UN Chief Calls on Central Asia’s Autocrats to Improve Human Rights
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has finished a weeklong tour of the five Central Asian states by appealing for them to improve their dismal human rights records. He called on the region’s autocrats to respect civil liberties, at the very least as a means to preserve stability.
“There is no peace without development. No development without peace. And neither is possible without a respect for human rights,” Ban told a meeting of students and officials in Turkmenistan, which campaigners describe as one of the world’s worst human rights abusers.
Speaking in Ashgabat on June 13, the last day of his tour, Ban pointed to concerns about a “deterioration of some aspects of human rights – a shrinking democratic space” across Central Asia.
Restrictions on freedoms might foster “an illusion of stability in the short-run,” he added, but ultimately threatened to create “a breeding ground for extremist ideologies.”
“Around the world, the way to confront threats is not more repression, it is more openness. More human rights,” he added.
A day earlier, in Uzbekistan, Ban had heeded calls by human rights campaigners to press Tashkent over the issues of forced labor and torture.
He acknowledged progress in eliminating the use of child labor, but urged the government to address “the mobilization of teachers, doctors and others in cotton harvesting,” and also “prevent the maltreatment of prisoners.”
Ban hailed “good laws” adopted in Uzbekistan to uphold the rule of law, but added that “laws on the books should be made real in the lives of people.”
In Kyrgyzstan, Ban focused on the need to promote reconciliation in Osh as the city marked the fifth anniversary of ethnic violence between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities.
Bishkek should “fully and impartially investigate all human rights violations related to the June 2010 ethnic conflict, irrespective of the ethnic origin or status of the accused perpetrators or victims,” he said during a visit to the troubled city. It should also prosecute all those responsible for serious crimes during the turmoil, and review convictions “tainted by allegations of torture or other procedural violations.”
In Tajikistan, Ban urged the government to adopt a “comprehensive” action plan to “address key human rights challenges.”
In Kazakhstan, with a nod to controversy over its restrictive law governing religion and allegations that it persecutes minority faiths, he issued a reminder that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees freedom of conscience, and in Kazakhstan “all religious and minority groups should be guaranteed this right on an equal footing.”
Ban also highlighted positives in each country, which state-run media were often quick to pick up, while ignoring the criticism.
In Kazakhstan, he went out of his way to “highly commend and appreciate the leadership and vision” of Nursultan Nazarbayev (who has ruled for a quarter of a century and was recently re-elected in an opposition-free election). He also praised Astana’s “championing role” in promoting nuclear non-proliferation, peace building and interfaith dialogue.
In Kyrgyzstan, he lauded “great progress” in transitioning to parliamentary democracy, while in Tajikistan he hailed Dushanbe’s “global leadership on issues related to water and sanitation” (although Tajikistan is at loggerheads with neighboring Uzbekistan over water rights and is building a massive hydropower plant against the wishes of downstream neighbors).
Ultimately, all the Central Asian states need to do more to improve their human rights record, Ban said as he ended his tour in Turkmenistan. “Young people should be sent a message: democracy in Central Asia can work.”
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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