Expressing concerns over the US sanctions against Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and seven of its present and former officials, Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen has said this might undermine Bangladesh’s efforts to combat terrorism, violent extremism and transnational crime.
He raised the issue during a meeting with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman at the US Department of State in Washington DC on Thursday.
In response to queries from the US side, he elaborated on the context of the enactment of the Digital Security Act (DSA) to combat cybercrimes, including those aimed at undermining religious harmony and victimising women and children.
Masud Bin Momen informed that the government is working with the EU to reassess the law and identify possible loopholes.
Replying to US queries on the labour issue, he explained that the government has all intentions to improve the labour situation as per the roadmaps undertaken with the ILO and the EU, and proposed that the US can also join.
The foreign secretary emphasised that not everything can be implemented overnight, but gradual improvement is ongoing, giving example of Bangladesh’s recent ratification of relevant ILO conventions on forced and child labour.
Deputy Secretary Sherman appreciated Bangladesh government’s willingness to address these issues, stressing on early implementation of the reform process especially regarding trade union rights in private sectors.
On the issue, the foreign secretary informed her of the progress like the enactment of the law on the formation of the Election Commission, and also on the recently concluded countrywide Union Parishad elections.
The two sides also discussed the situation in Ukraine and its global implications on the Indo-Pacific Strategy and on security sector cooperation.
The US Deputy Secretary of State underscored the importance of international rule-based order in the maritime domain, and both sides agreed that further works can be done together in the area of harnessing blue economy.
Foreign Secretary Masud also discussed the possibility of highest-level visit on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations, and also on the issue of deportation of the self-confessed killer of the Father of the Nation from the US.
At the outset of the meeting, US Deputy Secretary of State appreciated Bangladesh for maintaining 6 percent growth during the pandemic, and playing a robust role in UN peacekeeping, climate change actions and in the Rohingya crisis.
The foreign secretary thanked the US for providing 61 million doses of vaccine, and elaborated on the government’s measures to strike balance between life and livelihood during the pandemic.
Masud also met Julieta Valls Noyes, US assistant secretary of state of the Bureau of Population, Refugee and Migration (PRM) of the Department of State and discussed the Rohingya issue.
Assistant Secretary Julieta Noyes is scheduled to visit Bangladesh soon.
She stated that the US really recognises the generosity of Bangladesh of keeping the forcibly displaced Rohingyas for so long.
The assistant secretary agreed with Foreign Secretary Masud that without creating hope of repatriation, the displaced Rohingya population in Bangladesh pose major risks of radicalisation and transnational crimes.
The foreign secretary noted that return of the displaced Rohingyas is the best solution.
The US assistant secretary expressed her country’s willingness to remain deeply engaged, and emphasised the need for education, livelihood etc. of the displaced Rohingyas.
Masud stated that the US should participate in the humanitarian work in Bhasan Char and the Congressional embargo should be lifted.
In this regard, Assistant Secretary Julieta informed that her upcoming visit is part of the US reassessment process in this regard.
The Bangladesh foreign secretary and the US assistant secretary discussed in detail the constraints and challenges of repatriation, and also possible ways and means.
Masud also met Senior Director of the National Security Council (NSC) of the White House Ms. Sumona Guha over a lunch meeting.
During the discussion, the two sides agreed that the meetings held this week in Washington DC by the foreign minister and the foreign secretary of Bangladesh indeed created new impetus in the bilateral ties, and emphasised the importance of regular engagements.
Foreign Secretary Masud underscored that visit at the highest level may be agreed upon on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic relations. He also discussed the sanctions against RAB and related individuals, and proposed whether the sanctions on RAB can be partially lifted.
They also touched upon the global impact of Ukraine situation and the Rohingya crisis. They also discussed the Digital Security Act and Bangladesh’s effort to reexamine the law.
Senior Director Guha appreciated Bangladesh’s willingness to engage with the US on human rights issues.
The Bangladesh foreign secretary also raised the issue of the deportation of the self-convicted killer of the Father of the Nation.