Reaction of international bodies to the situation in GBAO (Tajikistan) in 2023

The year 2023 was difficult for the Pamiri population of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast of Tajikistan (GBAO). Repression intensified, arrests of ordinary citizens, pressure in prisons on convicted Pamiris, infringement of civil rights and freedoms continued. At the same time, the year 2023 will be remembered for sharp criticism towards the Tajikistan authorities from international organizations, Western states and individual politicians for systematic human rights violations in GBAO. Unfortunately, the country’s authorities deny targeted repressions against the Pamiri minority, and do not respond to the criticism – neither with actions nor even with official comments or statements. There has been no relief for the situation of political prisoners, and their number has even increased.

In 2023, ADC Memorial constantly raised the issue of Pamiri peoples’ rights at various international venues. The alternative report of ADC Memorial for the UN CERD on Tajikistan (109th session, April 2023) was supported by activists of the Pamiri diaspora and is mainly devoted to the persecution of Pamiris in 2021-2022. The situation in GBAO became one of the main topics of discussion at the session and recommendations of the Committee. The negative impact of state repression on Pamiri women is discussed in an alternative report to the UN CEDAW (87th session, to be held in January 2024). ADC Memorial consulted the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues before his visit to Tajikistan (October 2023). ADC Memorial presented the experience of protecting minority rights in Central Asia to the expert community and civil society leaders at the international conference “Turning Points in Eurasia: Geopolitics, Economics and Civil Society in Central Asia – Current Situation and Future Prospects ” (August 2023, Almaty (Kazakhstan).

Well-known international human rights organizations in 2023 also made statements and calls for the observance of human rights and the release of Pamiri political prisoners: the International Minority Rights Group (MRG), the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Freedom House, Freedom Now, Human Rights Foundation, International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), CIVICUS, Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders.

A number of international statements were made by representatives of the European Union.

  • On November 27, 2023, at a meeting of the Committee for Cooperation between the European Union and Tajikistan (Brussels), the European Union called for bringing to justice all those responsible for human rights violations in GBAO. The EU expressed concern about the detention of human rights defenders, independent journalists and bloggers.
  • The head of the European Delegation to Tajikistan, Raimundas Karoblis, expressed concern about the termination of the activities of hundreds of non-governmental organizations in the country over the past year, including in GBAO. Speaking on December 11, 2023, at a civil society seminar in Dushanbe on the topic “Strengthening cooperation between civil society organizations and state institutions in Tajikistan,” he stated that “the termination of the activities of 700 public organizations in Tajikistan does not work in favor of the democratization of society.”
  • During the 14th round of the annual Dialogue on Human Rights between the European Union and Tajikistan (December 14, 2023, Dushanbe) The European Union expressed concern about ill-treatment and torture in detention centers and called on the Government of Tajikistan to “immediately and unconditionally” release human rights defenders, journalists and activists who remain in detention. The EU pointed out the insufficiency of the investigation of human rights violations during the events in GBAO in 2021-2022. The participants of the Dialogue also discussed Tajikistan’s application to join the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preference Plus (GSP+), a preferential system that allows developing countries to export their goods to the EU market at lower customs tariffs. Back in 2019, Tajikistan applied to join this system, under the condition of implementation its obligations on 27 ratified Conventions, including on human rights, labor rights, environment and climate, etc.

In 2023, the rights of the Pamiri peoples were on the agenda of the UN Special Rapporteurs.

  • In May 2023, eight UN experts sent a detailed letter to the Tajikistan authorities about serious human rights violations, arbitrary detention and political persecution of journalists and human rights defenders, including those who defended the rights of the Pamiri minority in GBAO. On July 4, 2023, they issued a statement indicating that the authorities were abusing the anti-terrorism law to suppress critical voices in Tajikistan. In September, UN experts said they were waiting for a response from the Tajikistan authorities to the letter expressing concern about the situation of convicted journalists and civil society activists.
  • In October, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, at a meeting with the Permanent Representative of Tajikistan to the UN, Jonibek Hikmat, called on the Tajikistan authorities to release convicted journalists and bloggers.
  • On October 19, the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Fernand de Varennes, in his statement following his visit to Tajikistan, expressed particular concern about the fate of ethnic and religious minorities, including the Pamiri community in GBAO.

The situation of civil society in Tajikistan and repression against Pamiris were mentioned by the U.S. representatives: the statement at the annual OSCE Human Dimension Conference (Warsaw, October 2023), by the Head of the Delegation, Michael G. Kozak; in early December, the Head of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin, in a letter sent to the President of Tajikistan, called on to stop using transnational repression. In his letter, the senator touched upon the issues of torture and violence in prisons in Tajikistan, pressure on journalists and human rights defenders, as well as repression against residents of GBAO.

Photo: CC BY 2.0 Deed by Ninara