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HRW Hopes UN Chief Will Press Rights On Central Asia Visit


UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
(RFE/RL) -- Rights advocates hope UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will put human rights issues high on the agenda this week during his first trip to Central Asia.

In advance of Ban's visit to the region, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) outlined what it called some of the region's most pressing rights challenges, asking the secretary-general to raise them with Central Asia's leaders.

"I would think that if the secretary-general of the United Nations -- the top leader of the world's most important organization -- raised human rights issues, [then] that would emphasize the importance of those issues," HRW's Rachel Denber tells RFE/RL's Turkmen Service.

"I think it would be very difficult for a Central Asian leader to legitimately walk away from a human rights concern raised by somebody as important as the secretary-general."

The first Central Asian leader to host Ban will be Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. Ban is expected in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, on April 1-2.

Denber says she hopes Ban will use the visit to "raise issues like the need to open Turkmenistan to international monitoring, the need for the Turkmen government to release political prisoners, the need for the Turkmen government to undertake a nationwide transparent review of cases of political imprisonment since the Niyazov era" of Berdymukhammedov's predecessor.

Beyond human rights, Ban is expected to tackle other contentious regional issues such as border disputes, water distribution, environment, and energy.

Ban will then travel to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, which was recently criticized by the UN Human Rights Committee, a panel of independent experts, for failing to investigate properly a bloody crackdown on demonstrators in the town of Andijon five years ago.

Denber wants Ban to confront President Islam Karimov and other Uzbek officials over what she calls an "ongoing crackdown on civil society."

It has been eight years since the last visit to the region by a UN secretary-general, at that time Kofi Annan.

Some observers worry that Ban's visit will be seen as giving support to Central Asian leaders rather than lead to progress on human rights issues. They point to the secretary-general's trip to Myanmar last year, which failed to achieve breakthroughs on human rights despite high hopes.

Denber, however, says Ban has a responsibility to press human rights in Central Asia, whatever the likelihood of producing change.