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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers the report of Tajikistan

GENEVA (11 August 2017) - The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined ninth to eleventh periodic report of Tajikistan on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. 
 
Presenting the report, Rustam Shohmurod, Minister of Justice of Tajikistan, noted that since the first days of its independence, Tajikistan had been working to build a democratic society where human rights were highly valued.  In June 2017 the President had signed a plan of action for 2017-2020 for the implementation of recommendations made by United Nations bodies.  Part of the action plan was to elaborate a law on the fight against discrimination, protection of equality and women’s rights.  The new law on citizenship of Tajikistan had entered into force in 2015, allowing refugees who had continuously held refugee status in the country to apply for Tajik citizenship.  The Government attached great importance to tolerant coexistence of various nationalities and religious groups, and it was working on the development of minority languages.  It also gave particular attention to the participation of women in society.
 
In the ensuing discussion, Experts observed that the report was timely, but rather thin on information.  The core document of February 2004 had not been updated to include important matters relevant to discrimination.  They also expressed concern that it seemed that the value of the Convention was not clear to judges and magistrates in Tajikistan.  Experts inquired about achieving A status for the Ombudsman Office, the lack of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, the application of the Convention in Tajikistan’s courts, measures to raise awareness of judges, prosecutors and lawyers on international norms, non-reporting or non-prosecution of racial discrimination, statelessness and disturbing reports of deportation of migrants and asylum seekers, unaccompanied refugee children, changing of Russian, Soviet-era and Turkic toponyms, structural discrimination of the Roma, the lack of effort to protect the Pamiri and Yaghnobi culture and languages, human trafficking, registration of civil society organizations, marriage to non-citizens and granting of Tajik citizenship, and availability of education in minority languages.    
 
In his concluding remarks, Yeung Kam John Yeung Sik Yuen, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Tajikistan, reminded that one of the major difficulties in the consideration of Tajikistan’s report was the lack of information and disaggregated data.  He also stressed the need for adopting a separate law on racial discrimination, and expressed hope that Tajikistan would adopt legislation in line with article 1 and article 4 of the Convention. 
 
Concluding his presentation, Mr. Shohmurod apologized for not having submitted the interim report on the Committee’s previous concluding observations.  The Government was confident that the dialogue with the Committee would help it implement the provisions of the Convention.  Tajikistan would continue its constructive dialogue with United Nations treaty bodies in order to improve the promotion and protection of human rights.            
 
Anastasia Crickley, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for having engaged with the Committee and said she looked forward to receiving the country’s next follow-up report.  She reminded that the Committee expressed particular concern about Tajikistan’s legislation and its implementation. 
 
The delegation of Tajikistan consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Labour, Migration and Social Employment, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and the Permanent Mission of Tajikistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
 
The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 14 August, at 10 a.m. to hold a meeting with non-governmental organizations from Canada and New Zealand, whose reports will be reviewed during the week of 14 to 18 August.   
 
Report
 
The combined ninth to eleventh periodic report of Tajikistan can be read at CERD/C/TJK/9-11.
 
Presentation of the Report
 
RUSTAM SHOHMUROD, Minister of Justice of Tajikistan, noted that since the first days of its independence, Tajikistan had been working to build a democratic society, where human rights were highly valued.  The Constitution guaranteed the fundamental freedoms of citizens.  On the basis of international treaties and recommendations of United Nations treaty bodies, the Government was working to improve the situation of human rights.  Tajikistan regularly presented its periodic reports and from 2011 it had submitted reports relating to six international conventions.  The Government looked carefully into all the recommendations made by United Nations bodies.  A great deal of work had been done to bring domestic laws in line with the country’s international obligations.  In June 2017 the President had signed a plan of action for 2017-2020 for the implementation of recommendations made by United Nations bodies.  Part of the action plan was to elaborate a law on the fight against discrimination, protection of equality and women’s rights.  The action plan had been prepared by an inter-departmental working group, with direct participation of civil society.  Tajikistan had a wide legislative base to guarantee the equality of citizens, regardless of their gender, race, nationality, language, origin, material status, place of residence, religion, belief or social group.  The Criminal Code set forth direct and indirect benefits that citizens enjoyed regardless of their nationality or race.  Citizens were guaranteed all constitutional, family, personal, labour and social rights that stemmed from the Convention. 
 
The Government attached great importance to tolerant coexistence of various nationalities and religious groups.  Tajiks made up the majority of the population (84.3 per cent), whereas major minorities were the Uzbeks (12.2 per cent), Kyrgyz (0.8 per cent), Russians (0.5 per cent), Turkmen (0.2 per cent), and Tatars (0.1 per cent).  Members of nationalities could learn in their native languages and the Government was working on the development of languages of national minorities.  Particular attention was given to the participation of women in society, and restriction on the right to be elected was prohibited.  In 2015, there were seven female deputies in the upper house of Parliament, and 12 female deputies in the lower house.  To combat domestic violence, a law had been adopted in 2013 and a post of inspector for domestic violence had been established within the Ministry of Interior.  Tajikistan was one of the first post-Soviet countries to sign the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees.  The country had created specialized centres to provide temporary shelters to refugees, and the Government was currently developing a new draft provision on the reception of refugees.  The country hosted 2,266 refugees and 760 stateless persons. 
 
The new law on the citizenship of Tajikistan had entered into force in 2015, allowing refugees who had continuously held refugee status in the country to apply for Tajik citizenship.  Tajikistan espoused respect for and tolerance of all religions and religious denominations.  Some 3,986 religious associations were active in the country, and many media outlets worked in different languages.  Healthcare was one of the main priorities of the Government, in particular the provision of healthcare services free of any discrimination.  In 2014, it had adopted a new law on human trafficking to provide protection and social rehabilitation to victims.  The National Plan on Human Trafficking 2016-2018 was currently in force.  Mr. Shohmurod concluded by stating that Tajikistan was committed to fighting racial discrimination and protecting human rights. 
 
 
 
Questions by the Rapporteur
 
YEUNG KAM JOHN YEUNG SIK YUEN, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Tajikistan, said that the report was timely, but rather thin on information, with barely 13 pages.  The core document of February 2004 had not been updated to include important matters relevant to discrimination.  While the delegation stated that civil society had participated in the preparation of the report, there was scarce information about those representatives. 
 
Had the A status objective for the Ombudsman Office been achieved yet?  It had a B status in 2012, before the amendment of the relevant law in 2015 so that it could comply with the Paris Principles.  What was the number of citizens’ petitions received and processed by the Ombudsman from 2012 to date?
 
As for disaggregated data, the 2010 census showed that the number of Tajiks, the main group in the country, had significantly increased.  At the same time, access to instruction in minority languages had decreased.  What were the possible reasons behind the decrease of the Uzbek, Kyrgyz and Russian populations? 
 
With respect to the definition of racial discrimination in line with the Convention, there was no indication on any progress made to develop comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, including a national plan to combat discrimination and information on the participation of stakeholders in the process. 
 
Although the provisions of the Convention could be invoked before national courts, there were no such examples.  What measures had been taken to raise awareness of judges, prosecutors and lawyers on international norms applicable at the national level?
 
As for statelessness, the majority of those without documents were women (66 per cent) and children (44 per cent), particularly in rural areas.  There were reports that stateless persons faced many challenges, including risk of deportation, discrimination, difficulties in accessing social services, securing formal employment, and extortion by local officials.  What was the status of the promulgation of an amnesty law for stateless persons?
 
Mr. Yeung Sik Yuen underlined that non-reporting or non-prosecution of racial discrimination did not mean non-existence of racial discrimination.
 
Tajikistan hosted the largest number of refugees in Central Asia: 2,158 refugees and 108 asylum seekers, mostly from neighbouring Afghanistan and small numbers from Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.  More than 90 per cent of all Afghan refugees were ethnic Tajiks.  Refugees were not allowed to reside in designated urban areas, including in the main cities of Dushanbe and Khujand, which negatively affected their ability to access employment, healthcare, education and other services.  Under the Administrative Code, refugees and asylum seekers ran a significant risk of refoulement, revocation or cancellation of refugee status, rejection of asylum applications, and imposition of fines.  There were disturbing reports of deportation of migrants and asylum seekers.
   
Could the delegation comment on the changing of Russian, Soviet-era and Turkic names of public places without prior consultation with the local population?  The name change reduced the language space of non-Tajiks and had sometimes resulted in protests.  In northern Tajikistan there were apparently dozens of settlements with Turkic names renamed since 2013, reportedly to decrease Uzbek visibility and influence. 
 
The Pamiri languages were not included in any form in school curricula.  Languages remained a sensitive topic and a lack of programmes in Pamiri languages on national television and radio had caused discontent in the Gorno-Badakhshan province.  What were the reasons behind that situation?  What measures was the Government taking to ensure the effective recognition and enjoyment of linguistic, religious and cultural rights of the Pamiris?
 
The language and culture of the Yaghnobi were very much under threat of extinction and the small population remaining in the Yaghnob valley did not receive the needed Government support.  There were reports of structural discrimination of the Roma (Dzugi or Lyuli), such as lack of education, extreme poverty, unemployment, poor housing and water supply, and discrimination against women and girls.   
 
Questions by Experts
 
GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Follow-up Rapporteur, drew attention to the fact that the interim report, which had been requested by the Committee, had never arrived.  The Committee attached great importance to punctuality on that issue.  The interim report concerned the following issues – the strategy to improve the situation of the Roma, the restriction of refugees’ freedom of movement and access to employment, and various problems of stateless persons.
 
The Roma (Dzugi or Lyuli) were the most vulnerable and stigmatised group in Tajikistan.  Some kind of contact should be established between the Dzugi and the authorities.  A strategy for improving the situation of the Roma needed to take into account their specific situation.  Experts also raised the question of prejudices towards non-Sunni Muslims.  The Uzbek minority needed their own school textbooks.  
 
What were the indicators for life expectancy and imprisonment of the population in Tajikistan?  What was the population of persons with HIV?  What was the disaggregated data on the prison population?  What steps had been taken to provide compensation to victims of human trafficking?
 
Experts asked the delegation to share disaggregated data on the ethnic composition of the country, as recorded in the 2010 census.  Would the State party be willing to create a single law on racial discrimination?  The report did not contain examples of prosecuted cases of racial discrimination.  Why were there were no reports of racial discrimination?
 
Did the Government plan to lift the restriction for refugees to settle in Dushanbe and Khujand?  Did it plan to amend the Civil Code with respect to the provisions on citizenship?
 
What was the contribution of the Arabs to Tajik culture and were there still monuments and testimonies of the Arab presence?
 
MELHEM KHALAF, Acting Chairperson of the Committee, expressed surprise that the Government of Tajikistan claimed that there was no need for a specific law on racial discrimination, even though he appreciated all other existing laws.  Was the constitutional law superior to regular laws?  Could the Convention be invoked before courts and were examples of this available? 
 
What was the Government doing to move ahead with the supplementary legislative framework on human trafficking?  Was the Government considering the adoption of a law on cyber-crime?  How could a stateless person acquire Tajik nationality?       
 
Was prior monitoring carried out for the recognition of associations?  How did the Government consult civil society in the drafting of the report?
 
YEUNG KAM JOHN YEUNG SIK YUEN, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Tajikistan, raised the issue of marriage of non-citizens and the fact that many conditions were required for that union.  As a result, non-citizens could hardly marry a citizen of Tajikistan.  
 
The Labour Code and the Criminal Code were not comprehensive enough and could not cover for the absence of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law.   
 
Replies by the Delegation 
    
RUSTAM SHOHMUROD, Minister of Justice of Tajikistan, said that the issue of a separate law on the prevention of racial discrimination had been the subject of discussions in Tajikistan for many years.  Numerous analyses had been carried out.  Even though international human rights treaties were superior to domestic laws, it was not always possible to domesticate them.  The Supreme Court had decided in November 2013 to refer to international legal acts, where necessary.  The Government had set up a task force on creating conditions for the implementation of international legal norms.  Any lawyer was entitled to refer to the provisions of the Convention.  However, there were no direct petitions by citizens.  The country’s legislation fully condemned racial discrimination. 
 
The main contribution of the Arabs was Islam, whereas Arabic was used in religious schools.  Arab influence certainly remained in the Persian language.  
 
Mr. Shohmurod explained that minorities were represented in the Tajik Parliament.  The State policy did not make any differentiation between regions and conditions had been created for the free development of minority languages and cultures.  The Government was aware that there was cultural heritage that needed to be preserved, such as that of the Pamiris who lived in the region of Gorno-Badakhshan in eastern Tajikistan.  In the 1930s writing had been introduced in the Shughni language, which was one of the Pamiri languages.  The issue of studying minority languages was very much part of the Government’s vision and the Government was conducting training for teachers to study the Pamiri and Yaghnobi languages. 
 
The Yaghnobi people had been moved from the Yaghnob valley through a resettlement programme due to an earthquake.  They had not been forcefully resettled.  Nowadays they were spread out throughout the country.  The teaching of the Yaghnobi language had been undertaken in the early twentieth century by Soviet and Tajik scholars.  Since 1924 the teaching of that language had never stopped.    
 
As for the Roma (Dzugi or Lyuli), the nomadic way of life of that population prevented the State party from providing reliable statistical data on them.  They did not show much interest in obtaining identity papers and other documentation.  The Government was working to provide them with passports, and it did not impose any limits to their access to employment, education and healthcare.  The main sources of income for the Roma were small trading, livestock, handicrafts, and begging.    
 
With respect to the registration of civil society organizations, more than 2,800 such organizations were active in Tajikistan.  The Law on Civil Society Organizations regulated their financing when it came from abroad.  Money laundering and terrorism-related concerns played a role in the drafting of that law. Tajikistan had received recommendations regarding the transparency and financing of Government agencies, as well as recommendations on financing of political parties and civil society organizations.  A roundtable had been held to discuss the financing of non-profit organizations, in cooperation with regional and international partners.   Indeed, civil society organizations had to submit information about their activities in order to get registered.  In March 2016 the Government had established procedural guidelines for civil society organizations on how to use their resources. 
 
Turning to the renaming of regions, the process took into account the interests of the local populations and the majority views.  Nevertheless, there were always people who did not agree with the decisions taken, Mr. Shohmurod clarified.   
 
The delegation stated that the next population census would take place in 2020, in line with the rule that it be carried out every 10 years.  The overall increase of the Tajiks was due to the fact that they tended to have more children. 
 
In August 2014, amendments had been made to the Law on Refugees, creating specialized centres for the temporary placement of asylum seekers.  A new provision on the status of refugees was currently being drafted.  The Government had developed a single database on refugees and asylum seekers, in cooperation with the United Nations Refugee Agency.  The majority of asylum seekers were citizens of Afghanistan.  One of the reasons for statelessness was the fact that after the fall of the Soviet Union some people had missed the deadline to apply for Tajik citizenship.  A draft law on amnesty for those citizens was currently under way. 
 
Some 59 per cent of refugee children were studying in public schools, while 13 per cent did not go to school for various reasons.  Refugees had the equal right to receive primary and secondary school education.  To ensure security, law and order, the Government had set a list of towns where refugees and asylum seekers were not allowed to live. 
 
A fall in the mortality rate had been recorded in 2015, as well as in maternal and infant mortality.  Life expectancy stood at 73 for men and 75 for women.  There was also a decrease in the mortality of persons with HIV, due to better medical coverage.
 
There had been no complaints of racial discrimination and, thus, no charges had been made by Tajikistan’s judiciary.  Nevertheless, the Government was working to prevent any form of discrimination, and the Ombudsman considered complaints received both from citizens and non-citizens.  The Administrative Code stipulated administrative responsibility for the spread and production of any material aimed at inflaming ethnic and racial hatred.  Not a single case had been recorded.  
 
In July 2014 Tajikistan had adopted a new law on combatting human trafficking.  The fund for victims’ rehabilitation and reparations was still being created.  When necessary, victims were housed in crisis centres, and they received psychological and other forms of assistance.  To mainstream general practices on the crimes of human trafficking, actions had been taken to improve the legal literacy of the population about such crimes.  Tajikistan had signed more than 22 bilateral and multilateral agreements on law enforcement cooperation in combatting human trafficking.
 
The Government had a practice of inviting civil society representatives when preparing reports to United Nations treaty bodies.  The current periodic report had been discussed broadly with civil society, the Ombudsman, independent experts, and international organizations.  The Government had launched a website to publicise Tajikistan’s implementation of human rights-related recommendations.  As for the mandate of the Ombudsman, in 2016 the Government had introduced amendments on the competences of the Ombudsman and it had formalised the Ombudsman’s right to visit temporary detention centres for migrants.  A strategy of activities of the Ombudsman for 2016-2020 had also been adopted.  Work was under way for the Ombudsman Office to receive A status in line with the Paris Principles.
 
Follow-up Questions by Experts
 
YEUNG KAM JOHN YEUNG SIK YUEN, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Tajikistan, raised the issue of unaccompanied refugee children and the lack of coordination among the authorities responsible for the rights of the child and the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.  The lack of coordination posed challenges in ensuring that there was no detention of refugee children. 
 
As for the mandatory HIV test for foreigners, it still had not been removed.  Keeping the test in place was relevant for the issue of mobility. 
 
Mr. Yeung Sik Yuen underlined the high school drop-out rate of Roma, migrant and refugee children.  The State party had to make efforts and provide incentives to remedy that situation.  Obtaining documentation was a costly affair.  Had the State party done something to that effect? 
 
Mr. Yeung Sik Yuen reiterated his question about the reasons for the decrease in the percentage and actual numbers of minorities.  There had also been a decrease in the number of schools using minority languages.
 
Experts noted that the structural discrimination of the Roma was due to widespread stereotypes that prevented them from entering into different professions, as well as due to old fashioned customs.  That structural discrimination led to the lack of trust in the authorities. 
 
How did the State party intend to take part in the International Decade for People of African Descent?  Experts invited Tajikistan to ratify the amendment to article 8 of the Convention on financial contributions for the functioning of the Committee, and the declaration on article 14 on individual communications.   
 
Experts observed that even though all the procedures for the name change of toponyms had been followed, the results might be discriminatory. 
 
As for the ongoing discussion in Tajikistan on the utility and necessity of a new law on racial discrimination, Experts reminded that once ratified, the Convention should become part of the national legal system.  Did the Convention have direct effect in Tajikistan’s legal system, or did it first require the establishment of a relevant legal structure?  It seemed that the value of the Convention was not clear to judges and magistrates in Tajikistan. 
 
Was there a specific programme to regularise and address the plight of people in irregular migration?  How could a stateless person request Tajik citizenship? 
 
When judges were referred to international treaties to find provisions missing from the national legislation, where would they find relevant sanctions?  What was the procedure for submitting a case of racial discrimination to a court?  Who had the responsibility of the burden of proof in case of racial discrimination (the defendant or the plaintiff)?
 
What was the situation with respect to the marriage of a Tajik woman to a stateless foreigner?      
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
RUSTAM SHOHMUROD, Minister of Justice of Tajikistan, said that the issue of the ratification of the amendment to article 8 of the Convention was not in front of the Parliament.  As for the application of the Convention in domestic courts, the application of international legal acts was governed by a specific law, which stipulated their supremacy over national laws.  In case of conflict, judges had to decide themselves which provisions to apply.  Nevertheless, parties could invoke international treaties.
 
As part of the second Universal Periodic Review, Tajikistan had received a recommendation to develop a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, and it was working on it.
 
With respect to the name change, Mr. Shohmurod confirmed a trend to change Turkic toponyms, but added that the Government would pay attention to a potentially discriminatory effect of the name change.
 
Minorities had to learn the State language, namely Tajik.  Russian was the language of communication among different ethnic groups.  The Government could not secure schooling in all the languages that were spoken in the country. 
 
As for the registration of marriages of Tajiks and foreigners, problems had occurred several years ago due to trafficking of women.  Accordingly, the Government had introduced a temporary measure and imposed strict conditions for such marriages.  
     
A new commission on citizenship had been set up to work on the issue of statelessness.  It had already developed a procedure for its work and would submit relevant documents to the Government shortly.  The Roma could register the birth of their children without any cost if they submitted relevant documents within three months.  The Government was working to inform the population and raise awareness about obtaining documents.  
 
Concluding Remarks
 
YEUNG KAM JOHN YEUNG SIK YUEN, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Tajikistan, reminded that one of the major difficulties in the consideration of Tajikistan’s report was the lack of information and disaggregated data on the ethnic composition of the population and on relevant socio-economic indicators in the field of education, employment and healthcare.  Nevertheless, Mr. Yeung Sik Yuen appreciated the effort of the delegation to answer all the questions.  With respect to the applicability of the Convention before Tajik courts, he stressed the need for adopting a separate law on racial discrimination.  He expressed hope that Tajikistan would adopt legislation in line with article 1 and article 4 of the Convention. 
 
RUSTAM SHOHMUROD, Minister of Justice of Tajikistan, expressed appreciation to the Committee and apologized for not having submitted the interim report on the Committee’s previous concluding observations.  The Government was confident that the dialogue with the Committee would help it implement the provisions of the Convention.  In order to improve the promotion and protection of human rights, Tajikistan would continue its constructive dialogue with United Nations treaty bodies.          
 
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for having engaged with the Committee and she looked forward to receiving the country’s next follow-up report.  She reminded that the Committee expressed particular concern about Tajikistan’s legislation and its implementation. 
 
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