The International Crisis Group has issued a new report on the state of law enforcement in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The report, titled "Central Asia: The Politics of Police Reform," finds police forces in these countries have improved little since Soviet times.
Prague, 11 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- An Uzbek prayer dating from the days of the Soviet Union says, "God, protect me from doctors and policemen." Its logic rested on the belief that both categories of professionals could injure or kill, though by different means.
A new report by the Brussels-based, nonprofit International Crisis Group (ICG) on the conduct of police in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan finds the structures of most police forces have changed little since the Soviet period. The ICG says that police forces in the region are much more powerful than the militaries and include their own armed units designed for internal control.
The report concludes: "While societies and economic systems have undergone rapid transition, the organs of state security remain largely unreformed. In many ways, they are actually worse than under the Soviet state: more corrupt, less responsive to the population, more involved in organized crime, and often out of the control of political masters. The police are feared, mistrusted and viewed as ineffective in protecting the population from crime."
David Lewis is the Central Asia project director for the ICG and one of the leading authors of the report. In an interview with RFE/RL, he explained why the ICG decided to focus on the problems of the region's police forces. "The police are the representatives of security that most people see every day, and they have a huge impact on the relations between society and the state. They are the main representatives of the state people see in their everyday lives," Lewis said.
Lewis spoke about two fundamental problems inherent in Central Asia's police and security systems. "Two major problems are corruption, which is not just the everyday corruption that everybody experiences on the streets, but very high-level corruption that seriously undermines any plan to fight organized crime, for example, or really to take effective measures against terrorism," Lewis said.
Lewis continued: "The other problem is the kind of political role of the police, which is becoming more powerful in some countries, where they are taking over some areas of the economy. Where they have a particularly strong role in economic affairs, it's becoming a very major brake on economic development."
Lewis said these problems are deeply rooted and will not be resolved "until political leaders come in who are prepared to change the system." He called it a "question of governance."
Lewis noted that, although the basic problems are the same in all three countries, some problems are more acute in one country than another. He alleged that in Tajikistan, some police officials are involved in drug trafficking, while in Kyrgyzstan, the police are used by the government as a tool to suppress opposition.
But he reserved his harshest criticism for Uzbekistan, where he said "the situation is worse than in all countries, in a sense. There, the problems of torture and police brutality are of a serious magnitude. So far this year, there have been some slight indications of change. But really, the situation is so bad that it's vital the government does something about changing the culture of police brutality within Uzbekistan."
A spokesman for the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Joldosbek Busurmankulov, was among the first regional officials to react to the ICG report. In an interview with RFE/RL, he refuted almost all of the report's conclusions. "The criticism that police are involved in organized crime holds no water. Of course, there are some people who have been involved in such crime after they left the police service, and there are some ongoing trials of such people. But there is no basis to say that policemen in Kyrgyzstan are involved in organized crime," Busurmankulov said.
Busurmankulov maintained that police reforms are being undertaken in Kyrgyzstan and said the authors of the report are biased against his country. "This is the job of people who are envious of positive changes in our country, who always want to blacken the name of Kyrgyzstan and make money on that -- in short, strangers in our society," Busurmankulov said.
Lewis of the ICG said such reactions are not unexpected. He said the point of the report is not to attempt to change the situation overnight but to start a public debate about the issue of police reform in Central Asia and for the issue to receive attention and support from the international community.
The full report can be found at www.crisisweb.org.
(RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)