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International Involvement Needed to Promote NGOs in Central Asia

(Washington, DC--July 12, 2002) Six women representing non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Central Asia spoke at a RFE/RL briefing yesterday and emphasized that active international assistance is needed to promote the further growth and strengthening of the NGO sector in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

The group, whose visit to Washington, DC was funded by the U.S. State Department's Office of Citizen Exchanges included: Muhbira Tyuraeva who works at New Generation, an NGO which promotes community development, civic education and women's leadership and health issues in Tajikistan; and Malika Boymuradova, also from Tajikistan, who serves as chief expert at ASTI, an organization that conducts training workshops on NGO development, civic and gender education as well as the protection of human rights. Yanil Geldieva, the Co-Chair and founder of the ecology club, GEO, is from Turkmenistan. While Uzbek NGOs were represented by Dinora Razzakova who heads the Center for Civic Education; Ayniso Achilova, chair of the Koshkadarysjkij branch of the Association of Business Women of Uzbekistan; and Muborak Tashpulatova, who earlier in the week received the 2002 Democracy Award from the National Endowment for Democracy.

Presently, there are over 1,400 foreign-funded non-governmental organizations operating in Tajikistan, Tyuraeva said, which are centered around women's, children's, and charity projects; social and economic improvement; reducing poverty; human rights; and even conflict resolution. issues. Enjoying popular support, the NGO sector in Tajikistan is spreading out from urban to rural areas. Moreover, the status of Tajik women has improved and their involvement in social life has increased, thanks to a presidential decree issued in 1999, said Tyuraeva.

Razzakova described the work of the Center for Civic Education in Khorezm, Uzbekistan, which conducts cross-border projects on training teachers in interactive teaching methods in civic studies. The center's staff received their own training in Poland at an NGO called Education for Democracy. According to Razzakova, more than a decade after Uzbekistan gained its independence, the NGO sector is actively growing in the country, reflecting citizens' more active role in social and civic life. According to Tashpulatova, in contrast to life under the Soviet regime when people did only what the government told them to do, people today are willing to work through NGOs to solve local problems that the government for various reasons is unable to address.

The Turkmen ecology club, GEO, is working on improving the environmental condition of the country. The NGO's work is of particular importance, as the northern part of Turkmenistan, which borders on the Aral Sea, has been declared a zone of environmental disaster, Geldieva said. In addition to the environment, NGOs in Turkmenistan are also actively involved in projects for women, youth, education and the handicapped.

In response to a question about the NGOs' interaction with government authorities, the speakers made it clear that their organizations currently enjoy governmental benign neglect and in some cases an endorsement. However, Tashpulatova said that an NGO's treatment by government very much depends on "the role of its activity."

Certain NGO's, such as those involved in women's and health issues, have little problem registering and running their organizations, whereas human rights defenders may run into problems with local and national authorities, according to Irena Lasota, co-director of the Institute on Democracy in Eastern Europe, who helped organize the speakers' visit and program in Washington, DC. She urged more foreign organizations to help "enlarge the scope of freedom in these countries" by helping NGOs who are not in favor with these governments to register and operate freely because, she cautioned, "even these NGOs [represented here] can be closed at anytime" by arbitrary government decisions or changes in law.