OSCE and Human Rights Defenders at the Warsaw meeting: no smooth sailing

September 28, 2016

The Diplomat wrote under the title “OSCE Manages to Irritate Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Human Rights Advocates, Too” a good piece summarizing the situation at the latest annual human rights conference (officially the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting), taking place from 19-30 September 2016, in Warsaw.

Most attention should go to the recurring reprisals against HRDs and in particular (when they are out of reach through exile) against their family:

On the first day of the OSCE conference, September 19, during a session discussing Tajikistan, about 20 Tajiks staged a protest. Wearing shirts with pictures of imprisoned politicians and lawyers, the Europe-dwelling Tajiks stood silently in the room. The next day, there were reports that about 50 relatives of the protesters had been arrested in Tajikistan. The OSCE, without comment, posted a statement from the IRPT (the Islamic Renaissance Party) regarding the arrests: “Authorities in Tajikistan are now targeting, detaining, torturing and threatening family members and relatives of the opposition activists who arranged protest and walk in during yesterday’s HD Implementation Meeting organized by the ODHIR in Warsaw in order to stamp out dissent,” ……”The authorities told the detained relatives to ask their beloved ones not to participate in protests and criticize the Government in Europe’s largest human rights conference… otherwise they will be brutally punished.” This is not the first instance of Tajik authorities taking aim at relatives: last December, after the IRPT’s leader Muhiddin Kabiri spoke via Skype at a Freedom House event in Washington DC, Kabiri’s 95-year-old father was briefly detained.

Kyrgyzstan criticized the OSCE for allowing Kadyrzhan Batyrov, an ethnic Uzbek from Kyrgyzstan, to speak. Batyrov is one of a number of ethnic Uzbeks from southern Kyrgyzstan accused by the state of inciting interethnic violence in the wake of the 2010 revolution. Batyrov fled Kyrgyzstan-where he has since been sentenced in absentia to life in prison-ultimately gaining asylum in Sweden. Opposition figures say that the state is gearing up to arrest them on trumped up charges, possibly with regard to aiding Batyrov in his escape. “Batyrov is being used as the stick with which to beat them,” Eurasianet notes. Kyrgyzstan’s diplomatic leaders took aim at the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) for hosting Batyrov. “We believe that the actions of ODIHR are a sign of extreme disrespect not only to the judicial system of the state, but also to all the people of the Kyrgyz Republic. We regard this as a challenge to our country, which goes along a thorny and difficult path of building a true democracy,” Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Erlan Abdyldaev said.

While Batyrov escaped Kyrgyzstan, another Uzbek activist, Azimjon Askarov, did not. His conviction and reported torture at the hands of the Kyrgyz security services has been the subject of significant tension. After the U.S. State Department granted Askarov a human rights defender award in 2015, Bishkek denounced a 1993 cooperation treaty. Then in April the UN Human Rights Committee finally ruled that Askarov’s rights had been violated and called for his immediate release. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/07/23/us-state-department-2014-human-rights-defender-award-to-azimjon-askarov-and-foro-penal/].

On 26 September 2016 the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT partnership) strongly condemned the verbal attacks and acts of harassment by the Kyrgyz authorities against Tolekan Ismailova and Aziza Abdirasulova in reprisal to their participation in the 2016 OSCE meeting, and called upon diplomatic missions and the OSCE to provide them with all necessary protection. On 20 September Ms. Tolekan Ismailova made a speech in Warsaw, focusing on the rights of Kyrgyz women migrants and their children. As she was delivering her speech, she found herself sitting by coincidence next to Kadyrzhan Batyrov (see above). Shortly afterwards a photo of her sitting next to this individual was published on the Internet, and sparked virulent reactions on the part of Kyrgyz MPs and law enforcement agents. Ms. Aziza Abdirasulova was also captured on the picture as she was entering the plenary hall, and was also subject to similar threats. Some Kyrgyz MPs called for the opening of a criminal case against Ms. Ismailova, after which the press office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs confirmed that ”operational work” had been opened to hold “Kyrgyz citizens” accountable. Through social networks, a number of Internet users also promised to “welcome”the traitors” upon their return to the country. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/09/21/interview-with-lira-ismailova-human-rights-defender-from-kyrgyzstan/]

But NGOs are also a bit frustrated with the OSCE. Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch‘s executive director, called on the OSCE to change the way it works with regard to specific issues. “The OSCE needs to catch up with the real world,” Roth said, noting that the group’s consensus-based decisionmaking process at times hampers the organization’s efforts. The OSCE, with 57 members, operates via consensus. “But consensus for the basic acts of monitoring and reporting on human rights violations, or for the budgetary allocations to finance that basic work, should not be required on a case-by-case basis.” The ability of a member to veto such initiatives has stymied the group’s work and impeded its effectiveness. Roth said that the Moscow Mechanism, an OSCE instrument adopted in 1991 that can be initiated by a group of participating states to investigate human rights violations in an OSCE member country, should be “dusted off.” The mechanism has only been used twice since 1999. Such tools, which do not need consensus, can be useful when an abusive government is “putting narrow national interests ahead of the overriding human rights mandate of the OSCE” Roth said. [see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/osce-publishes-guidelines-on-the-protection-of-human-rights-defenders/]

Sources:

www.eng.24.kg – Kyrgyzstan » OSCE Manages to Irritate Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Human Rights Advocates, Too

http://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/urgent-interventions/kyrgyzstan/2016/09/d23957/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/09/21/osce-needs-catch-rights

http://www.osce.org/odihr/124079

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