A Hong Kong-based regional human rights organization says endemic corruption in Bangladesh has plunged the country into a state of lawlessness. The group fears the situation threatens the country's democracy and may be exploited by Islamic extremists.
Basil Fernando, chairman of the Asian Human Rights Commission, says rampant corruption and political interference have led to the collapse of Bangladesh's law enforcement and judiciary systems.
"You rarely find, even in a global experience, that type of corruption that exists in [the] Bangladeshi policing system…In almost all arrests the primary reason is bribery," Fernando said. "Every crime is an opportunity to make an earning."
The commission says police in Bangladesh only investigate crimes if complainants pay bribes; and security forces threaten people with arrest to extort money. The commission says corruption is leaving many with no means to seek redress, and violence is increasing as people take the law into their own hands.
The commission also raised concerns over killings, torture and other abuses allegedly carried out by the Rapid Action Battalion - a joint Bangladeshi police and military group formed in 2003 to deal with the increase in crime. The commission says the RAB has become part of the problem, turning into a private vigilante force for politicians and operating without restraint.
The 2005 U.S. State Department human rights report says about 400 people were allegedly killed last year by the Bangladeshi security forces. Few of these cases have been resolved.
Fernando says the situation in Bangladesh threatens democratic development.
"Law enforcement where the law enforcers are not abiding by the law can never produce a democracy," he said.
Mohammed Ashrafuzzaman, a researcher at the commission, says other groups, such as Islamic extremists, could exploit the situation. A series of bombings last year was blamed on Islamic militants.
" The place would be widespread with many things, not only Islamic militants," he said. "Because they [the police] are busy making money and following what the political masters are asking them to do; they are not maintaining law and order that the country requires."
The Asian Human Rights Commission is calling on Bangladesh to stop participating in U.N. peacekeeping missions - including the one planned in southern Lebanon - until it brings to justice members of the security forces suspected of human rights abuses.
Bangladesh currently contributes the largest number of peacekeepers to the United Nations, a lucrative posting for its poorly paid officers. The commission is also urging Dhaka to withdraw its membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The Bangladeshi government says it is committed to protecting human rights. When it was elected to the U.N. Human Rights Council in May, Bangladesh promised to establish a National Human Rights Commission and an independent judiciary but has not so far done so.