The RAB of Bangladesh received foreign intelligence training in the EU | Research news

A day after Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit (I-Unit) reported on Bangladesh’s infamous Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) receiving cybersecurity and surveillance training in the UK, it may reveal that nine of its members also received supplies and training in at least two European Union countries by 2022.

The RAB as an organization and seven individuals currently or formerly working for it were sanctioned by the United States in December 2021 under the Global Magnitsky Act for their alleged involvement in human rights violations.

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

Since 2010, human rights organizations have written extensively about the RAB’s alleged human rights abuses, ranging from enforced disappearances to extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests.

“We are concerned that these governments may be enabling the abuses that RAB has already been accused of and found responsible for,” Meenakshi Ganguly, Human Rights Watch (HRW) director for Southeast Asia, told Al Jazeera.

“What these documents suggest is that the RAB has traveled around the world buying equipment and getting training.”

When the US imposed sanctions on the RAB and seven current and former senior RAB officials in 2021, it cited evidence that the organization was involved in at least 600 enforced disappearances since 2009 and more than 600 extrajudicial killings since 2018.

Foreign intelligence training

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

Among them was Khan Mohammad Azad, additional director general of the RAB, one of seven people sanctioned by the US.

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

Later in the year, in September, three RAB members traveled to the Netherlands to “participate in a pre-shipment inspection” of police dogs purchased from a company called Police Dogs Center for the RAB’s dog team, documents show.

It was the second time in three years that the RAB dog police traveled to the Netherlands for such an inspection.

According to RAB documents obtained by Al Jazeera, the Polish and Dutch governments have received copies of the travel reports from the RAB.

Magnitsky law sanctions

Under the US Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which was created to punish human rights abusers, US assets owned by a sanctioned individual or organization are frozen and US companies and individuals are prohibited from doing business with them.

According to Amanda Strayer, supervising staff attorney for accountability at the US-based human rights organization Human Rights First, RAB officers traveling to Europe show why allies need to work together when it comes to sanctions against human rights abusers.

“We’re talking about them going to Europe to get training to get better at what they do,” Strayer told Al Jazeera.

“The UK, the European Union, Canada, they all have very similar global Magnitsky sanctions programs. They all have the capacity to punish the Rapid Action Battalion and those senior officers.

But, Strayer said, implementing these kinds of sanctions is especially difficult for the EU because it is such a large multilateral organization.

“EU consensus is not something that comes easily and maybe that’s one of the reasons RAB felt, ‘We have to go here, because the chances of getting away with it are much higher,'” she said.

More than 25 trips to Europe

Additional data collected by the I-Unit shows that RAB agents have traveled to Europe more than 25 times since 2017. Some of those trips were for training on the use of mass surveillance equipment and others were for pre-shipment equipment inspections.

In 2017, then-leader Benazir Ahmed, one of the US sanctioned individuals, 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 period.

All of these trips took place despite human rights groups reporting on human rights violations by the RAB for years, with reports of abuse by the group’s members going back more than 10 years.

Established in 2004, the force has been linked to extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture and has been called a “death squad” by HRW.

In March 2021, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the allegations of ill-treatment and torture were a “long-standing concern”.

Bangladesh is the world’s largest contributor to UN peacekeeping, and a UN working group has raised concerns about former RAB members being considered for those missions.

According to Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman, liaison officer with the Asian Human Rights Commission, this poses a significant risk.

“Organizations like the UN need to strongly reconsider whether they want killers to build peace in the world.”

Ashrafuzzaman said the UK and the EU should look closely at their policies towards the RAB: “Despite the US designation of sanction, the UK and some EU states are providing training and supplies to these people.

“Diplomacy and development partnership… must not go beyond the basic principle of democracy and human rights… core values ​​of the UK and the European Union.”

‘This should raise eyebrows’

Member of the European Parliament Thijs Reuten of the Netherlands, commenting on the RAB’s trips to the European Union, told Al Jazeera that the fact that “services that could be used for internal repression, especially by an organization so clearly connected with human rights violations, so readily available in the Netherlands, would certainly raise eyebrows in The Hague.”

Reuten also referred to a 2014 EU resolution calling on Bangladesh to end RAB impunity, saying he still supports that resolution and that the government of Bangladesh should conduct independent investigations into the killings and enforced disappearances .

While Reuten 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 EU soil is a clear case for greater coordination between like-minded partners.”

“Pending a clear and demonstrable commitment to such investigations, the EU should consider harmonizing its restrictive measures against RAB with its partners,” Reuten told Al Jazeera.

Right of reply

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

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

The spokesperson continues: “It is possible that delegations from RAB have traveled to the Netherlands independently in recent years. The Embassy or the Dutch government played no part in such visits. The Netherlands does not issue visas in Bangladesh; this service is provided by another Schengen country.”

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

Police Dogs Center said they “do not acknowledge the statement in your letter, we had no members of RAB visiting us in September 2022, nor do we have any business dealings with them.”

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

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