Recently, on 30 August 2021, the United States lawmakers on the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission observed the International Day on the Disappeared by bringing the allegation of ‘increasing use of enforced disappearance’ to silence dissents and ‘independent media’ in Bangladesh. The Commission alleged that since 2009, Bangladesh security forces, the elite paramilitary unit Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in particular, had been linked to about 600 cases of enforced disappearances. Referring to a report from Human Rights Watch, the congressional body adds that there has been a ‘persistent refusal by Bangladeshi authorities to investigate and hold perpetrators accountable‘ and ‘to address the culture of impunity or to disband the notorious RAB‘.
The Commission urged US Congress to play proactive role to put an end to these alleged inhumane practices. Some human rights activists who attended the Commission’s virtual hearing even demanded that the US impose targeted sanctions on Bangladesh based on such allegation.
Previously, in 2020, Senator Bob Menendez, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was joined by Senator Todd Young in leading eight of their Senate colleagues in calling on the Trump administration to impose sanctions on senior commanders of RAB for alleged extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture.
No Mirror at Uncle Sam’s Home
Although the United States tends to present itself as a ‘world human rights defender’, fighting abuses of humanity as a ‘global cop’, credible reports and research data suggest that systematic and large-scale human rights violations are persistent in the United States..
Since the US Congressional body has been particularly vocal about the cases of human rights abuses by Bangladesh’s security forces, for the sake of perspective, one may take a look into the human rights records of one of the most ruthless security forces in the world that is the United States governmental police agencies.
In the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown in 2014, an 18-year-old African American fatally shot by police force of Ferguson, Missouri, the Washington Post started to log every fatal shooting by on-duty police officers all over the US. As of September 30, 2021, the Post recorded more than 5,000 fatal shootings since 2014, with an average annual death toll of nearly 1,000. Even as the US Covid-19 lockdown did not seem to make any dent on fatal shootings carried out by police officers. According to the Washington Post, at least 937 people have been killed in 2020 by US police agencies all over the country.
Another shocking discovery came to fore as this piece is being written. Citing a study, conducted by researchers at the University of Washington and published in the Lancet, the New York Times, on September 30, 2021, reported that fatal police encounters in America have been massively undercounted by more than half over the last four decades. The study unveiled a startling discrepancy that about 55 percent of all police shootings and other fatal encounters between 1980 and 2018 were listed as another cause of death, owing to the contentious role of medical examiners and coroners in an attempt to obscure the extent of police violence in the US.
In addition to its predilection for resorting to violence and shooting innocent civilians with zero attempt to diffuse a tense situation, racial bias has emerged as an identifying feature of US’ law enforcement agencies. While the black population in the US account for less 13 percent of total population, they make nearly a third of total number of people killed by law enforcement agencies. According to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), black males are almost 2.5 times more likely to be killed by US police agencies compared to white men.
Racial bigotry runs so deep in US police forces that not only black and Hispanic civilians, but veterans of US military belonging to races other than Caucasian, also frequently face tense encounter with US Police. In 2021, a video showing Caron Nazario, a Black Army officer, being held at gun-point and pepper-sprayed, went viral. Three months later, ironically in the 4th of July of 2021, Guila Dale III, a 61-year-old black army veteran, living in New Jersey, met a more tragic end. As the sounds of fireworks, celebrating the US Day of Independence, unsettled the PTSD-stricken retired Army major, his wife resorted to 911 for help. Responding to this emergency call, two white police officers came to the household and shot Major Dale dead. What is heart-wrenching about the whole event is that absolutely zero attempt has been made to diffuse the tension nonviolently. After they reached the household, it took the officers only 12 seconds to fire the gun at a man who served the nation for 42 years in the military.
Weaponization of Human Rights
By all accounts, the grave miscarriages of justice carried out by US law enforcement agencies will only dwarf the alleged human rights abuses of the security forces of Bangladesh and most other countries. As the Congressmen preach sermon of human rights targeting Bangladesh and other foreign nations from the alter of Capitol Hill, the harsh reality is that US police forces kill at least 20 times more civilians (roughly 1,000 per year). According to Prison Policy Initiative, the US police kill far more civilians at a staggeringly higher rate compared to other OECD countries. The number of people killed by law enforcement agencies per 10 million population stands for 33.5 in the US, while it its 9.8 for neighboring Canada, 2.3 for the Netherlands and 1.3 for Germany.
This adds to a wide range of extrajudicial killing measures, including erratic drone strikes, that the US has employed all over the world to implement its disastrous foreign policy. Even in the most conservative estimate, the US drone strikes at foreign lands killed at least 22,000 civilians since 9/11. The hypocrisy that these preachers of human rights do no abide by their own rules is part of US’ long tradition of weaponizing human rights issues. Countries that do not always conform to US’ strategic interests often find themselves at the receiving end of such rebukes. Needless to say. such hypocrisy does more damage for humanity than good.
*Philip Sarker, a Bangladesh-based journalist and an independent observer and researcher of global affairs