Recently, six US congressmen wrote a letter to the President, Biden demanding ‘appropriate’ measures against the Bangladesh government ahead of the election. The congress members also requested urgent action to stop human rights abuses by prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s government. The congressmen are from Republican Party and most of them are members of the Freedom Caucus- a hard right-wing caucus in the Congress. Exploring their backgrounds, political ideology, and activism suggests that they hardly have any concern over global human rights. Yet, the letter is an ‘unusual’ one for them to endorse and forward to the president. It is worth rethinking what motivated them to undertake activism against the Bangladesh government on Human Rights grounds.
Congressman Scott Perry led the ‘team’ and signed the letter. Other congressmen are Bob Good, Barry Moore, Tim Burchett, Warren Davidson, and Keith Self.
In a bid to give Bangladesh ‘the best chance for free and fair elections,’ the Congress members have urged US President Biden for measures including stricter individual sanctions, and banning its law enforcement and military personnel from participating in United Nations peacekeeping missions. Congress members also requested urgent action to stop human rights abuses by prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s government.
The letter mentioned that 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. One interesting observation regarding the letter is that it mentioned, ‘Since Sheikh Hasina’s rise to power, the Hindu population has been halved’, which may not be true at all. Minority leaders in Bangladesh have already condemned this information. How six congressmen endorsed such a false projection is still a surprising fact!
A Bit Unusual Concern for Rightwing Politicians
The background, political activities, and affiliation suggest that the signatories of the letter are right-wing ideologues of the Republican party. The leader, Scott Perry is the chairman of Freedom Caucus. The ex-military turned congressman allegedly had a role in the Capitol Hill attack. He was also involved in Donald Trump’s election overturn process in 2020. Interestingly, Congressman Perry voted against a condemnation bill on Myanmar military coup in 2021.
Congressman Bob Good is also known as a conservative politician who is against many social issues and rights- accepted in the US. Congressman Good labeled the pandemic as a ‘phony pandemic’. He also has an ‘anti-LGBT’ and ‘anti-immigrant’ stance- a contradiction to traditional rights advocates.
Another Signatory, Barry Moore is a hardliner Republican. He also voted against he condemnation bill on Myanmar military coup like Perry. Mr. Moore has a strong gun lobby. He introduced a bill in Congress to make AR-15 a ‘national gun’. AR-15 is the most dangerous weapons in the US mass shooting.
Other signatories of the letter, Warren Davidson is also a member of the Freedom Caucus and Keith Self and Tim Burchett are also not known as rights advocates.
Hence, it is a bit unusual for such hardliners to do human rights research on Bangladesh and suddenly emerge as rights advocates while ignoring their domestic rights aspects and practicing conservatism in domestic politics.
What’s Behind the Letter: Lobbying or Geopolitics?
It is a bit tough to determine what motivated the hardliner Republican politicians to write such a letter unusual to their political practice. It seems either geopolitical calculation or the opposition’s lobby led them to endorse such a letter and send it to their President to create pressure on the Bangladesh government.
Amid Sino-US rivalry, Bangladesh has emerged as an important littoral for the Indo-Pacific Strategy. For a while now, the US expressed its desire for Bangladesh by its side against China. But Bangladesh is opting for maintaining a neutral stance. As Chinese investments increased rapidly in the last few years, the US tends to see Bangladesh as a ‘China-leaning’ country.
As Bangladesh has become a crucial country for the Indo-Pacific Strategy, the letter could be a product of bipartisan consensus on the US foreign policy. The letter could serve as a pressure on the incumbent government. It is one explanation of why the congressmen undertook such an unusual endeavor.
On the other hand, it could be the product of Bangladesh’s opposition parties’ lobbying in the USA. Lobbying is a legal persuasion process in the US but is considered illegal in many parts of the world including Bangladesh. According to the Politico report of 2018, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has hired two companies- Blue Star Strategies and Rasky Partners through a party member named Abdul Sattar to lobby in favor of BNP ahead of parliamentary elections in Bangladesh.
The contract with Blue Star was worth $20,000 a month in August and $35,000 a month for the rest of the year in 2018. Rasky Partners was working as a subcontractor to Blue Star and would receive payments worth $10,000 a month in August and $15,000 a month for the rest of the year.
The lobby issue came in front once again after the US-sanctioned RAB and its seven members. The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh said that The BNP had hired four lobbyist firms until 2017 and another in 2019. According to him, BNP and Jamaat had hired eight lobbyist firms in the US in total. Of them, a firm named Peace and Justice was appointed for $132 thousand to influence the US government. Perhaps it is the lobby firms who pursued the congressmen to move forward with the letter. The false projection regarding the minority population could have been wrong information fed by the lobbyists that the congressmen were unaware of owing to their least expertise on Bangladesh affairs.
It is clear that the letter is unusual for the congressmen to move forward with considering their conservative and right-wing political beliefs. Yet, they did so. The only answer to this contradiction is that either the letter is geopolitically motivated or influenced by the BNP-Jamaat lobby working in the US.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author.