The United States has been using economic coercion as an important foreign policy tool since the days of Thomas Jefferson dated back to 1807. The Obama administration used on an average 500 sanctions annually which were doubled during the Trump administration. The reason for economic sanction covers the areas from “human rights abuses to nuclear proliferation to violations of territorial sovereignty”. On International Human Rights Day on December 10, 2021, the US Department of Treasury announced sanctions against 15 individuals and 10 entities in four countries—Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, and North Korea. How far the sanctions will be fruitful in solving the human rights violation?
Extrajudicial killings, forced disappearance, and violation of human rights have emerged as a global problem in the 21st century. According to UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres, at least 85 countries including western and non-western are suffering from these issues. For instance, according to Reuters, in Mexico, at least 73000 people including 12000 children disappeared at the hand of the security forces in 2020 since a ‘war on drugs’ was initiated. A number of Asian, Middle Eastern, and African states are reportedly facing the same issues within their society, including Egypt, Turkey, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Myanmar. There is enough historical evidence of extra-judicial killings and impunities in European states, including Spain, France, England, Ireland, Ukraine, and Belarus.
According to the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), only in Indian controlled Kashmir, till now 8000 to 10000 people disappeared while official figures recorded 3000 to 4000 cases. Apart from enforced disappearance, India also gained notoriety in extrajudicial killings in the name of ‘Encounter’ since the 1990s. According to the CrimeaSOS report, 44 persons were victims of disappearance at the hand of Russian security services in Crimea since 2017. In Palestine, disappearance, extrajudicial killings, and impunity have become very normal. Many political activists and revolutionary leaders face disappearance at the hand of Israeli security forces. According to the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report, at least 23 extrajudicial killings took place by the Israeli soldiers in Palestinian check post only in the first two quarters of 2020. Unfortunately, apart from the verbal protest, there are hardly any actions against Israel, let alone any ‘specific’ and detailed actions from the US.
Truly speaking, reported by Mapping the Police Violence statistics, the situation in the US is even worse with 93% cases of impunity between 2017-2020 resulting in no accountability with 164 victims of extra-judicial killings in the last year. Since the ‘War on Terror’, US security forces also abducted at least 39 people and many people have become victims of the US security service’s enforced disappearance under the scheme of ‘counter-terrorism’. According to the Amnesty International report, there were at least 39 detainees between 2002 and 2006 in notorious prisons such as Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay. On the other hand, the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) reported that at least 164 black persons became victim of police violence and extrajudicial killings within the first quarter of 2020. Moreover, these are all targeted killings as the victims are mostly Hispanic and Black and have fallen prey to racial prejudices in the US.
The above statistics and analysis found that, even in the USA, the culture of disappearance, extrajudicial killings, and impunity is relatively high. There is a lack of effective accountability even in the USA who considered itself as the champion of democracy and human rights. Besides, there is a lack of concerted efforts in curbing the global problem. For example, the Enforced Disappearance Pact, an international instrumental mechanism on enforced disappearance signed in 2010, has been ratified by only 12 EU member states.
Situation in Bangladesh
Earlier on August this year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report on forced disappearance, extrajudicial killing, and a culture of impunity in Bangladesh and called for imposing sanctions against the officials for leadership responsibility and urged them to disband the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). HRW recorded 600 cases of abduction and 86 cases of disappearance since 2009. With the same allegations, the US sanctioned seven former and current high-level officials of Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) over allegations of large-scale human rights abuse.
The country is nurturing a culture of punitive actions for a long time. In January 2017, the Justice Department of Bangladesh sentenced 26 people including 16 RAB officers to Death after finding guilty of Extrajudicial Killings in 2014. The case is commonly known as the ‘Seven Murder’ Case. In the Major Sinha Rashed case, the security force members who perpetrated the incident are also being under custody and the case is running on the court. Even two CID officers were suspended over an abduction case recently. Important to mention, RAB has a significant contribution in protecting the national security especially showing zero tolerance to drug trafficking, in counter-terrorism and eradicating gang culture. Undoubtedly, extrajudicial killings are not justifiable, so Bangladesh needs to thoroughly investigate the allegations against the elite force, to solve this problem on its own.
To be specific, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killings, and impunity is global problem and Bangladesh is no exception. To address and condense these issues, global and impartial efforts are needed to be taken. Targeting a specific country or calling for sanctions will only hasten the conflict of interest rather than solving it. Therefore, as a watchdog of democracy and rule of law, the United States should avoid ‘targeted’ sanctions and promote global cooperation to reduce the problem. Otherwise, in line with the Foreign Policy, “Washington’s fixation with sanctions has little to do with their efficacy and everything to do with something else: American decline”.
*Shaikh Abdur Rahman is currently working at the Central Foundation for International and Strategic Studies (CFISS) based in Dhaka.