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EU Urged To Address Central Asian Rights Abuses At Upcoming Meeting Of Foreign Ministers

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell (file photo)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on the European Union to press Central Asian governments to end rights violations and engage in meaningful reform at a time when the crisis in Afghanistan is high on the agenda following the Taliban takeover of the war-torn country in mid-August.

The New York-based human rights watchdog issued the call ahead of a November 22 EU-Central Asia meeting in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, where EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is set to meet with the foreign ministers from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

“Some Central Asian countries are playing an important part in the global response to the crisis unfolding in Afghanistan, but domestic human rights concerns are also central,” Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW, said in a statement.

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The Afghan crisis “poses new challenges in the region, and respect for human rights and the rule of law must be key ingredients in dealing [with] these issues.”

The EU adopted a new strategy for Central Asia in 2019 setting objectives for human rights protection in the region.

However, issues regarding security and migration have dominated public engagement by the EU and some European governments with Central Asia in recent months, HRW said.

This comes at a time when promises of reforms have stalled or backtracked in countries like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, while Tajikistan and Turkmenistan’s repressive human rights records have continued to worsen, according to the group.

In Tajikistan, HRW said, the authorities “harass and imprison” government critics, as well as foreign-based dissidents and their family members within the country. Access to critical websites remain blocked, while human rights groups “routinely face harassment.”

In Turkmenistan, one of the world’s most repressive and closed countries, dozens of people remain victims of enforced disappearances, and no independent civil-society groups or media are allowed to operate. As the authorities continue to claim that the country is COVID free, they retaliate against people who openly demand access to information about the pandemic.

Kazakhstan, whose president -- Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev – is set to visit Brussels on November 25-26, has adopted new laws on peaceful assembly and trade unions. But peaceful protesters and supporters of banned opposition movements are still being detained, fined, and prosecuted, while independent trade unions are facing “serious obstacles” to register and operate, HRW said.

There have been a number of “problematic” legislative actions by Kyrgyzstan’s caretaker parliament, including a law imposing “unnecessary financial reporting requirements on nongovernmental groups and another overly broad bill penalizing ‘false’ information,” HRW said. Several provisions of the country’s constitutional reform also contradict international human rights norms, the group said.

In Uzbekistan, the reelection of President Shavkat Mirziyoev to a second term, with no real opposition candidates allowed to run, coincided with “clear setbacks” on the country’s human rights record, the group said.

Authorities harassed political opposition figures ahead of the presidential election and targeted outspoken and critical bloggers, as independent human rights groups continued to be denied registration.

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