US Assistant Secretary of Statefor South and Central Asian Affairs, Robert O. Blake told the US CongressComission on human rights on Thursday that there continue to be crediblereports that Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion (or RAB), a paramilitary lawenforcement group made up of policemen and Army soldiers, is involved with someextrajudicial killings and disappearances.
In a testimony given to the TomLantos Human Rights Commission, he said due to leahy vetting requirements, weare barred from providing RAB with any form of training other than that relatedto human rights. To this end, the U.S. Government embedded a retired U.S.marshal within RAB for four months last year to help stand up andoperationalize an internal affairs unit that will provide a much-neededmechanism to hold accountable those who commit human rights violations.
Civil society has beenBangladesh's calling card for decades. Homegrown organisations like BRAC andGrameen Bank have gone global, exporting innovative ideas like microfinance toa worldwide audience. Maintaining the traditional vibrancy of Bangladeshi civilsociety is a priority for the State Department.
For this reason, we are concernedby reports from some local NGOs that space for civil society is shrinking.Nearly two years after the resignation of Dr. Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank hasbeen without a permanent managing director at its helm. While the Bank hascontinued its good work, we have emphasised both to the government and theGrameen Board the importance of finding a qualified replacement for Dr. Yunuswho is acceptable to all sides and who can preserve the integrity andeffectiveness of the Bank in helping Bangladesh's most vulnerable citizens andfulfilling its commitment to its 8.3 million borrowers, most of them women.
We've also been disappointed byBangladesh's policy of turning away Rohingya and other individuals fleeingethnic and sectarian violence in Burma since early June. This stands in markedcontrast to the country's traditional policy of non-refoulement. The U.S.Government has and will continue to raise concern for the well-being of theseindividuals at the highest levels.
Bangladesh is a country ofstrategic importance to the United States. It is the seventh largest country inthe world by population, and it has the world's fourth largest Muslimpopulation. It is a moderate, tolerant, secular, democratic alternative toviolent extremism. A leader in promoting regional connectivity and improvedties with its neighbors, Bangladesh promotes stability in a troubled region. Asthe largest contributor of forces to UN peacekeeping missions in some of theworld's most dangerous conflicts, Bangladesh fosters global peace.
Bangladesh has been growing at anannual rate of 5 to 6 percent over the past two decades. It is an increasinglyimportant trading partner and destination of U.S. investment. U.S. exports toBangladesh doubled during the last year. The United States is the largestinvestor in Bangladesh. Bangladesh also is a focus country for all of thePresident's signature "development initiatives," including the GlobalHealth Initiative, the Global Climate Change Initiative and the Feed the FutureInitiative.
The United States and Bangladeshcooperate closely on security issues ranging from counterterrorism tocounterpiracy and the mitigation of natural disasters, all of which werediscussed during the first-ever U.S. Bangladesh Security Dialogue in April. TheGovernment of Bangladesh has also consistently prioritized greater regionalintegration- a key U.S. interest in a region that remains among the leastintegrated in the world. Secretary Clinton visited Bangladesh in May, markingthe first visit by a U.S. Secretary of State in nine years. While there, sheand her Bangladeshi counterpart announced the U.S.-Bangladesh PartnershipDialogue to provide strategic direction to the wide array of existing andfuture partnership activities.
But it still faces many challengesthat the U.S. is working with and encouraging Bangladesh to address, Blakeadded.