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Top UN Official Should Focus on Rights in Central Asia

Accountability for Deaths in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan Vital

Riot police officers holding 12-gauge shotguns, which can fire both lethal and less-lethal ammunition, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. © 2022 AP Photo/Vladimir Tretyakov

Next week’s visit to Central Asia by United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed comes at a crucial time. There are serious human rights concerns across the region, including killings of civilians by security forces, detention of human rights activists and journalists, limits on free speech and freedom of assembly, and restrictions on women’s rights and those of minority groups.

Ms. Mohammed’s agenda with each of the five governments in the region should include addressing human rights issues, as rights protections are a fundamental part of efforts supported by the UN to promote both economic and social development, and peace and security. Ms. Mohammed should also take this opportunity to meet with representatives of independent civil society on each of her stops.

In Tajikistan, the Deputy Secretary-General should urge the government to investigate police use of force leading to the deaths of civilians in May following protests in the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region. Reports indicate that over 40 people have recently been killed in clashes there and it is vital that police show restraint in controlling future protests. Ms. Mohammed should call for the release of Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva, 65, a respected female journalist and activist, who was detained in mid-May for allegedly fermenting the Gorno-Badakhshan protests, despite no credible evidence being provided.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan’s government has yet to establish an independent inquiry into the January deaths of over 230 people following protests and unrest in Almaty and elsewhere. Human Rights Watch found that at least 10 civilians who posed no threat were shot dead by security forces. The actual number killed by security forces is probably higher. There are also reports of widespread torture of detainees. The UN could play a key role in an independent inquiry and the government should use Ms. Mohammed’s visit to set up such an investigation.

Ms. Mohammed should likewise urge Serdar Berdimuhamedov, the new president of Turkmenistan, to correct the country’s catastrophic human rights record and allow citizens to enjoy basic freedoms. In Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, the Deputy Secretary should address registration of civil society groups and signal support for embattled independent media organizations.

Human rights protections are central to the UN’s mission. Ms. Mohammed should not miss the opportunity to make her voice count.

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