US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas on Thursday said the US is still concerned about extrajudicial killings, the Digital Security Act, labour rights and other human rights issues of the country.
The US sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and seven of its former and current officials will remain in effect until accountability and reforms are ensured, he said at an event titled "Meet the Ambassador" in Dhaka.
At the programme organised by the Centre for Governance Studies and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, the US ambassador also mentioned that the next national election in Bangladesh will be under the spotlight.
Asked if the sanction would still be applicable for the outgoing Inspector General of Bangladesh Police Benazir Ahmed, who had served as the chief of RAB prior to his role as police chief, the US envoy said, "The sanctions are not intended to punish but to change behaviour and hold them accountable.
"There has been no change in their [RAB] policy and the sanctions are still in place."
Haas, however, said the number of extrajudicial killings has significantly gone down since the sanctions imposed in December last year.
"This is a very good signal," Haas said.
About forced disappearance reports, he said, "We have been concerned about those incidents in Bangladesh for a very long time. We are still very concerned."
Speaking about the recent political violence, he said a free and fair election simply cannot take place in such an environment.
Mentioning that the US does not favour any political party, he said, "The US wants a free and fair election conducted in accordance with the international standards where the people of Bangladesh can freely choose their own government."
The US diplomat spoke of various aspects of the US-Bangladesh relationship including trade, labour rights, regional and global politics, and Indo-Pacific strategy.
On labour rights, Haas said Bangladesh has made tremendous progress since 2013 in terms of workplace safety in export-oriented industries. But, he said, Bangladesh still needs to progress in allowing labourers to organise and bargain collectively with their employers.
Regarding trade relations, he said, "I don't think that trade relations are fair. I say that only in the sense that you export four times more to the US than you buy from us. Having said that, there are tremendous opportunities yet to catch up.
"There are also opportunities for US companies to invest here. The question is making sure that Bangladesh is the best place for them to invest."
About joining the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), he said though Bangladesh would not be among the founding partners, negotiations will reopen.
On Rohingya issues, he said, "We collaborated in this effort in the hope that the Rohingyas would soon be able to return to their native land in a safe and dignified manner.
"Unfortunately, conditions in Burma, especially after recent incidents, do not allow a safe, voluntary, dignified, or sustainable return. Sadly, it does not look like they will anytime soon."
Zillur Rahman, executive director of the Centre for Governance Studies, moderated the event while Manjur A Chowdhury, chairman of the Centre for Governance Studies, and Felix Kolbitz, resident representative of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Bangladesh, spoke among others.