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Central Asia: Opposition Presses Its Case At OSCE's Berlin Assembly

More than 300 parliamentarians from 55 OSCE member states are in Berlin for the 11th annual session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Parliamentary Assembly from 6-10 July. Discussions are focusing on the political, economic, and human-rights dimensions of the international fight against terrorism. Today, in conjunction with the Parliamentary Assembly, the International League for Human Rights organized a roundtable discussion on the political situation in Central Asia after 11 September.

Prague, 8 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- What impact is the new alliance between the West and Central Asia in the war on terrorism having on the state of democracy and human rights in the region?

That is the question that was posed today during a roundtable discussion in Berlin, held in conjunction with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The roundtable involved opposition activists from the five Central Asian countries and was organized by the New York-based International League for Human Rights.

Peter Zalmayev, a representative of the International League for Human Rights (ILHR), said that he and opposition activists from Central Asia have been holding meetings with OSCE officials and parliamentary delegations in Berlin during the last few days.

The OSCE has missions in all five Central Asian countries that provide regular reports on the political situations there. Most recently, on 27 June, the OSCE mission office in Kazakhstan expressed concern that a new law on political parties approved by both chambers of parliament could have serious consequences for political pluralism.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Zalmayev described world interest in Central Asia as "serious and growing" and talked about the message that the ILHR and the opposition activists want to convey. "The message is that the situation of human rights and democracy in Central Asia has not improved after 11 September. In many cases, it has deteriorated. For example, a new tension is in place in Kyrgyzstan, and we want to bring to the OSCE parliamentarians' notice that there is a huge need for fundamental reforms and changes in the field of human rights in the region. Otherwise, it will entail the even further deterioration of the situation," Zalmayev said.

Zalmayev said the Central Asian opposition and human-rights activists intend to reiterate their long-standing recommendations for the region to the OSCE representatives in Berlin. "The OSCE must demand the implementation of its basic standards, which are signed by each of the Central Asian countries represented in today's briefing. Partly, this is to demand [governments] to allow mass media to work freely, to allow political parties and civil society to do their job," Zalmayev said.

Zalmayev expressed cautious optimism that the recommendations made by his organization and the activists will have an impact on the OSCE's approach toward Central Asian governments.

He said the OSCE's current president, Portuguese Foreign Minister Antonio Martins da Cruz, began his first visit to Central Asia yesterday. Da Cruz said he plans to raise a number of concerns expressed by Central Asian opposition members in his meetings with high-ranking Kyrgyz and Tajik officials during his three-day visit. Da Cruz met today with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev.

Dododjon Atovulloev is a Tajik dissident and founding editor of the "Charogy Ruz" newspaper who is currently living in exile. He said his reason for participating in events such as today's roundtable in Berlin is to draw the world's attention to what he called the "long-suffering" situation in his country. "I want to talk concretely about the fact that during the last 10 years, the totally illegal and unprofessional regime of Imomali Rakhmonov has brought our people to the brink of a national catastrophe. And this catastrophe is taking place before the eyes of the world community, particularly Western and European countries. I want to show the parliamentarians the real picture of so-called 'Tajik democracy,'" Atovulloev said.

Atovulloev believes the increased international attention that has been focused on Central Asia after 11 September will benefit the region's peoples. He said roundtable discussions such as the one today in Berlin are important because it's an opportunity for the international community to learn more about the situation in Central Asia. "When people know more about these countries, including Tajikistan, I think it will create a different attitude toward Central Asia. The first step on the way to understanding is being aware of what's happening there," Atovulloev said.

In addition to Atovulloev, participants in today's discussion included Amirzhan Kossanov, vice president of the executive committee of the Republican National Party of Kazakhstan and director of the Reform Foundation; Adakhan Madumarov, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Social Reform and Labor Issues and an opposition leader in Kyrgyzstan; Boris Shikhmuradov, former foreign minister of Turkmenistan and currently an opposition leader living in exile; and Pulat Akhunov, former member of the Uzbek Parliament and currently deputy chairman of the opposition Birlik party, who is also living in exile.