly clear that partners with similar goals should work together more closely.
Reuten stated to Al Jazeera, “The EU might need to consider harmonising its restrictive measures on RAB with its partners” pending a “clear and demonstrable commitment to such investigations.”
Right to respond
The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to questions from the I-Unit by stating that while it is aware of the human rights situation in Bangladesh and the US sanctions against the RAB, the EU does not have similar sanctions and the government was not involved in the purchase of dogs.
It explained, “Specially trained dogs are not considered strategic goods (military goods or dual-use), so there is no need for an export permit for such transactions.” Therefore, the export of specially trained dogs to Bangladesh is not the responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The spokesperson went on to say: It’s possible that RAB delegations have traveled to the Netherlands on their own in the past. These visits have not been facilitated by the Embassy or the Dutch government. Bangladesh does not require a visa from the Netherlands; This service is provided by an additional Schengen nation.
The Dutch government claimed that it was unable to determine whether it had received a copy of the plans for the trip.
“Don’t recognize the statement mentioned in your letter, we didn’t have any members of RAB visit us in September 2022, and also we don’t have any business affairs with them,” the Police Dogs Centre stated.
Al Jazeera did not receive responses from the Polish government, European Security Academy, or Rapid Action Battalion.