The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, says it recognizes that it will take time for post-communist countries to develop into real democracies. But in a tour of the five Central Asian states last week, the OSCE's chairwoman, Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner, urged them to move faster in improving human rights and creating a democratic civic society.
Vienna, 7 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- In her meetings with the Central Asian presidents last week, OSCE Chairwoman Benita Ferrero-Waldner said her organization does not expect them to turn into full democracies overnight. But she said more can be done to implement the common values that are the basis of membership in the OSCE.
She told Central Asian leaders that the OSCE is disappointed with the conduct of the elections in the region last year and this year. All the countries failed in various ways to meet OSCE's standards for a democratic poll. She recommended that roundtables should be organized with the participation of the government, the political parties not in parliament, and non-governmental organizations, to introduce more democracy into the political process.
Ferrero-Waldner also pressed the Central Asian leaders to show more determination to ensure that women's rights are respected and that conditions in prisons are improved.
In each of the five countries, the OSCE chairwoman was told that the government shares the values of the OSCE and is committed to democracy and human rights. But all the governments asked for understanding, saying it is not easy to sweep away the past and meet the standards of Western democracies. Ferrero-Waldner insisted, however, that by joining the OSCE the Central Asian countries committed themselves to moving forward on democracy.
"It is not easy for a country that only has a democracy since nine years to be exactly at the same level as our democracies which have many years already behind us. We do understand that there are particularities and differences. But, of course, we all finally have to share these common values for which the organization stands."
She called for steady steps forward and said her personal motto for Central Asia is "evolution, not revolution."
Many of the problems the OSCE chairwoman raised in her meetings came from her meetings with non-governmental organizations. The NGOs produced details of what they believed to be undemocratic actions, abuse of power by the authorities, and illegal arrests. They pressed the OSCE to push for a faster introduction of a democratic civil society.
The OSCE chairwoman said she is impressed at the determination of the NGOs despite harassment in some countries. In some countries, the NGO representatives who spoke to her asked not to be identified to avoid possible harassment. In Turkmenistan, a man recognized by several NGO members as a police official entered the room where the meeting was held. He left when told to do so by OSCE officials.
In Turkmenistan, the chairwoman appealed to President Saparmurat Niyazov to release four prisoners whom the OSCE believes were detained for political reasons. OSCE officials told our correspondent that Niyazov gave a long explanation of why the men should stay in prison. At the end he said one of them -- Nurberdy Nurmamedov -- might be freed in an amnesty at the end of the year.
Nurmamedov is the leader of the opposition group Agzybirlik, which has been refused registration. In February he was sentenced to five years imprisonment on charges of hooliganism. International organizations have suggested his arrest was related to his criticism of last December's elections and his political opposition to Niyazov.
Niyazov told Ferrero-Waldner that Turkmenistan is creating its own type of democracy according to its own traditions and at its own tempo. He argued that free media and a multiparty political system would be harmful to the secure development of the country. Niyazov repeated what he has told other OSCE leaders -- that he expects "a form of democracy" will emerge in Turkmenistan in about 10 years.
Of the six Turkmen NGOs that met with Ferrero-Waldner, two represented civil society movements and the other four were environmentalist groups. Some complained about government control of the media and said lack of information hinders democratic development.
In Kyrgyzstan, the OSCE chairwoman sought the release of Feliks Kulov, the leader of the opposition Ar-Namys party, and she asked President Askar Akaev to review measures against Daniyar Usenov and other opposition leaders. Akaev said he would consider her appeal but gave no assurances that Kulov would be freed.
A meeting of NGOs charged that Kyrgyzstan no longer deserves its previous image as a relatively liberal country allowing more freedoms than others in Central Asia. The NGOs reported instances of police abuse and religious persecution and said the government fails to fulfill the promises it made to international organizations.
The OSCE chairwoman said she recognizes that Kyrgyzstan has fallen short of its commitments, but said it is closer to doing so than other countries, notably Turkmenistan. She urged the NGOs to support plans for a roundtable meeting between the government and other groups in society, saying it would be an important step in moving towards democracy.
In Tajikistan, the OSCE chairwoman told President Imomali Rakhmonov that her group welcomes the end of the civil war and said OSCE would offer all the help it could in building a new society. But she said the OSCE is concerned about the rights of women in Tajikistan. She quoted an international report which suggests that 27 percent of women in Tajikistan suffer violence.
She also appealed for a review of the case against a 21-year-old woman, Dilfuza Nomonova, who in January was sentenced to death for murder in a trial that has drawn international criticism. OSCE is not making a judgement on whether the woman is guilty, Ferrero-Waldner said, but it did believe she should have a fair trial. The chairwoman said she is also disturbed at reports that the woman was pregnant when arrested and was forcibly aborted, making her eligible for execution. In Tajikistan, pregnant women may not be executed.
At the Tajik NGO meeting, speakers said more should be done to ensure fair elections and create a civil society. One told the OSCE chairwoman: "If we cannot teach our citizens to protect their rights, we will not be able to conduct reforms."
In Kazakhstan, the OSCE chairwoman welcomed the implementation of an OSCE project on penitentiary reform. She said it should contribute to an improvement of the overall conditions in prisons, including the treatment of prisoners.
But at a meeting with President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Ferrero-Waldner also criticized the closure of some independent newspapers for political reasons. At the Kazakh NGO meeting, she was told that the state charges independent newspapers higher fees for distributing and printing.
In Uzbekistan, the OSCE chairwoman asked President Islam Karimov about the repression of opposition groups, an issue that had been raised by NGOs and opposition groups at a meeting earlier in the day. One prominent member of the opposition, Mikhail Ardzinov, asked her to intervene on behalf of two imprisoned members of his organization.
The chairman of the Human Rights Society, Talib Jakubov, said Uzbekistan is failing to meet its commitments to OSCE principles. He said there have been many arrests and detentions as well as reports of torture, and asked what OSCE can do to protect the rights of those arrested.