After giving a clean chit on human rights, US should lift sanctions against Bangladesh's RAB

Bangladesh still has a terrorism problem and cross-border drug cartels pose a significant threat to its national security. And the elite force remains one of the important agencies to curb terrorism and narcotics control. 

Shafiqul Elahi Mar 21, 2023
Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB)

March 19, 2023 marked the anniversary of Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). This year the elite force marked its 19th anniversary. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal attended the event and both applauded the agency’s role in maintaining Bangladesh’s security.

Since its inception in 2004, the elite force has emerged as one of the vital Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) for Bangladesh. It had a significant contribution in curbing terrorism, fighting drugs, maintaining law and order, and providing security to the citizens. In the last 19 years, 27 RAB officials were killed in the line of duty; countless have been injured during their operations. RAB’s intelligence chief, Lieutenant Colonel Azad Abul Kalam, also sacrificed his life during the infamous counter-terrorism operation at Atia Mahal.

However, the United States announced sanctions on the force on December 10, 2021, over allegations of gross human rights violations. Marking the anniversary against the backdrop of the sanctions, it is worth revisiting RAB’s performance and focusing on its success in the last year.

RAB is an elite force

RAB is an elite force that works under Bangladesh Police. RAB is a unique intelligence organization that has the jurisdiction to make an arrest. The organization was established after the US' FBI model to combat crimes more efficiently. During the last 19 years, RAB received training and support from several external partners including the US and the UK.

As it is an elite force, RAB has no permanent members. It comprises members drawn from the military and paramilitary forces serving under deputation. The members come from the Police, the Army, the Navy, Air Force, Ansar, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), etc. As the members serve under deputation and go back to their respective units upon fulfilling their tenures, the management of RAB and its institutional development changes over time. As a result, it has a dynamic and ever-evolving management that reforms better gradually.

RAB’s numerous successes

Since 2004, RAB has successfully deployed a network all over the country to gather information related to public security. Since its inception, it has played a primary role in curbing terrorism. It has arrested top JMB leaders including Shaikh Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai.

It is also the best-performing agency against the war on drugs seizing 60 million pieces of Yaba and 3.7 million bottles of Phensedyl – the highest among the LEAs. It has also arrested 47 thousand drug dealers and peddlers.

Apart from terrorism and drug trafficking, RAB also rescued 1000 victims and arrested 1200 human traffickers. It has also seized 17000 firearms. RAB also played important role in making Sundarban pirate-free.

RAB operations post sanctions

On 10th December 2021 the US announced sanctions on RAB unilaterally under its Global Magnitsky Sanction Act. The sanctions included RAB and seven of its former and then-current top officials on charges of gross human rights violation. 

However, in the past year, RAB has continued fighting terrorism and drug cartels to the best of its abilities and capacities. Currently, it is playing a praiseworthy role in Bangladesh’s drive against Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF), a militant separatist entity active in the Chittagong Hill Tract. RAB has also arrested a number of the top brass of the newly formed terrorist organization, Jamatul Shaqia.

There have been hardly any allegations of violation against the force in the past year. In March 2022, US Under Secretary Victoria Nuland acknowledged it. Recently, Assistant Secretary Donald Lu also praised RAB for its "tremendous progress" in respecting human rights.

Bangladesh still has a terrorism problem and cross-border drug cartels pose a significant threat to its national security. And the elite force remains one of the important agencies to curb terrorism and narcotics control. 

Perhaps, it is time for the US to lift the sanctions against RAB as sanctions are posing a serious challenge to the agency’s institutional development and are hindering its operational activities due to reduced training and procurement opportunities. 

(The author is a retired Bangladesh government official. Views are personal. He can be contacted at

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