Human Rights UN Delegation Refused Access to Tajikistan GBAO

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Frankfurt, Brussels, London (18/1 – 67)

Tajikistan regime’s crimes against humanity and human rights defenders have attracted the United Nation. Recently, Mary Lawlor, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, was not permitted to travel to Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) during her official visit to the Central Asian country in December 2022.

Lawlor paid an official visit to Tajikistan from November 28 to December 9, 2022 to assess the situation of human rights defenders in the country. During her visit, the Special Rapporteur held meetings with government authorities in Dushanbe, and also traveled to Khujand, the capital of the Tajik northern provinces of Sughd.

“Some officials in the Tajik government are trying to engage positively with human rights defenders, and there has been some legislative progress. However, many of those who peacefully defend the rights of others are under increasing pressure,” Lawlor said.

Lawlor held discussions with the Ombudsman, members of Parliament, prosecutors, the Supreme Court and representatives of the international community. She also visited a pre-trial detention center and met human rights defenders there.  Although her request to visit the GBAO was denied, she was able to visit prisoners elsewhere in the country. The Special Rapporteur will present a full report on her visit to the Human Rights Council in March 2024.

She concluded the two-week visit to Tajikistan by urging its government to “eliminate the intense atmosphere of fear” in the post-Soviet Central Asian republic. After meetings with activists and officials including lawmakers, judges, and prosecutors, she called on President Emomali Rahmon and other officials to treat human rights activists as “partners, not enemies.”

She contended that repression in the country was growing after authorities followed up a lethal military operation in the GBAO with military sweeps and arrests in an area where ethnic Pamiri minorities form the bulk of the 250,000 population. Lawlor also cited local journalists, saying that it was now more difficult to be a journalist in Tajikistan than during the country’s brutal civil war in the 1990s.

“Lawyers, journalists and others are being targeted for their human rights work.  They have been confronted with a range of difficulties ranging from onerous administrative burdens, to harassment, threats, criminalization, closed unfair trials and imprisonment,” said Lawlor.

Tajikistan authorities have for years waged war on the opposition, civil activists, journalists, and anyone brave enough to defend them. Even with a top United Nations rights expert visiting Dushanbe, Tajik authorities did not take a break and wrapped up their latest harsh bout of repression. Among at least six convictions handed out to activists during Lawlor’s visit were a 21-year prison sentence for prominent civic leader Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva and 15- and 30-year terms, respectively, for lawyers Manuchehr Kholiknazarov and Faromuz Irgashev.

“Above: University of Oxford Podcasts, Asian Studies Centre – Steve Swerdlow, Neil Clarke, Syinat Sultanalieva discuss human rights violations in Tajikistan, chaired by Faisal Devji.”

Steve Swerdlow, a longtime observer of Tajikistan and associate professor of human rights at the University of Southern California, said that Lawlor’s “fiery, clear-eyed press conference” concluding her visit “contrasted strongly with the increasingly muted response” on Tajikistan’s ongoing “parade of horrors” from Western governments and international organizations. That the rash of sentences were handed down while Lawlor was in the Tajik capital “further illustrates the near total impunity with which Tajik President Emomali Rahmon now rules,” Swerdlow said.