DUSHANBE (23 May 2013): My mission to Central Asia covering Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan* and Uzbekistan*, follows the visits of the UN Secretary-General to Central Asia in 2010 and that of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan in 2012. Kyrgyzstan
My visit began on 19 May in Bishkek where the Human Rights Regional Office for Central Asia has been operational since 2008 and enjoys good co-operation from the authorities. My meetings with high-level State officials, representatives of civil society and the international community, including the UN Country Team, were insightful and gave me a good overview of the human rights situation. I was able to appreciate the challenges faced by Kyrgyzstan in its state building and transition towards long-term stability, peace and economic prosperity, against the background of the complexities of the region and the global economic crisis.
In my meetings I encouraged efforts to address underlying causes of potential instability, including those that triggered the violence in 2010. I emphasised that these efforts need to be anchored in full respect for human rights, justice and accountability, irrespective of the ethnicity of perpetrators. In that context, I raised concerns over fair trials, with reference to some cases, including that of Mr. Azimjan Askarov.
I emphasised to officials that the on-going legislative reforms are welcome. It is key, though, that laws, policies and practices are implemented in line with the international obligations of Kyrgyzstan and its Constitution. Recommendations of the various UN Human Rights mechanisms provide a comprehensive framework for the human rights improvements that are needed.
I also stressed the need to continue efforts to fight corruption that undermines the rule of law and hampers economic development and the enjoyment of all rights. It is important to continue the capacity-building of State institutions, in particular the Ombudsman Institution and the newly established National Centre for Prevention of Torture. Equally important is investing to maximise the potential and development of all individuals to contribute to growth, stability and reconciliation within Kyrgyzstan, in a non-discriminatory and participatory way. Special attention should be paid to addressing more effectively discrimination, particularly on grounds of ethnicity, religion and gender.
I expressed concerns about violence against women, especially “bride abductions” - conducted against the will of the abducted girls – which, according to UNWOMEN lead to one third of marriages in the country.
I was impressed by the vibrant and robust civil society in Kyrgyzstan; the democratic space and the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, religion and belief should continue to widen. I underlined that legitimate security and counter-terrorism concerns and measures should not be undertaken to the detriment of these fundamental rights.
On 22 May, in Dushanbe I met the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Interior, and of Justice, the Prosecutor General, the Ombudsman, and representatives of civil society and the international community. I appreciated the awareness of top government officials of the challenges and shortcomings in the area of human rights. They recognised that there is a long way to go and that human rights and the rule of law are essential in the process of building a democratic state, achieving economic development and consolidating peace and stability following the end of the civil war in 1997. My meeting with civil society showed me that in Tajikistan there is a growing, sophisticated and articulate civil society. It has clear views on the human rights priorities for the society and can contribute a lot in this regard.
I welcomed the cooperation of the Government with the UN Human Rights mechanisms, including in particular the 2012 visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the recent review by the Committee against Torture. I encouraged the Government to keep the door open for visits by other UN Human Rights Special Procedures by issuing a standing invitation and giving priority consideration to the Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression, Peaceful Assembly and Association and Human Rights Defenders.
I discussed at length the problem of torture and was grateful for having been granted, at short notice, a visit to a prison on the outskirts of Dushanbe. I highlighted the importance of allowing access for the ICRC to all places of detention places and of ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture to provide for independent monitoring of all places of deprivation of liberty.
I welcome preparations towards the abolition of the death penalty, following the progressive reduction in the number of criminal offences with capital punishment and the moratorium introduced in 2004. I called on the authorities to conclude the reflection process currently underway with de jure abolition through ratification of the second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
In all my meetings, I raised the issue of empowering women and particular concerns about violence against them. With regard to the implementation of the recently adopted law on domestic violence, I urged the Ministers of Interior and Justice and the Prosecutor General to strengthen participation of women as police officers and prosecutors. More broadly, increased representation of women in public life would enhance the visibility and role of women in society.
I discussed the situation of other vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities, children, migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers, as well as other issues such as human rights and counter terrorism, non-refoulement, the freedoms of religion and belief, of expression, of association and of peaceful assembly as well as the human rights due diligence policy. I also raised some individual cases.
My overall impression is that significant effort is on-going in bringing national legislation in line with international human rights standards. Implementation is now key, as is coordination among national and international partners. The implementation of recommendations from UN Human Rights mechanisms under a senior-level national coordination body is a practical way to bring about the required human rights changes. This would also be a useful framework to focus the combined efforts of the Government, civil society and the Ombudsman, with the support of the international community.
At a time when Tajikistan is discussing its potential membership in the UN Human Rights Council, the Government needs to make additional progress to improve the human rights situation in the country. OHCHR remains committed to continue supporting these efforts.
*A second statement will be issued at the end of Mr. Simonovic’s visit to Central Asia. He is in Turkmenistan from 24 to 25 May and Uzbekistan from 26 to 29 May.
UN Human Rights, country page – Kyrgyzstan: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/KGIndex.aspx
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