US lawmakers urge President Biden to impose stricter sanctions for fair polls in Bangladesh

Six Republican Members of Congress have urged President Joe Biden to take steps to “give Bangladesh the best chance for free and fair elections,” including imposing stricter individual sanctions and banning its law enforcement and military personnel from participating in United Nations peacekeeping missions.

In a May 25 letter, the six Members of House of Representatives also requested urgent action to stop human rights abuses by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government.

The Congressmen are House Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry (PA-10), Barry Moore (AL-02), Warren Davidson (OH-08), Bob Good (VA-05), Tim Burchett (TN-02) and Keith Self. (TX-03).

Representative Perry’s Communications Director Jay Ostrich told South Asia Perspectives, “The United States must do everything it can to stop the human rights abuses by the current government of Bangladesh in order to give the people of Bangladesh the best possible chance for free and fair parliamentary elections. This should include stricter individual sanctions, and banning Bangladesh law enforcement and military personnel from participating in UN peacekeeping missions.”

Signed on May 25, the letter said, “We request urgent action to stop the human rights abuses by the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, and to give the people of Bangladesh the best possible chance for free and fair parliamentary elections to be scheduled this fall.”

The letter added, “Various NGOs have documented hundreds of instances of human rights abuses by the government of Sheikh Hasina since she assumed power in January 2009 -including reports by Amnesty international, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, and even the United Nations-that show Hasina’s government has increasingly repudiated democratic systems, perpetrated widespread abuse against its citizens, conducted torture, committed extrajudicial killings, jailed journalists, disappeared opponents, and assaulted or killed peaceful protesters. The well-documented abuses by the Hasina government are not confined to her political opponents; the government also has persecuted ethnic and religious minorities in Bangladesh.”

“Since Sheikh Hasina’s rise to power, the Hindu population has been halved. Looting and burning of households, destruction of temples and religious idols, murder, rape, and forced religious conversion are causing Hindus to flee Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina’s government also has persecuted Bangladesh’s minority Christian population-burning and looting places of worship, jailing pastors, and breaking up families when religious conversion occurs,” it added.

The letter said, “In recent months, tens of thousands of peaceful protesters have demonstrated for fair and free elections, which are the people’s only hope for a change in the Hasina government. In response. Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the major perpetrator of torture, disappearances, and extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh, have arrested, intimidated, and even killed peaceful demonstrators. The RAB has been characterized as a government “Death Squad” by numerous NGO’s including Human Rights Watch.”

The letter further said, “In a recent investigation by German state broadcaster DW and Sweden-based news agency Netra News, two whistleblowers and former members of the RAB, confessed that these incidents of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances could not be possible without the Home Minister and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s approval.”

“The US government designated RAB a “serious human rights abuser” more than a year ago and sanctioned several law enforcement authorities responsible for many of the killings and other atrocities. Yet, the Hasina regime has only intensified its systemic repression of the people of Bangladesh since sanctions were imposed. The sanctions by the U.S. have not done enough to slow the flagrant human rights violations and democratic backsliding of Sheikh Hasina’s government,” the letter said.

“In addition to crimes against their own people, Hasina’s misconduct encourages other bad actors in South Asia to make common alliance, and hurts America’s national security interests as they gang together and draw closer to China and Russia,” said the letter.

On May 24 The US secretary of state Antony Blinken announced a new visa policy to support Bangladesh’s goal of holding free, fair, and peaceful national elections, restricting visa for any Bangladeshi individual undermining the democratic election process.

Blinken said, “ I am announcing a new visa policy under Section 212(a)(3)(C) (“3C”) of the Immigration and Nationality Act to support Bangladesh’s goal of holding free, fair, and peaceful national elections. Under this policy, the United States will be able to restrict the issuance of visas for any Bangladeshi individual, believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh. This includes current and former Bangladeshi officials, members of pro-government and opposition political parties, and members of law enforcement, the judiciary, and security services. The United States notified the Bangladeshi government of this decision on May 3, 2023,”

The US Secretary of State said, “The holding of free and fair elections is the responsibility of everyone-voters, political parties, the government, the security forces, civil society, and the media. I am announcing this policy to lend our support to all those seeking to advance democracy in Bangladesh.”

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