The United States makes no excuses when it comes to matters of human rights and freedom of the press, said US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas.
Answering a question during the "DCAB Talk" organised by the Diplomatic Correspondent Association of Bangladesh (DCAB) at the National Press Club on Tuesday, the ambassador said, "I will go back to a comment that I made earlier that the United States has decided to put human rights and the issues of freedom of the press at the centre of our foreign policy and that we make no excuses about that."
He said the sanctions imposed against Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and some of its officials were a result of the US President Biden making defence of human rights a central issue in US foreign policy.
On 10 December 2021, Human Rights Day, the United States imposed sanctions on RAB and some of its officials based on "credible evidence" of serious human rights abuse.
In the last several months, Bangladesh has been making various efforts to have the sanctions lifted.
Asked what steps Bangladesh can take in this regard, Haas said the US is prioritising RAB's accountability in potential human rights abuses and reforms to ensure that same violations don't happen again.
"So, it's really a question of providing a list of things that must be accomplished…It's not about specifics but the underlying principles: commitment to human rights and accountability in the cases of human rights violations."
The ambassador also reiterated the concerns about press freedom, especially the Digital Security Act, and several draft laws and regulations that could inhibit press freedom.
He also touched upon insufficient labour rights and poor working conditions in Bangladesh, saying those had cost Bangladesh access to the US Generalized System of Preferences trade benefit in 2013 and are also causing Bangladesh to miss out on the US Development Finance Corporation, a massive source of investment capital from the US.
Haas, however, said his country will remain a "steadfast partner" of Bangladesh in its journey towards further development.
Regarding US efforts to sell cotton to Bangladesh, he said, "Fumigation has been [an area of] disagreement for 20 years. Right now we are in a position that US cotton does not have any issues of disease. Your competitors are importing US cotton without paying for fumigation and raising the cost of your imports, making your RMG exports to the US more expensive."
On the upcoming national elections next year, the US ambassador stressed the need for free and fair elections in Bangladesh.
"It is up to Bangladesh to decide how they will be working to create those conditions. We have been looking at some of the international election standards to understand better what they are and looking at the Carter Centre, in particular. They have a very comprehensive list of what those standards are."
He said freedom of press, no violence and the role of Election Commission are some of the important factors to ensure a fair election.
Asked about the economic crunch that Bangladesh is facing right now, he said, "Basically, Bangladesh is not Sri Lanka," adding that the country had done extremely well from a micro-financial standpoint, debt management with careful borrowing and strong foreign currency reserves.
Responding to another question, Haas said there will be opportunities for other countries to join the recently launched Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF). There have been consultations with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in March regarding the IPEF and the ambassador hoped that Bangladesh will follow it closely.
Haas also said recognising the 1971 genocide by Pakistan in Bangladesh was difficult under the US law.
On extraditing Bangabandhu's killer Rashed Chowdhury, he said, "It is a very complicated legal procedure in the US…it currently remains under review."
On his return to the US three months after he came to Bangladesh, Haas said, "I plan to report three things when I get to Washington. First, the successes of Bangladesh are real…second, the challenges Bangladesh faces are also real, and third, the US should remain the same steadfast partner to Bangladesh for the next 50 years as it has been over the past 50 years."
DCAB President Rezaul Karim Lotus and General Secretary AKM Moinuddin also spoke at the event.