Activist countries

EU: Pressure Central Asian countries for rights abuses

(Brussels) – The European Union should push for transparency and accountability following multiple violent crackdowns on protests in Central Asia in 2022 at the next meeting with foreign ministers from the region, Human Rights has said. Watch today. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell is due to meet his counterparts from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan on 17 and 18 November 2022 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

In separate episodes of violence in 2022, dozens of mostly peaceful protesters died as a result of excessive force by security forces in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Dozens of civilians also died in armed clashes in September on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. There have been no genuine and independent investigations into the human rights violations committed during these events.

“The EU has rightly called for independent investigations when civilians have been killed, tortured or detained by authorities in Central Asian countries cracking down on dissent, but it should not remain silent when these calls are ignored” , said Philippe Dam, Director of the EU. at Human Rights Watch. “If the EU wants stable partners in Central Asia, it should demand that governments refrain from excessive violence and ensure accountability for serious violations.”

In Kazakhstan, between January 4 and 6, hundreds of people died as security forces responded to a wave of protests. According to official figures, 238 people, including 19 members of the security forces, were killed in violent clashes. Human Rights Watch research has shown that on at least four occasions security forces used lethal force in Almaty against protesters who posed no immediate threat to the lives of others, resulting in the death of at least 10 people. During and after the protests, authorities arrested hundreds of people, torturing and ill-treating many of them, leaving at least six people dead in custody.

Despite separate criminal investigations by the Attorney General’s office and oversight of prisons by the Human Rights Ombudsman, investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment have stalled and are far from compliant. to international standards. There has been no independent and comprehensive investigation into the patterns and excessive use of force that led to civilian deaths.

In Tajikistan, authorities responded to protests in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region in May with a violent crackdown and a special “counter-terrorism operation” that killed at least 40 people, including prominent local figures, and resulted in the arrest at least 200 more throughout the summer months, including activists from the Pamir diaspora. Those detained were tried behind closed doors and unfairly on serious charges, in many cases without access to a lawyer, in violation of their due process rights. Several members of Commission 44, an independent group created in late 2021 to investigate the death of a local activist, have received extremely long sentences. The Tajik authorities have rejected requests for investigations into the violations committed in Gorno-Badakhshan.

In Uzbekistan, security forces used lethal force and other excessive forms, such as the inappropriate use of small arms and various types of grenades, to disperse mainly peaceful protesters in the region in early July. Autonomous Karakalpakstan. At least 21 people, including 4 security guards, died in the violence. On July 15, the Uzbek parliament created a 14-member commission to investigate the events in Karakalpakstan. But there is no indication that it is investigating the causes and circumstances of the deaths and serious injuries or the actions of the security forces.

The resumption of clashes on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in September should also raise concerns within the EU. At least 37 civilians, including 4 children, died in violent clashes that began after Kyrgyz and Tajik border guards exchanged gunfire along a disputed border segment. Hundreds of homes, numerous markets and at least three schools were burned, damaged and looted, and thousands of people were displaced. Weapons used to attack populated areas included Grad rockets and armed Bayraktar drones. Neither Kyrgyzstan nor Tajikistan have investigated their own responsibility for the civilian casualties.

Governments across Central Asia continue to prosecute, arrest or harass political critics, media professionals and civil society activists.

In Kyrgyzstan, authorities have tightened control and censorship of mass media as part of a recent crackdown on freedom of expression and civil society. In October, the government blocked Azattyk Media, the Kyrgyz service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, for two months using its “false news” law. Authorities have arrested at least 22 activists and human rights defenders accused of planning a mass riot after protests against the imminent transfer of a major dam to Uzbekistan. In early November, authorities proposed a new nongovernmental organization bill that would strengthen government control over civil society through a cumbersome re-registration process and direct oversight of the activities of nongovernmental groups.

In Uzbekistan, the detention of bloggers, including Miraziz Bazarov, Otobek Sattoriy and Fazilhoja Arifhojaev, highlights the decline in freedom of expression, as journalists are harassed, prosecuted and attacked and defamation and insult, including including insulting the president, remain criminal offenses.

In Kazakhstan, long-standing violations persist, including the authorities’ crackdown on government critics using overbroad accusations of “extremism”. The authorities restrict peaceful demonstrations, the right to form independent trade unions, freedom of expression and freedom of religion. In Tajikistan, leaders and supporters of arbitrarily banned opposition groups remain behind bars for long prison terms. A human rights lawyer, Buzurgmehr Yorov, remains in prison serving a 10-year sentence in retaliation for defending prominent opposition leaders in court.

Turkmenistan continues to be one of the most oppressive and closed countries in the world. Dozens of people forcibly disappeared are believed to be detained, some for 20 years. Authorities refuse to engage constructively with United Nations experts on the fate and whereabouts of missing persons in the country’s prison system.

On October 27, the President of the Council of the EU, Charles Michel, participated in the first high-level regional meeting of Heads of State of Central Asia in Astana. In a closing statement, the six leaders stressed the importance of dialogue on the rule of law and human rights, but failed to commit to ending grave violations in the region.

“The increasing violent crackdowns in Central Asian countries and the refusal of governments to genuinely investigate serious violations and hold those responsible accountable should be a wake-up call for the EU,” Dam said. “The EU can only contribute to greater stability in the region if it genuinely promotes respect for rights and fights impunity for abuses.”