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Human Rights Committee reviews the situation of Civil and Political Rights in Tajikistan

Human Rights Committee

3 July 2019

The Human Rights Committee concluded today its review of the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Tajikistan.

In his opening remarks, Yusuf Rahmon, Prosecutor General of Tajikistan, said the President of Tajikistan and the Government devoted ongoing attention to honouring the country’s international commitments related to human rights, and this was coordinated by the Interdepartmental Commission under the Government, led by the First Deputy Prime Minister.  To ensure the proper implementation of international instruments, the Supreme Court had rendered a decision establishing that international legal norms ratified by Tajikistan fully applied in the country and requiring that the judiciary function accordingly concerning civil, family, criminal or administrative spheres.  

Committee Experts took note of the positive measures taken in the institutional and legislative framework and welcomed the continued moratorium on the death penalty.  Could the delegation provide insight on the reasons for the delay in ratifying Optional Protocol 2 and clarify for which crimes the death penalty could be imposed.  Could it also provide further details on the prosecution of organizers of the July 2012 military operation in Khorog as well as that of active participants?  Were victims or their families awarded compensation?  Turning to anti-corruption measures, Experts asked who was responsible for performing risk analysis and developing recommendations under the Government Decree 465 propagated in October 2016.  How did the State party plan to combat discrimination against people living with HIV?

Mr. Rahmon, in concluding remarks, said that the delegation had tried to answer the Committee’s questions to the best of its ability.  Moving forward, the Government would continue to uphold all international legal acts.

Ahmed Amin Fathalla, Committee Chair, in his concluding remarks, said the dialogue had been constructive which would help the Committee to adopt recommendations aiming to help the country implement the Covenant.  Some progress had been made, and the country had undertaken a number of positive steps, but improvement was still needed.  There was a difference between having legislation and the practical implementation of this legislation, he stressed.

The delegation of Tajikistan consisted of the Prosecutor General of Tajikistan, and representatives of the Executive Office of the President of Tajikistan, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health and Social Protection, the Statistical Agency, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Tajikistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

Documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage .

The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/ .

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today, 3 July, to consider the situation in Nigeria, in absence of the second periodic report.  (CCPR/C/NGA/Q/2/Add.1 ) is the replies of Nigeria to the Committee’s list of issues.

Report

The Committee has before it the third periodic report of Tajikistan (CCPR/C/TJK/3 ).

Opening Statement

YUSUF RAHMON, Prosecutor General of Tajikistan, said the President of Tajikistan and the Government devoted ongoing attention to honouring the country’s international commitments related to human rights, and this was coordinated by the Interdepartmental Commission under the Government, led by the First Deputy Prime Minister.  To ensure the proper implementation of international instruments, the Supreme Court had rendered a decision establishing that international legal norms ratified by Tajikistan fully applied in the country and requiring that the judiciary function accordingly concerning civil, family, criminal or administrative spheres.   In 2018, the State had put in place a 17-fold increase of the ombudsperson’s budget.  With regard to enhancing the qualification of judges, an entity associated with the Supreme Court provided them with training.  A law had been adopted to prevent lawyers convicted of crimes from exercising their profession, in order to avoid having corrupt lawyers.

Anti-discrimination norms were included in various legal texts.  Measures were put in place to increase the participation of women in political and social life, including in decision making entities.  The executive apparatus of the President, as well as various Government entities and local authorities, were headed by women. Polygamy was criminalized and was not widespread in the country.  The Government had undertaken measures to prevent torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and it was implementing the recommendations of the Committee against Torture.  Torture was excluded from the law on amnesty, and any evidence obtained through torture could not be brought before a court.  The rights of victims to obtain compensation were guaranteed by the law.  Extraditions were carried out in line with existing conventions and agreements.

Corporal punishment against children was prohibited by the law, both at home and in schools.  More broadly, coercive measures with regard to minors were prohibited, and parents who were convicted of ill-treatment could lose their parental rights.  On religious freedom, it was guaranteed by the Constitution, he assured.  Article 9 of the law on freedom of conscience required that people register with the Government entities responsible for religious matters.  There had not been any documented cases of religious minorities being persecuted.  Religious education for minors was only allowed in their free time from regular education, which was mandatory, and required a written expression of consent from their parents. 

There were about 3,000 non-governmental organizations, and the Government collaborated with them in implementing human rights policies.  Regarding allegations about the so-called persecution of non-governmental organizations, they could only be closed down by courts.  There had not been any criminal prosecutions of journalists for carrying out their professional activities.  The same went for lawyers.

Questions by Committee Experts

Committee Experts took note of the positive measures taken in the institutional and legislative framework in Tajikistan.  They asked if the Committee’s concluding observations were shared with the public.  Were they translated in national languages and published on a public website?  The reporting procedure was a good opportunity for the State party to provide information on individual communications that the Committee had received.  Did the State party have a specific mechanism to implement the Committee’s views?  On the ombudsperson, Experts said that it was commendable that the law on the ombudsperson had been amended to bring the institution closer to the Paris Principles.  Could the delegation respond to the Committee’s concerns about the need to bolster the transparency and independence of the ombudsperson’s office?
The Committee welcomed the continued moratorium on the death penalty.  Could the delegation provide insight on the reasons for the delay in ratifying Optional Protocol 2 and clarify for which crimes the death penalty could be imposed?  Could it also provide further details on the prosecution of organizers of the July 2012 military operation in Khorog as well as that of active participants?  Were victims or their families awarded compensation?

Turning to anti-corruption measures, Experts asked who was responsible for performing risk analysis and developing recommendations under the Government’s Decree 465 propagated in October 2016.  What protections were offered to those who independently exposed corruption and, in particular, how were whistle blowers protected against reprisals?  Noting that discrimination had been addressed in the public sphere through laws prohibiting propaganda and incitement, Experts asked if domestic legislation prohibited discrimination in the private sphere such as the denial of legal services based on gender, religion, sexuality or HIV status.  How did the State party plan to combat discrimination against people living with HIV?

Though homosexuality was not criminalized, the Committee had received reports to the effect that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community faced deep-rooted discrimination.  Articles 139, 140, and 141 of the Criminal Code imposed liability for “sodomy and lesbianism” in certain instances.  The human rights ombudsman of Tajikistan had stated that international recommendations regarding the protection of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights would not be followed as, according to him, they were contrary to the “moral and ethical norms” of the country.  Would the Government repeal the relevant discriminatory articles of the Criminal Code?  What positive steps had Tajikistan taken to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons so that they could exercise their right to be free from discrimination as provided for in article 26 of the Covenant?

Experts asked if the acts on the state of emergency, electronic communications and counterterrorism complied with article 4 of the Covenant.  They requested more information on death in military camps and related investigations, prosecutions and compensation.  What steps were being taken to tackle the overcrowding of detention facilities and provide people deprived of liberty with adequate access to healthcare?  Could the delegation comment on the latest incidents that had occurred in prisons, namely the November 2018 riot and the incident that happened in May 2019?  Laws on terrorism and extremism included definitions of terrorism and extremism that were too broad and could give way to abuse.  The sentences they provided for were also too stringent, and these two laws undermined the principle of fair trial.  Could the Government comment about the allegation that these laws undermined the freedom of religion?  Committee Experts remarked that torture was used to extort confessions which courts sometimes used, according to reports.  Torture was also reportedly used against human rights defenders.  Could the delegation comment on these reports?  What steps had the State party taken to protect women’s rights in religious marriages, beyond the prohibition of polygamy?

Replies by the Delegation

YUSUF RAHMON, Prosecutor General of Tajikistan, on the events that had taken place in November 2018, said that efforts had been made to negotiate with the prisoners, but the convicts had refused, tried to attack guards, and attempted to escape.  Regarding the events in May 2019, he stressed that amongst the highly dangerous criminals involved -- who killed prisoners and guards -- there were members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.  A law had been adopted to suspend the application of the death penalty, and life imprisonment was established as an alternative in the criminal code.  A committee comprised of representatives of various ministries, the Supreme Court and the Public Prosecutor’s office, amongst others, had been created to work on the abolition of the death penalty.  Changes had been made in the legal code providing clarification on the rights of detainees. Torture had been removed from the list of crimes that could be subject to amnesty. There were no plans to create a body to investigate allegations of torture, as there had only been a few.  According to article 19 of the Constitution, the State guaranteed compensation for victims; courts had accordingly handed down sentences providing victims of degrading treatment with compensation. 

On anti-corruption efforts, relevant measures had been taken to honour Tajikistan’s international commitments.  Criminal liability had been introduced for various actions related to bribes, such as asking for them or offering them.  Implementing these laws quickly was difficult due to the “historical mindset” of the people of Tajikistan.  The Government was working to identify and block sites that contained extremist material.  There was no register of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in Tajikistan.  On alleged travel bans imposed on family members of the opposition, Mr. Rahmon stated that no such bans existed. 

The delegation said that Tajikistan was giving continuous attention to the issue of gender and that improving the role of women in society was important for the Government.  A plan of action had been adopted, and a committee would be created to conduct expert research from a gender point of view on activities carried out by the Government.  Efforts were being made to foster women’s access to decision-making positions.  For instance, according to the Supreme Court, there were six women who were court presidents and six others were deputy presidents.  A female students’ council had been set up and grants were awarded to female students across the country.  The Ministry of Internal Affairs had undertaken a project to improve the prosecution of domestic violence and enhance victim protection.  State legal offices had been opened between 2016 and 2017 to provide free legal aid. Council centres with jurists and psychologists had also been set up, and this had allowed women to, inter alia, benefit from free legal consultation with legal experts.

The funding of the penal detention system had increased two fold in the past year, and this had notably allowed for the provision of balanced meals and shoes.  A new high security prison and a special penitentiary institution were being built.  In 2018-2019 alone, four institutions had been revamped and their bakeries had been upgraded.  Other changes made to institutions included the creation of cultural facilities, fresh water wells, and spaces for meetings with lawyers.  To date, a number of agreements with international partners had been signed to establish various programmes in penal colonies.  A draft strategy had been developed for the reform of the penitentiary, with the assistance of international partners and leading experts.  Facilities for tuberculosis patients had been built in some penitentiary facilities and equipment for digital screening of this disease had been provided.  Workshops and seminars had provided training to inmates and penitentiary staff on the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.  Condoms were distributed in detention facilities.

In 2010, based on the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the legal age of marriage had been raised from 16 to 18 years.  The registration of marriages was allowed, however, from the age of 17.  Recently, the Lower Chamber of Parliament had adopted amendments to ensure that the registration of births would be carried out for free.  A Commission had been established to coordinate the work of various Government entities aiming to implement international conventions and agreements on human rights.  Human rights focal points had been created, and they collected and processed information on human rights-related matters for reports.  In carrying out judicial proceedings, courts had been advised to keep in mind that every person was considered innocent until proven guilty in accordance with the law, as per the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

YUSUF RAHMON, Prosecutor General of Tajikistan, regarding the individual cases cited by the Committee Experts, said that these individuals had been found guilty of criminal offences, such as abuse of money and falsification of documents.  Therefore, repealing their sentences and releasing them was not possible.  The individuals had been prosecuted and convicted because they had committed criminal offences, and not on the basis of their political views.  Allegations of torture and ill-treatment at the hand of public officials were unfounded.  On Mr. Boboev, he said that the police had denied that they had assaulted him.  Relatives of Mr. Boboev had disagreed with the outcome of the forensic examination and therefore a new one had been scheduled, the results of which showed that the specific cause of his death could not be established. 

Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts

Committee Experts expressed concerns about the detention of asylum seekers.  There had been several cases of asylum seekers being put in detention after crossing the border irregularly, in violation of the State party’s legislation, according to reports.  Asylum seekers had also been reportedly deported without having been given the opportunity to request asylum.  Could the delegation provide information on this matter?

According to data on the judiciary, there were some towns in the countryside where there were no lawyers.  What steps was the Government taking to ensure and promote access to legal representation?  Lawyers who took up politically sensitive cases, notably on terrorism and extremism, appeared to be subjected to harassment and intimidation.  How was the legal basis for the arrest and prosecution of these lawyers compatible with the State party’s obligations under the Covenant?

Experts asked what steps, beyond legislation, was the Government taking to ensure the equality of arms between the defence and prosecution throughout the criminal process, regardless of a defendant’s political affiliation.  They recalled that the Supreme Court had banned the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan as a terrorist group, and arrested, tried and convicted all of its leadership, imposing lengthy prison sentences.  Several of them had suffered abuse in detention.  The trials had been closed to the public and reportedly violated the defendants’ due process rights.  There were also reports that another political group, Group 24, had been declared “extremist” after calling for democratic reform.  Could the delegation describe what steps had been taken to end the practice of arbitrary detention of Government critics?  Experts requested explanations about the rationale for closed trials for cases not involving national security charges, and, where cases touched on matters of national security, the justification for closing hearings for portions of the trials that did not refer to national security charges.  

What concrete measures were planned to protect the rights of all persons to vote and run for office, including prisoners, as guaranteed by article 25 of the Covenant, Experts asked?  They also expressed concerns about privacy interference that two recent pieces of legislation might allow.  Could the delegation provide information on safeguards that were put in place to prevent the arbitrary surveillance of regular citizens’ domestic and international communications?  What safeguards were in place to ensure that the principles of necessity and proportionality were upheld when the right to privacy was infringed upon?  How were the February 2017 regulations requiring the registration of media outlets compatible with the Covenant?  Experts also requested information on measures to prevent en masse blocking of media websites and search platforms, such as the BBC’s website and YouTube.  

Did the rules on the registration of religious associations and other religious-related restrictions --such as regulations on women’s clothing, including the hijab -- respect the principles of necessity and proportionality?  Members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan and Group 24 had been persecuted.  The family of some of them believed they had been subjected to enforced disappearances.  To what degree were the prosecutions and alleged enforced disappearances in conformity with article 25 and other articles of the Covenant?

Experts explained that some questions were based on reports and stressed that it would be useful if the delegation responded to questions on specific cases.  How many of the 3,000 registered non-governmental organizations were effectively functioning?  How many of them worked on human rights?  Experts expressed concerns about the chilling effect of the law requiring non-governmental organizations to publish their financial reports.  Could the State party comment on how such limitations were compliant with the Covenant?  They asked for information on language tests for prospective candidates to political positions and the representation of ethnic minorities, including the Majilis.

Responses by the Delegation 

The delegation said that Tajikistan sought to implement proper regulations for refugees in line with international human rights standards.  Persons who had not had their refugee status recognized could freely leave the country or apply to obtain legal status in the country.  The Government had issued a decree in accordance with which a list of settlements had been drawn up, in which asylum-seekers and refugees could not stay.  Asylum-seekers and refugees had to be settled in areas where there was appropriate infrastructure.  In accordance with a national plan, the Interior Minister had developed a draft law, which would, once adopted, ensure that asylum-seekers and refugees would no longer face expulsion if they violated the law.  The Government had adopted a plan for border controls whereby asylum-seekers and refugees that had arrived in the country by crossing the border unlawfully would not be prosecuted for doing so.  Asylum seekers’ claims to refugee status were processed in line with established guidelines and procedures.  With the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Government was working to build institutional capacity on matters related to refugees and asylum seekers.  It notably organized workshops and training sessions on topics like interviewing asylum seekers.  Asylum seekers that arrived to Tajikistan had access to legal procedures.  Afghani refugees received education in public schools in Tajikistan.  

In 2018, a law had been adopted which allowed for obtaining electronic information on the activities of criminal elements and structures.  Identifying and monitoring electronic channels of communications enabled law enforcement officials to better pursue criminals.  Regarding electronic communications, criminals were often one step ahead of them.  Given that this situation was fairly new, regulatory measures were evolving.  

The registration of legal lawyers’ activities was carried out by the Ministry of Justice.  The provision of free legal assistance in Tajikistan had been put in place with the support of the Government of Switzerland and the United Nations Development Programme.  The Government had created an agency which had been providing legal assistance free of charge in six pilot regions.  It offered information on the law in person or over the phone.  There was a single database where all lawyers from all State bureaus kept information on their work.  Over 41,000 people had been given assistance in that context.  Secondary legal assistance was provided to over 1,000 people.  

On the representation of ethnic minorities in political life, the law provided that ballots had to be printed in the official language as well as the languages of the majority population of areas concerned.  In line with article 53 of the Constitution, one of the deputy presidents of the two chambers must be a representative of the autonomous province of Gorno-Badakhshan.  It was untrue that the language test hampered the ability of ethnic minorities to participate in political life.  In line with article 2 of the Constitution, the official language of the country was Tajik.  Candidates had to be proficient in the official language.

On the financial statement disclosure requirements, the delegation said that all organizations had to be transparent and such a requirement was based on the principles of sustainable development.  Non-governmental organizations that operated transparently had nothing to fear.  Those that could not publish the information on their own website could submit it in writing and it would then be posted on the registering body’s website.  The delegation said a judicial reform programme had been launched for the period 2019-2021.  Under the Constitution, the judiciary was an independent branch tasked with upholding the rule of law, human rights, freedoms as well civil rights.  Access to judicial proceedings was guaranteed for the public.  

The spread of HIV/AIDS had dropped by 63 per cent since 2010.  There had been an increase in people receiving antiretroviral therapy, which had led to a decrease in deaths.  The prevention of mother to child transmission was a focus of the Government’s work.  There were over 300 laboratories conducting HIV/AIDS-related testing.  The delegation went on to explain that a special operation had been carried out in Khorog in 2019 to arrest individuals who had committed particularly heinous crimes.  Members of armed groups had been arrested and the Supreme Court had found them guilty of aiding and abetting premeditated murder. Statements to the effect that former politicians accused of crimes had been subjected to torture were unfounded.  Defendants had access to a legal counsel.  

Questions by Committee Experts

Committee Experts asked about opposition parties’ access to State-run television; the existence of a process for political parties to refute accusations that had led to their ban; data on alleged ill-treatment that had led to the prosecution of officials; details on the domestic laws with which the International Committee of the Red Cross would have to comply in order to be granted access; the number of asylum seekers currently in detention; the independence of the public prosecutor’s office; and the practice of photographing exiled opposition figures, as well as the safety of family members of such exiled opposition politicians.

Response by the Delegation

YUSUF RAHMON, Prosecutor General of Tajikistan, said the delegation had no intention of photographing anyone to send back the information to Tajikistan.  The delegation had no intention whatsoever with regard with anyone in the room. Limitations on mass media were only possible in accordance with the law, and they were used to address websites that inter alia called for the overthrow of the constitutional order.  

The delegation said that the minor violations that had been recorded during the 2015 elections did not affect the outcome of the popular vote.  The Central Electoral Commission was developing new regulations to prevent and address violations in future elections.  On religious beliefs, the consequences of the civil war had been overcome in accordance with the principles of a secular State, and a number of acts had been adopted to regulate religious activities in the country.  There were no religious publications that were prohibited, but control measures were in place regarding extremist content.  The Government had itself published classic Islamic texts.  Those measures had played an important role in preventing extremism.

Concluding Remarks

YUSUF RAHMON, Prosecutor General of Tajikistan, said that the delegation had tried to answer the Committee’s questions to the best of its ability.  Moving forward, the Government would continue to uphold all international legal acts.

AHMED AMIN FATHALLA, Committee Chairperson, said the dialogue had been constructive which would help the Committee to adopt recommendations aiming to help the country implement the Covenant.  Some progress had been made, and the country had undertaken a number of positive steps, but improvement was still needed.  There was a difference between having legislation and the practical implementation of this legislation, he stressed.

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