Memorial: Statement at the NGO briefing on “Promises Broken: Torture and Other Assaults on Human Rights in OSCE Area”
OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, July 7, 2011, Belgrade
When it comes to the government’s obligation to safeguard the rights and freedoms of its citizens, Central Asia remains by far the OSCE’s most problematic region.
Turkmenistan remains a totalitarian and isolated state. The hope of a comprehensive reform, which arose following the death of President Niyazov, has not been realized. The government continues to suppress dissent and restrict freedom of movement of its citizens. The fate of the group of political prisoners who were accused of organizing an armed plot against former President Niyazov remains unknown.
In Uzbekistan, the government has used the cloak of the war against terrorism to expand its campaign of political repression, which has become part of the daily life in that country. According to various sources, in 2009-2010, at least 868 individuals were sentenced on politically-motivated charges, while hundreds were detained unlawfully. The total number of political prisoners is several thousand individuals, which is greater than the rest of the post-Soviet countries combined. Contrary to statements by government officials, torture remains endemic. Non-governmental organizations, media outlets and religious groups come under routine pressure by the government. Almost 30 civil society and democratic opposition activists, as well as journalists, languish in prison on fabricated charges.
Uzbekistan’s prevailing climate of political repression in combination with an authoritarian form of government, ineffectual economy, pervasive corruption and absence of justice are a destabilizing factor not only in that country, but the region as a whole.
The situation in Kyrgyzstan continues to cause serious concerns, following the overthrow of the despotic regime of President Kurmanbek Bakiev and the subsequent bloody interethnic clashes which took place in 2010, and which cost hundreds of lives.
Despite a number of investigations conducted by official bodies, various commissions and groups, much remains unclear about the root causes of the massacre. There is reason to believe that certain government officials in southern Kyrgyzstan played an important role in instigating and subsequently fuelling the conflict. Investigations of various episodes of the June 2010 clashes are being conducted with the help of various torture techniques, unlawful detentions, searches and confiscation of property, and in the overall spirit of anti-Uzbek discrimination.
Courts and defense lawyers have come under strong pressure, while verdicts handed down in cases related to the June 2010 clashes can hardly be characterized as fair. The case of the human rights activist Azimzhan Askarov has become symbolic of this injustice. Askarov has been sentenced to life in prison on fabricated charges.
Local authorities in southern parts of the country are known to use extortion on a massive scale against ethnic Uzbeks. Of particular concern is the central government’s apparent lack of political will to deal effectively with the lawlessness prevailing in Kyrgyzstan’s southern areas. The parliament’s recent decision to bar entry to Kimmo Kiljunen, head of the independent commission of inquiry, as well as to block access to the www.fergananews.com website is a reflection of the growing influence of radical nationalists. This tendency of radicalization of nationalist elements is putting Kyrgyzstan increasingly at odds with its international commitments.
Kazakhstan continues to restrict political and religious freedoms, while failing to exercise sufficient supervision of its law-enforcement agencies, allowing the practice of closed trials, failing to adequately prevent torture, and limiting access to independent defense lawyers under the excuse of safeguarding “state secrets.”
The extradition in June 2011 of 28 Muslim refugees back to Uzbekistan is a violation of the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, demonstrating the fact that Kazakhstan is no longer safe for refugees from other post-Soviet countries, following the enactment in 2010 of the National Law on Refugees.
Several countries of Eastern and Central Europe create serious obstacles for asylum-seekers from Central Asia. At the same time, of particular concern remains the phenomenon of former high-level government officials -- including those from Central Asian countries – who have been implicated in having committed serious crimes and who have successfully avoided responsibility by obtaining the political refugee status in certain democratic countries. One example of this dilemma is the case of Rakhat Aliyev, who until 2007 held the post of Kazakhstan’s Ambassador to OSCE, preceded by a number of high-level government positions. Despite what one may feel about those regimes that have produced such fugitives, all evidence pointing to their likely complicity in the alleged crimes they stand accused of must be carefully studied and acted upon, should it prove credible.
Vitaly Ponomarev, Human Rights Center “Memorial” (Moscow, Russia)