Human rights concerns in Tajikistan demand international response

The crackdown in Tajikistan has significantly worsened since the country’s last Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the United Nations Human Rights Council. On Nov. 4, Tajikistan faced its third Universal Periodic Review, a process by which the UN reviews a country’s human rights status. 

Watchdog groups like Human Rights Watch have urged UN member states to use this review as an opportunity to address the government’s violations of freedom of expression, freedom of religion and belief, and women’s rights. 

Since the banning of the Islamic Renaissance party in 2015, Tajikistani authorities have jailed numerous journalists and activists to repress public criticism and facilitate the country’s push towards authoritarianism. In July 2017, the Tajik parliament passed an amendment allowing security services to keep records of peoples’ messages and online activities. Since the last UPR review in 2016, the Tajik government arrested more than 150 people on “politically motivated charges” and even banned the study of Islam in schools. 

Human Rights Watch also reported on Tajikistan’s abysmal prison conditions, stating that multiple women had been sexually assaulted by police officers and that male prisoners were subject to torture and other acts of violence.

The UN has acknowledged these rights violations. The Human Rights Council brought attention to many of these issues in their official statement. Regarding Tajikistan’s violation of religious freedom, the Councilurged Tajikistan to align the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations Act with international human rights standards.” 

With women’s rights, the HRW’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recommended that “Tajikistan implement temporary special measures to accelerate equal representation in all areas of public and political life, particularly in decision-making positions.” The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women also recommended that “Tajikistan develop a comprehensive strategy and action plan to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence against women and expedite the adoption of legislation criminalizing all forms of gender-based violence.” 

And on the issue of Tajikistan’s prison conditions, the council urged Tajikistan to investigate all alleged cases of torture and ill-treatment. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported an incident in Khujand, a city located in Northern Tajikistan, in which a group of prisoners reported that they were beaten by about 15 officers with a rubber baton. The men claimed that they were “stripped naked, insulted, beaten up, and abused” the first day they arrived at the prison. RFE/RL also reported a case in Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital, where two inmates were found dead in their prison cells. It was claimed that one of the bodies “showed signs of torture, including burns allegedly caused by a hot iron.”  

While the review highlights many of Tajikistan’s human rights breaches, it is still up to the UN and other international bodies to hold the Tajik government accountable — beyond just listing several non-binding recommendations. 

In 2019, NATO issued a statement disclosing that “Tajikistan has been working in consultation with NATO to reform its armed forces, including by developing greater coordination and democratic control between the government, parliament, and the military.” 

“The EU adopted a new strategy for Central Asia in 2019 setting objectives for human rights protection in the region” RFE/RL reported. However, security and migration concerns have dominated the EU agenda in recent months. Beyond issuing the review, the UN has also not intervened much further. In 2015, The U.S. embassy issued a statement declaring that “blanket persecution of all opposition will only accelerate the growth of radicalism, as disenfranchised citizens seek other, often more negative ways to express themselves and their views.” However, the United States and other global superpowers have yet to speak out against the recent violations made by the Tajik government.  

Tajikistan’s human rights record has only worsened since its initial review in 2016 — a clear indicator that harsher forms of global intervention are necessary in order to prevent further human rights violations. It is up to global superpowers and multilateral institutions to champion these basic liberties and stand for human rights. 

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