On December 11, a day after World Human Rights Day, Bangladesh’s Minister of State for Foreign Relations Shahriar Alam crowed confidently that the United States would not impose sanctions on his country.
Alam, of course, did not admit that the election process currently underway in Bangladesh is tainted and is anything but free, fair or even inclusive, leave alone being participatory.
As a member of the ruling Awami League elite he is either blinded by his complete loyalty to his party and leader Sheikh Hasina or he is daft.
The fraud that is being enacted on the people of Bangladesh – and a certain friendly country is party to this fraud – in the name of the electorate is certainly not lost on Western powers that are keenly watching the dubious and questionable electoral process that is leading up to January 7.
His cockiness and arrogance aside, Alam should take a look at the US sanctions against Guatemala, a South American nation, on December 1 this year, which were followed by additional punitive measures against a host of individuals, including political leaders.
Alam and his other cabinet colleagues who believe that the US has taken a step back from taking punitive measures against a recalcitrant Sheikh Hasina regime, bent on committing electoral fraud, should reconsider and reflect why Guatemala is a model and an example of what might befall Bangladesh.
The US State Department’s “Additional Steps Taken to Impose Visa Restrictions in Response to Anti-Democratic Actions in Guatemala” should be a clear warning to Sheikh Hasina and her cabinet colleagues who are making much of a fraud electoral process.
Here are the US’ additional steps:
“The United States stands with those seeking to safeguard democracy and rule of law in Guatemala and ensure that the will of the Guatemalan people is respected. Under Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, we are taking steps to impose visa restrictions on nearly 300 Guatemalan nationals, including over 100 members of the Guatemalan congress, as well as private sector representatives and their family members for undermining democracy and the rule of law. The United States will continue to take steps to impose such restrictions on any individuals who undermine Guatemala’s democracy.
“The United States strongly condemns ongoing anti-democratic actions by Guatemala’s Public Ministry and other malign actors who undermine Guatemala’s rule of law. Most recently, the Public Ministry’s announcement of arrest warrants for electoral workers and party representatives, its request to remove the immunity of President-elect Arévalo, and its attempts to annul electoral results constitute evidence of its clear intent to delegitimize Guatemala’s free and fair elections and prevent the peaceful transition of power. These actions are plainly inconsistent with the Inter American Democratic Charter.
“These brazen measures follow a long list of other anti-democratic actions including: the lifting of immunity of electoral magistrates, the political targeting of opposition members, the intimidation of peaceful protestors, raids on storage facilities housing election result records, and the opening of ballot boxes.
“Today’s actions reinforce previous measures by the U.S. government to promote accountability for corrupt and undemocratic actors in Guatemala and to support the will of the Guatemalan people. The Guatemalan people have spoken. Their voices must be respected”.
These additional steps should be sufficient warning to Awami League leaders that the Guatemalan sanctions model could be imposed on all their party candidates seeking to contest elections that are increasingly appearing to be like a third-rate circus at best and a cruel joke on Bangladeshis at worst.
In this context, it will be instructive to identify the salient points of the original US Treasury Department sanctions regime imposed on individual Guatemalans on December 1.
“Today, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned Luis Miguel Martinez Morales (Martinez) for his role in corruption in Guatemala wherein he engaged in widespread bribery schemes, including schemes related to government contracts. Martinez is being designated pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption around the world.
“‘Today’s action underscores the corrosive impact of corruption on the public’s trust in government institutions. Martinez sought to leverage his privileged position for personal benefit at the expense of the Guatemalan people,’ said Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson.
‘The U.S. government will continue to hold accountable individuals whose corrupt schemes undermine democracy and do harm to populations around the world.’
“Today’s action builds on the Administration’s efforts to address corruption as a root cause of irregular migration through the northern Central America region. Corrupt and anti-democratic acts, including those that threaten the integrity of an orderly transition of power in Guatemala, undermine Guatemala’s democratic institutions and threaten the stability of Guatemala and the region as a whole. The Guatemalan people have spoken and their voices must be respected.
“Since 2021, the U.S. government has sanctioned 11 individuals and entities in Guatemala for their roles in corruption. The Department of State also has used a range of visa restriction tools, to promote accountability for corrupt and undemocratic actors in Guatemala. These actions demonstrate the U.S. government’s continued commitment to stand by the Guatemalan people”.
Two grave issues are important in Bangladesh’s case: egregious acts of human rights violations by police, law enforcement and other security forces and massive levels of corruption indulged in by a nexus of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen.
Bangladeshis are fully aware of the scale and magnitude of both these crimes. But what they deeply resent is the ruling Awami League’s machinations, ably backed by a foreign country’s government, to prevent a free- fair, participatory and inclusive election.
The Guatemalan model – if it can be called a model at all – means that any US punitive measure against Bangladesh, with or without the support of America’s European Union partners, should be expected any time before January 7.
It is only when the entire electoral process – from the run-up to election day and beyond – is concluded that the US will have concrete evidence to act.
On December 10 – World Human Rights Day – hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis were, admittedly, disappointed when the US did not announce much-expected sanctions against the Sheikh Hasina regime or some punitive measures against those who have played an active part in undermining democracy in their country.
Many Bangladeshis also wondered whether the US had indeed lost steam to strike or did not quite have the stomach to punish a regime that was being ably backed by another foreign regime.
Any failure to “demonstrate the U.S. government’s continued commitment to stand by the” Bangladeshi people will only prove that the American establishment’s concern for restoring democratic and human rights is nothing more than mere lip service and a prime example of a half-thought-through policy.
Men like Shahriar Alam and Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader, among other party luminaries, will then go laughing all the way to the electoral field – and to the bank.