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Uzbekistan: OSCE Aims To Promote Democracy In Central Asia

Vienna, 16 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Security experts from Central Asia will meet next month in the Turkmenistan capital of Ashgabat to discuss regional security. The meeting has been arranged by the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE).

Five Central Asian states have been part of the OSCE since 1992. They were taken in after the break-up of the Soviet Union in recognition that European security could be affected by instability outside its borders.

The five states -- Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- have been closely involved in OSCE discussions in regard to military security, human rights, the rule of law and international crime, particularly drug trafficking.

The OSCE has established a Central Asian liaison office in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. The continuing unrest in Tajikistan prompted OSCE also to establish a special mission in the capital Dushanbe.

The next month's meeting in Ashgabat ( February 17-18) will focus on confidence and security-building measures for the whole region. The agenda includes measures for localized crisis situations, U. N. peacekeeping operations in Central Asia, the transfers of conventional arms to the region and democratic control of the armed forces.

The meeting will also consider the potential threat for the region of the fighting in Afghanistan and the possible ambitions of the fundamentalist Taliban movement. Turkmenistan as well as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have borders with Afghanistan and have frequently said they are alarmed at the situation there.

The meeting has been arranged by the Conflict Prevention Center, a relatively little-known department of the OSCE based in Vienna. It is responsible for giving OSCE early warning about possible crises in member-countries and also handles the tasks of crisis management and the prevention of conflicts.

Similar meetings have been frequently arranged by OSCE's human rights department, the Organization for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) based in Warsaw, which also had a major role in monitoring elections throughout the OSCE region.

The ODIHR has a mandate to help countries in Central Asia. Its director, the Swiss diplomat Gerard Stoudmann has recently said that "Our goal must be to build a better life for the ordinary man and woman in Central Asia, as in all other parts of the OSCE region." "That means building democratic institutions and a civil society. It means creating a world where the ordinary citizen has the feeling that he lives in a society he can trust and where he feels secure that his basic rights will be respected."

Meetings organized by the ODIHR and the Central Asian liaison office in Tashkent cover such things as respect for the rule of law, establishing a constitutional court, training police to respect human rights when interrogating prisoners and the training of prison officers. Subjects also involve training police officers to combat organized crime, giving advice on the treatment and social integration of refugees and advice on establishing on human rights organizations. ODIHR and the Central Asian liaison office have developed several technical projects designed to improve the application of international human rights standards in government institutions.

ODIHR considers the development of an independent media one of the primary pre-conditions for the functioning of a civil society and has organized regional conferences and meetings of journalists.

ODIHR's director Gerard Stoudmann says an agreement reached with Uzbekistan late last year exemplifies some of the things he believes ODIHR should be doing on behalf of ordinary citizens. The Uzbek program includes improving the work of the constitutional court and training of electoral officers and other preparations for the parliamentary and presidential elections expected in the year 2000. ODIHR is also establishing an ombudsman system to advise and help Uzbeks who have problems with the authorities. It is planning an extensive human rights program, which includes human rights training for the Uzbek police. There is another human rights training project for border officials, with special regard for the treatment of migrants.

Another example is a training program ODIHR organized in Tajikistan on the rule of law. The discussions focused on the practical implementation of international legal standards to ensure such basic rights as a fair trial. The participants included representatives from the legal authorities and the courts from across the country.

In Turkmenistan, ODIHR arranged a program for training civil servants with the assistance of the English university of Birmingham.

ODIHR is also deeply involved in practical matters such as helping Central Asian states combat drug trafficking. One of its first ventures was a conference in June 1996 in the Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek. It has since organized other seminars and helped train police and border guards in detecting smuggled drugs.

The importance of combating drugs trafficking in Central Europe was emphasized by Tajikistan and Uzbekistan at the OSCE summit meeting in Lisbon in December 1996. The Tajik president, Emomal Sharipovich Rakhmonov, said drug trafficking was a threat to the Central Asia and appealed to the OSCE to mobilize efforts to combat it. The Uzbek president Islam Karimov said enormous quantities of drugs were transferred to western Europe through his country from Afghanistan.

OSCE's secretary-general, Giancarlo Aragona said recently that while it was vital for the OSCE to become involved in ending the current major tragedies of Europe, such as the civil wars in Bosnia, Chechnya and Georgia, "it is equally important for the future that we assist in the development of democracy, security and the rule of law in the states of Central Asia."