Prior to the departure of the UN Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT) on May 15, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan hailed the mission, saying it had "achieved its tasks well."
Despite the secretary general's praise, stability remains tenuous in Tajikistan, and the country's future in the post-peace process era is uncertain. [See Eurasia Insight]. One of the major threats to stability in Tajikistan is connected with drug trafficking.
Tajikistan, along with other Central Asian states, has developed into a major conduit for drug traffickers. According to the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP), about 65 percent of the hard drugs coming out of Afghanistan pass through Central Asia on their way to world markets. Central Asian authorities intercept less than 5 percent of all drugs being smuggled through the region, the ODCCP added in its Review for 2000.
"Illicit drug trafficking in Central Asia has a notable impact on other forms of organized crime, corruption and terrorism," the ODCCP review said.
Tajikistan accounted for over 36 percent of the total amount of drugs seized by authorities across the five Central Asian states in 1999, up from 26 percent in 1998. For example, over 709 kilograms (over 1500 lbs.) of heroin were confiscated in Tajikistan in 1999, up from 271 kilograms (about 590 lbs.) the previous year.
However, results have come at a high price in terms of respect for individual liberties. In particular, Tajikistan's customs service has gained a notorious reputation for routine human rights violations. The CEP recently brought to international attention their widespread practice of undue strip searches and invasive bodily "exams," ostensibly to ferret out concealed drugs but more often to extort bribes. [See Eurasia Insight].
Customs agents to great extent operate according to their own rules. The basis for their searches is ill defined in domestic law, authority for conducting them is decentralized, and customs agents are ill trained and almost wholly unmonitored. The image of the customs service has also been tarnished by media reports that agents have resold confiscated narcotics.
Formally, Article 189 of the Customs Code of November 4, 1995, enshrines the right of inspectors to conduct "personal searches." However, neither this Code nor any other laws or administrative regulations indicate how these searches may be carried out. Moreover, "probable cause," the legitimate trigger for such searches, is poorly understood and is often interpreted expediently in Tajikistan.
The relevant Tajik agencies are cognizant of the problem, but have responded tentatively at best. A high-ranking official in the Customs Committee of the Tajik government who requested anonymity told the CEP that the Customs Committee has received formal complaints about mistreatment at the border, with the most common complaint being abuse of official power. However, he declined to comment on how many such complaints had been received, or how and whether they had been investigated or prosecuted.
In another feeble attempt to address the problem, the head of the Customs Committee, Mirzokhodzha Nizomov, issued an internal document on August 26, 1999, entitled "On Courteous Treatment of Citizens by Officials of the Customs Organs." The decree acknowledged the existence of "numerous incidents of untactful treatment
Erika Dailey is an editorial consultant to the Central Eurasia Project, covering human rights-related issues in the Transcaucasus and Central Asia. Between 1992 and 1998, Ms. Dailey worked as a researcher and human rights advocate for Human Rights Watch, based in New York and Moscow, covering principally the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Russian Federation. Since 1998, Dailey has worked as a human rights advocate for Human Rights Watch, the International League for Human Rights, and the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. She has a BA in Slavic Studies from Princeton (1986) and an MA in Central Asian Studies from Columbia (1991). She has lived in and traveled to the Caucasus and Central Asia regularly since 1987.