U.S. Department of State: Tajikistan Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 26, 1999.
Tajikistan remains in the hands of a largely authoritarian government, although it has established some nominally democratic structures. The Government's narrow base of support limits its ability to control the entire territory of the country. The Government of President Emomali Rahmonov, which consists largely of natives of the Kulob region, continued to dominate the State, even though some Kulobis were removed from senior positions in 1998 and opposition members were taken into Government. The judiciary is not independent.
Tajikistan took a significant step toward national reconciliation after its 1992 civil war with the June 1997 signing of a comprehensive peace accord. Under the provisions of the accord, the Commission of National Reconciliation (CNR) began work in July 1997, and has made some progress in establishing peace. By year's end, the Government almost had fulfilled its obligation to name United Tajik Opposition (UTO) candidates to 30 percent of senior government positions. The UTO had registered virtually all of its fighters in anticipation of their demobilization or reintegration into regular military units. The return during the year of virtually all exiled UTO leaders and Tajik refugees from Afghanistan constituted further progress. However, implementation of the peace agreement (originally scheduled to be completed during the year) is still behind schedule, and basic issues such as constitutional amendments, legalization of banned political parties, and the disarming or reintegration of fighters remain to be resolved. Parliamentary elections that were scheduled under the agreement to take place in June are not expected to be held until 1999 at the earliest. In addition the United Nations Mission of Observers to Tajikistan (UNMOT) has reported several cease-fire violations. The killing of four UNMOT personnel in July led to the temporary withdrawal of most UNMOT observers.
Internal security is the responsibility of the Ministries of Interior, Security, and Defense. The Russian Army's 201st Motorized Rifle Division, part of a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping force established in 1993, remained in the country. The Russian Border Guard Force (RBF) reports to Moscow and has primary responsibility for guarding the border with Afghanistan. It consists mostly of Tajiks with some Russians and a limited number of other Central Asians, although the officer corps remains principally Russian. The Government depends militarily on a handful of commanders who use their forces almost as private armies. The soldiers of some of these commanders are the source of serious problems, including crime and corruption. Some regions of the country remained effectively outside the Government's control, and government control in other areas existed only by day, or at the sufferance of local opposition commanders. Some members of the security forces and government-aligned militias committed serious human rights abuses.
The economy continued to be extremely depressed, and government revenue remains highly dependent on the government-dominated cotton and government-owned aluminum industries. The economy also suffers from narcotics trafficking, other forms of corruption, and crime in general. Most Soviet-era factories operate at a minimal level, if at all. Small-scale privatization is over 60 percent complete, but medium- to large-scale privatization still is stalled. Government figures show a 3.8 percent increase in gross domestic product during the first 8 months of 1998, but also indicate that as much as one-third of the total population is unemployed or underemployed. The Tajik ruble remained stable until its value fell in August, mainly as a consequence of the economic crisis in Russia. The inflation rate has stabilized at 7 percent, and the Government essentially has followed recommendations by international financial institutions to establish fiscal and budgetary discipline. Many, but not all, wages and pensions are being paid. There were serious shortages of natural gas for heating and industry, largely as a result of continued disputes with Uzbekistan over natural gas purchases. The Government states that per capita gross domestic product is approximately $230 to $300; other estimates are lower.
The Government's human rights record is poor and made only limited improvements in a few areas over last year. The Government limits citizens' right to change their government. Some members of the security forces were responsible for killings and beatings, and frequent abuse of detainees. These forces were also responsible for threats, extortion, looting, and abuse of civilians. Certain battalions of nominally government forces operated quasi-independently under their leaders. The Government prosecuted few of the persons who committed these abuses. Prison conditions remain life threatening, and the Government continued to use arbitrary arrest and detention, and lengthy pretrial detention remains a problem. Basic problems of rule of law persist. There are often long delays before trials, and the judiciary is subject to political and paramilitary pressure. The authorities infringe on citizens' right to privacy.
The Government severely restricts freedom of speech and of the press, and essentially controls the electronic media; however, two new opposition newspapers began publishing during the year. The authorities strictly control freedom of assembly and association for political organizations. One new party was allowed to register in 1998, but the registration of another was held up by bureaucratic delays. Three opposition parties and a branch of a fourth affiliated with the armed opposition remained suspended. There are some restrictions on freedom of movement. The Government cooperated to a limited extent with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Dushanbe and in some field offices, but the officer in Pyanj was accused of destabilizing the area and ordered out of the district by local officials for a period of 2 weeks in May. The Government still has not established a human rights ombudsman position, despite a 1996 pledge to do so. Violence against women is a problem, as is discrimination against the disabled.
The general weakness of the Government and its limited ability to maintain law and order were evident in the armed clashes between the Government and opposition forces at various points during the year. The actions led by Mahmud Khudoiberdiev in November indicated dissatisfaction among those who feel blocked from participation in the current inter-Tajik peace process. Other clashes during the year involved UTO elements. All of these clashes resulted in civilian deaths, abuse, and property damage. There are credible reports of excesses by both opposition elements and government forces involved in these clashes. Following the November antigovernment action led by Mahmud Khudoiberdiev, there were allegations of heavy-handed treatment of civilians in the Leninabad region by government forces seeking to identify potential insurgents and locate caches of weapons allegedly left behind by Khudoiberdiev's forces. There are credible reports that Ministry of Interior troops killed civilians during and after May and July clashes near Dushanbe.
The armed opposition committed serious abuses, including killings and abductions. There were credible reports that UTO units threatened, extorted, and abused the civilian populations.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were scores of extrajudicial killings, but it was difficult to attribute responsibility in many individual cases. Some killings were committed by competing government forces for varying motives, both political and economic; some by the opposition; and some by independent warlords.
On April 29, fighting broke out between opposition troops and government security forces in Kofarnihon and spread to eastern Dushanbe. Human Rights Watch reported that, according to witnesses, the opposition troops retreated from the area soon after the arrival of government tanks and reinforcements. Subsequently, government forces burned residential buildings and attacked persons perceived to be opposition sympathizers. The OSCE, the UNMOT, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) estimate that between 25 and 35 civilians were killed. The Government created a commission in May to investigate the incidents, but it has not issued a report or taken significant action against the perpetrators by year's end.
On July 1, government forces launched a raid against a renegade opposition commander east of Dushanbe. The opposition alleged that Ministry of Interior troops killed civilians and looted and destroyed houses during the raid.
A number of local officials, businessmen, and professional figures were killed during the year, for a variety of political, economic, and ethnic reasons. Victims included UTO field commander Usmon Khojaev, Shahrinau district chairman Galandar Haidarov, Tursunzade mayor Nurullo Khairulloev, and Mullo Giyomiddin, the imam of the central mosque in Dushanbe (see Section 1.b.). Few suspects have been identified; the Government has investigated some high profile cases, usually without any results. The competence of those efforts as well as their independence has been questioned. A number of apparent murders have been essentially concealed, with official news noting only that the individual had died.
Harsh prison conditions and lack of food and adequate medical treatment resulted in a significant number of deaths in custody (see Section 1.c.).
Six individuals charged with participating in the April 1997 assassination attempt on President Rahmanov in Khujand were sentenced to death in March. The Government asserted that Mahmud Khudoiberdiev's group was responsible for the October 16, 1997 attack on the Presidential Guards. No progress was reported on investigations into the 1997 killings of several Russian servicemen. Also there has been no reported progress in the investigations into the 1996 murder of the mufti of Tajikistan or the murder of the prominent senior academic, Muhammad Osimi. There was no official action against government forces for the deaths of 26 prisoners when they retook Khojand prison in 1997.
Opposition forces also committed extrajudicial killings. After the July 20 killing of four UNMOT personnel in the opposition-held Karotegin Valley, United Nations observers were withdrawn temporarily from field posts throughout the country. Other U.N. and most international nongovernmental organization operations were suspended in the Karotegin Valley pending resolution of the case. The Government and the UTO appear to have cooperated on the investigation. Three suspects, reported to be opposition fighters, were arrested in late August. Since then there has been no further progress reported on the case, and the trial had not begun by year's end. There were also clashes between government and opposition troops that occurred near the town of Kofarnihon on March 24 and 25, violating the peace accords. The fighting resulted in a significant number of casualties and POW's. Representatives of the Commission on National Reconciliation were dispatched to the area and succeeded in negotiating the release of the captured soldiers and restoring calm.
There were a number of disappearances during the year. The taking of hostages for revenge or as bargaining chips in negotiations is becoming increasingly common. The bodies of a number of persons who were kidnaped and killed were found.
On July 28, the imam of the central mosque, Mullo Giyomiddin, was kidnaped by an unknown group near Dushanbe. His body was found some days later. His successor, Mullo Khudoiberdi, was kidnaped on September 3, but was released after a few days.
On June 11, UNMOT staff members were detained, beaten, and robbed by an unknown armed group near Hoit in the Karotegin Valley. They were released the same day.
Political pressure and a lack of professional resources hamper government efforts to investigate disappearances. There were no developments in the 1996 disappearance of Zafar Rahmonov, the opposition cochairman of the Joint Commission on cease-fire observation.
Opposition forces based near Kofarnihon, just east of Dushanbe, carried out a variety of attacks against police checkpoints and kidnaped a number of Tajik officials and civilians during the year. Bobojon Murodov, deputy chairman of the Dushanbe city government, was taken hostage by a UTO armed group and was released only after the chairman of the UTO negotiated with the hostage takers.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices, but in practice the Government violates such prohibitions. Security officials, particularly those in the Ministry of Interior, regularly beat detainees in custody and use systematic beatings to extort confessions. There were credible allegations that security forces illegally detained, mistreated, and beat members of opposition parties or their relatives (see Section 1.d.). Human Rights Watch reported that the Government acknowledged that the security forces were corrupted by criminal elements and that most citizens chose to keep silent in the face of official mistreatment rather than risk retaliation by the police. In the southern region of Shaartuz, the Tadjik Border Forces (TBF) control much of the drug trade, and the local population made numerous complaints of harassment and human rights abuses against the TBF.
Three bombs exploded in Dushanbe in October. Two were at the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense. There were no injuries and only minimal property damage. There were no reports of any arrests.
Prison conditions remain harsh and life threatening. Prisons generally are overcrowded, unsanitary, and disease-ridden, producing serious threats to many prisoners' health. This problem reflects in part the self-funded status of most prisons, under which before 1992 prisoners grew much of their own food or made goods for sale. The general collapse of governmental programs and of the economy also meant the virtual disappearance of these programs. Although conditions in most prisons were alleviated somewhat due to a food program sponsored by the ICRC, the program was discontinued in July. Some food production has resumed, but it is still inadequate. Family members are allowed access to prisoners only after a guilty verdict, in accordance with the law.
Abdulhafiz Abdullajonov, the brother of a political opponent of the President, was arrested in May 1997 on narcotics charges that appear fabricated. Despite appeals for clemency based on a diagnosis of terminal cancer, Abdullajonov remained in prison and claimed to have been denied proper medical treatment. He was sentenced to death on March 12 (see Section 1.e.).
There was no official action against government forces for the deaths of 26 prisoners when they retook Khojand prison in 1997.
The ICRC succeeded in getting permission for access to convicted prisoners but not those in pretrial detention (where most abuses occur) despite written assurances from senior government officials (see Section 4).
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Criminal Code has not been amended significantly since independence, and it therefore retains many of the defects inherited from Soviet times. The Government continued to arbitrarily arrest and detain citizens. The Government claims that revision of the Criminal Code is a high priority, but due to the size and complexity of the code, the small parliamentary staff, and limited time in session for the Majlisi Oli, progress has been slow. There is no projected completion date. The system allows for lengthy pretrial detention and provides few checks on the power of procurators and police to arrest persons. Public order, which broke down during the civil war, has yet to be restored fully, and the virtual immunity from prosecution of armed militia groups has eroded further the integrity of the legal system.
Police legally may detain persons without a warrant for a period of 72 hours, and the procurator's office may do so for a period of 10 days after which the accused must be charged officially. At that point, the Criminal Code permits pretrial detention for up to 15 months. The first 3 months of detention are at the discretion of the local procurator, the second 3 months must be approved at the regional level, and the Procurator General must sanction the remaining time in detention. The Criminal Code maintains that all investigations must be completed 1 month before the 15-month maximum in order to allow the defense time to examine government evidence. There is no requirement for judicial approval or for a preliminary judicial hearing on the charge or detention. In criminal cases, detainees may be released and restricted to their place of residence pending trial. Once a case is entered for trial, the law states that it must be brought before a judge within 28 days. However, it is common for cases to languish for many months before trial begins; there is no provision for bail.
The Government made politically motivated arrests, and there are credible allegations of dozens of cases of illegal government detention of members of opposition political parties or their relatives. In most cases, the security officers, principally personnel from the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the Ministry of Security, do not obtain arrest warrants and do not bring charges. Those released sometimes claimed that they were mistreated and beaten during detention.
Opposition sources maintain that security forces detained dozens of persons unlawfully without charge. Since the law precludes visits to persons in pretrial detention, it is not possible to assess these allegations. There could be as many as several hundred political detainees, but the absence of ICRC or other access to these persons makes any estimate uncertain.
The OSCE reports that border force units routinely take family members of deserters hostage and hold them until the deserters return to duty.
The Constitution states that no one can be exiled without a legal basis; no laws have been passed so far setting out any legal basis for exile. There were no reports of forced exile. Some opposition party activists are in self-imposed exile.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The 1994 Constitution states that judges are independent and subordinate only to the Constitution and the law, and prohibits interference in their activities; however, judicial officials at all levels of the court system are influenced heavily by both the political leadership and, in many instances, armed paramilitary groups. Under the Constitution, the President has the right, with confirmation by the Parliament, both to appoint and to dismiss judges and prosecutors. Judges at the local, regional, and republic level are for the most part poorly trained and lack understanding of the concept of an independent judiciary.
The court system, largely unmodified from the Soviet period, includes city, district, regional, and national levels, with a parallel military court system. Higher courts serve as appellate courts for the lower ones. The Constitution establishes additional courts, including a Constitutional Court. This court began to function in 1997.
According to the law, trials are public, except in cases involving national security or the protection of minors. The court appoints an attorney for those who do not have one. Defendants may choose their own attorney but may not necessarily choose among court-appointed defenders. In practice arrested persons often are denied prompt, and in some cases any, access to an attorney.
Bahrom Sodirov, who was charged in the February 1997 kidnaping of the Minister of Security, 4 UNMOT personnel, and 11 others, was arrested soon after the hostages were released. His trial, from which observers were barred, was suspended in late 1997 and has not resumed.
The procurator's office is responsible for conducting all investigations of alleged criminal conduct. In theory both defendant and counsel have the right to review all government evidence, to confront witnesses, and to present evidence and testimony. No groups are barred from testifying, and all testimony theoretically is given equal weight, regardless of ethnicity or gender of the witness. Ministry of Justice officials maintain that defendants benefit from the presumption of innocence, despite the unmodified Soviet legal statute, which presumes the guilt of all persons brought to trial. Thus, in practice, bringing charges tends to suggest guilt to most Tajiks.
Pressure continues to be exerted on the judicial system by local strongmen, their armed paramilitary groups, and vigilantes who operate outside of government control, sometimes leading to the dismissal of charges and dropping of cases. Bribery of prosecutors and judges also is considered to be widespread.
Abdulhafiz Abdullajonov, who was incarcerated without adequate medical treatment (see Section 1.c.) on apparently fabricated narcotics charges, was convicted and sentenced to death on March 12 on assassination charges. His codefendants later stated that they had been forced under duress, including beating, to incriminate Abdullajonov. His trial was closed and the evidence on which his conviction was based was not made public. Abdullajonov's arrest and unfair trial were politically motivated and he should be considered a political prisoner. At year's end, his circumstances were unknown.
The Government holds political prisoners, including opposition party activists, although estimates of the number of prisoners vary widely. The Government and the Tajik opposition exchanged multiple lists of prisoners of war (POW's) and political prisoners for exchange as a result of the 1997 inter-Tajik talks in Moscow. The largest opposition list totaled 700 names of political prisoners believed by the opposition to be in government custody, while the largest government list totaled over 400 soldiers believed by the Government to be held by the opposition. Both lists undoubtedly include many names of persons missing, dead, or in the case of POW's held by the opposition, who had defected. The Government has released the majority of the UTO prisoners, although the UTO still claims that about 350 of its supporters are in government prisons or other detention. The Government claims that those still held are criminals not subject to amnesty. The opposition UTO has stated that they have released all government POW's.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution provides for the inviolability of the home and prohibits interference with correspondence, telephone conversations, and postal and communication rights, except "in cases prescribed by law." The authorities, however, continued to infringe on citizens' right to privacy. Except for some special circumstances, police may not enter and search a private home without the approval of the procurator. When they do enter and search without prior approval, they must then inform the procurator within 24 hours. Police also are permitted to enter and search homes without permission if they have compelling reason to believe a delay in obtaining a warrant would impair national security. There is no judicial review of police searches conducted without a warrant.
Government forces beat and arrested the relatives of members of opposition parties (see Sections 1.c. and 1.d.). Security forces also detained relatives of deserters in order to compel deserters to return to duty (see Section 1.d.). In April government forces burned residential buildings (see Section 1.a.).
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Despite the Constitution and the 1991 law protecting freedom of speech and the press, the Government severely restricts freedom of expression in practice. Journalists, broadcasters, and individual citizens who disagree with government policies cannot speak freely or critically. The Government exercises control over the media both overtly through legislation and less obviously through such mechanisms as "friendly advice" to reporters on what news should not be covered. The Government also controlled the printing presses and the supply of newsprint and broadcasting facilities, and subsidizes virtually all publications and productions. Editors fearful of reprisals exercise careful self-censorship.
Two new opposition newspapers began publication. Sadoi Majahed (Voice of the Mujahad) is published in Gharm and Kofarnihon and calls itself the newspaper of the UTO military. Originally published in Afghanistan in the early 1990's, it began publishing in Tajikistan in April. Beginning in May, Muzhda (Good News) has been published by opposition members of the Commission on National Reconciliation using copy machines in their offices in Dushanbe. Both papers have very small circulation.
In July the Government revoked the accreditation of Russian television correspondent Elena Masyuk and expelled her from the country based on the Law on Press and Mass Media that prohibits the abuse of freedom of expression. The accompanying government statement accused Masyuk of attempting to discredit the Tajik leadership and interfering in the country's internal affairs.
The number of local newspapers is increasing, but only a handful of them attempt to cover serious news. Several are organs of political parties or blocs. There were allegations of threats of closures against newspapers critical of the Government. There is one national television service with several local offices that cover regional and local issues from an official point of view. There are 11 independent television stations, 2 of which are not functioning due to financial problems. Some have independent studio facilities and do not have to use official studios.
Safareli Kenjaev, chairman of the parliamentary committee responsible for broadcasting, initially had trouble publishing his Socialist Party newspaper Ittihod. After removing an editor, however, he has not had further difficulty.
To obtain licenses, independent television stations must work through two government agencies, the Ministry of Communications and the State Committee on Radio and Television. At every stage of the very time consuming bureaucratic process, there are high official and unofficial fees. Nevertheless, no station that wanted a license has been prevented from obtaining one.
Academic expression is limited principally by the complete reliance of scientific institutes upon government funding, and in practical terms by the need to find alternate employment to generate sufficient income, leaving little time for academic writing. The assailants of the rector of the Tajik technological university in 1997 were not identified or apprehended. He has, however, continued his work without further interference.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly; in practice, however, the authorities exercise strict control over organizations and activities of a political nature. Nonpolitical associations, such as trade unions, are allowed to meet. Registered organizations must apply for a permit from the local executive committee in order legally to organize any public assembly or demonstration. Sometimes this right is honored, but the Government subsequently has been known to take reprisals against organizers. There were demonstrations in the Penjikent district in June and Isfara in May in which persons gathered to demand the release of the imams of the local mosques. Authorities arrested some of the participants in these demonstrations. On February 28, a scheduled meeting of the members of the Congress of Popular Unity, led by prominent politician and businessman Saifuddin Turayev, was prevented from taking place by government troops.
The Constitution provides for freedom of association; however, although this right is permitted for nonpolitical associations (including trade unions), freedom of association is circumscribed by the requirement in the law on nongovernmental associations that all organizations first must register with the Ministry of Justice. This process often is slowed by the requirement to submit documents in both Russian and Tajik. The Ministry of Justice's verification of the text inevitably delays the granting of registration. In practice the authorities exercise strict control over organizations and activities of a political nature. Once registered an organization may apply for a permit to hold a public assembly or demonstration.
There are 12 political parties officially registered with the Government. The new Party of Justice and Progress was allowed to register this year. Three of the four political parties suspended in 1993--the Islamic Revival Party, the Rastohez National Movement, and the Lali Badakhshan Movement for the Autonomy of the Pamirs--and a branch of the Democratic Party remain suspended (The Democratic Party was banned in 1993. In 1994 a splinter group was formed, and in 1995 the other part of the party reregistered under the old title of Democratic Party. Thus there are two Democratic Parties functioning, one banned and one legal.) The Agrarian Party has not been able to register, but its application was not refused and it was suggested that the party attempt again to register in 1999.
On May 23, the Parliament passed a law prohibiting the creation of political parties with a religious orientation. The opposition UTO, international organizations, and foreign governments strongly criticized the law for violating the spirit and the letter of the 1997 peace agreement. On June 2, President Rahmonov established a Special Conciliation Commission to resolve the dispute. On June 18, the Commission reported that it had devised compromise language for the law, banning political parties from receiving support from religious institutions. A new version of the law including the compromise language was passed in the November parliamentary session.
In some cases, members of suspended political parties have been unable to find employment, apparently at the direction of the security services.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and neither the law nor the Government places restrictions on religious worship. However, according to the Law on Freedom of Faith, the Committee on Religious Affairs under the Council of Ministers registers religious communities and monitors the activities of the various religious establishments. While the official reason given to justify registration is to ensure that religious groups act in accordance with the law, the practical purpose is to ensure that they do not become overly political. Although unregistered, recently organized religious communities, such as Baha'i and Hare Krishna groups function with no apparent formal restriction and only limited experiences of prejudice. However, regularly throughout the year, President Rahmanov aggressively defended secularism and occasionally criticized Islam as a political threat.
In 1997 the Council of the Islamic Center was subordinated to the Government Committee on Religious Affairs. This move took place quietly, and with no apparent objection from the observant Muslim community.
Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution provides for the right of citizens to choose their place of residence, to emigrate, and to return. In practice the Government generally respects these rights, with some restrictions.
The Government has stipulated that both citizens and foreigners are prohibited from traveling within a 25-kilometer zone along the republic's borders with China and Afghanistan without permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This restriction is not always enforced along the western part of the border with Afghanistan, but a special visa generally is required for travelers, including international workers and diplomats, to Gorno-Badakhshan. Travel to border areas in the southwest is not restricted significantly, except occasionally at the border, which is closed intermittently by one side or the other.
Residents of Dushanbe and those travelers who wish to remain longer than 3 days are supposed to register with central authorities, and regulations require registration at the local Ministry of Interior office upon arrival and departure from a city. However, these regulations largely are ignored in practice. There are no legal restrictions on changing residence or workplace.
The Ministry of Security inhibits freedom of travel by requiring citizens who wish to travel abroad to obtain an exit visa. This process sometimes includes lengthy interviews. The Ministry of Security sometimes withholds or delays exit visas when it believes that other ministries or NGO's are infringing upon its jurisdiction and have not adhered to its formalities for foreign travel.
There is no law on emigration. Persons who wish to migrate within the former Soviet Union notify the Ministry of Interior of their departure. Persons who wish to emigrate beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union must receive the approval of the relevant country's embassy in order to obtain their passport. Persons who settle abroad are required to inform the Tajikistan embassy or Tajikistan interests section of the nearest Russian embassy or consulate.
Persons who wish to return to Tajikistan after having emigrated may do so freely by submitting their applications to the Tajikistan embassy or Tajikistan interests section of the nearest Russian embassy or consulate. The Government adjudicates requests on a case-by-case basis. There is no indication that persons, other than those who fled Tajikistan for political reasons after the civil war, are not permitted to return freely. Some persons currently active with the Tajik opposition, whose travel documents expired, at times have had difficulty obtaining new documents permitting them to return.
There remain over 12,000 internally displaced persons (IDP's) as a result of the 1992 civil war; however, the vast majority no longer wish to return to their previous residences. The International Organization for Migration estimates that only approximately 1,000 IDP's still await resettlement. These persons live throughout the country and are not concentrated in a single geographic area. The Government provides protection and modest assistance, and actively cooperates with international organizations to resettle them. Resettlement is voluntary; IDP's are not returned forcibly to dangerous conditions.
Under the 1994 refugee law, a person granted refugee status is provided with the right to work and to move freely throughout the country. The Central Department of Refugee Affairs under the Ministry of Labor has responsibility for the registration of refugees.
The Government cooperates with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. There were no reports of the forced expulsion of persons with a valid claim to refugee status.
There were no reports of the forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution. There is no legal basis for forcible repatriation, nor is there any evidence to suggest that it was practiced in 1998. The Government, particularly the Ministry of Labor, worked closely with the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration on behalf of refugees and internally displaced persons.
The Government provides first asylum, and has provided it to 1,060 refugees from Afghanistan since July 1995. There were no instances of first asylum in 1998.
The Central Department of Refugee Affairs (CDR), under the Ministry of Labor, handles the registration of Afghan refugees, in accordance with the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and Tajikistan's 1994 Law on Refugees. An unresolved problem stems from the unofficial government policy of denying official status to Afghan spouses of returning Tajik refugees. Although the UNHCR has aided their admission to the country (avoiding their being jailed as illegal immigrants), their legal status remains uncertain and the Government took no action on the problem during the year.
Following the signing of the 1997 peace accords, all Tajik refugees from northern Afghanistan who wished to return as well as thousands from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) returned to Tajikistan. There continue to be delays associated with the occupation of the returnees homes by popular front militia loyalists; at year's end, 294 families in Khatlon and another 100 in Dushanbe still require housing assistance.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Government limits the right of citizens to change their government peacefully and freely. Although the peace accords signed in June 1997 called for parliamentary elections in 1998, the Commission for National Reconciliation has not yet completed necessary preliminary work, and the elections were not expected to be held before 1999 at the earliest. The Government of President Rahmonov remains dominated by Kulobi regional political interests, although several senior Kulobis were removed from office during the year. The prime ministers have been from the northern Khojand region.
Some opposition party activists remain either jailed or in self-exile abroad, but since the signing of the peace accords, senior members of the United Tajik Opposition, including its leader Said Abdullo Nuri, have returned to the country. Nuri's deputy within the UTO, Akbar Turajonzoda, also has returned and, under the terms of the peace agreement, which allocated 30 percent of government positions to UTO candidates, has taken the post of first deputy prime minister.
The last parliamentary (Majlisi Oli) elections, conducted in 1995, were marked by numerous irregularities, such as voter intimidation and ballot-box stuffing, and did not result in a truly independent parliament. Nevertheless, a number of Members of Parliament lead parties or groups that oppose the Government vigorously on specific issues.
There are no formal barriers to women's participation in the electoral process, although since the removal of Soviet-era quotas the number of female deputies has declined. At year's end, there were five female deputies in the Parliament, one female deputy serving as deputy prime minister, one female deputy chairman of the Parliament, one female minister, and several female deputy ministers.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government's record on dealing with international and nongovernmental investigation of alleged human rights abuses was mixed. Fear of persecution by government or extragovernmental elements has discouraged efforts by citizens to form their own human rights organizations. The Government has not prevented citizens' and government officials' participation in international and local seminars sponsored by the OSCE, the ICRC, United Nations agencies, NGO's, and foreign governments on such topics as the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and international humanitarian law. Discussion at such seminars, including those held in Tajikistan, at times has been critical of the Government.
The Government initially refused to register Human Rights Watch in 1997 as an international organization, asserting that it did nothing to benefit citizens, but later agreed to its registration.
The Government, particularly the Ministry of Labor, worked closely with the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on behalf of refugees and internally displaced persons. It also worked with the UNMOT and the U.N. Secretary General's Special Representative on the return of refugees from Afghanistan, the CIS, and internally displaced persons from Gorno-Badakshan.
The OSCE's mission continues to monitor human rights issues with the help of three field offices. The level of local government cooperation these offices enjoy varies. The Shaartuz office has good relations with local authorities, but the field officer in Pyanj was accused of destabilizing the region and was ordered out of the district in May. He was allowed to return only briefly and his return required advance permission from the district chairman, who also asked him to obtain prior approval for all meetings with local citizens. This requirement was revoked after 2 weeks, and he is working in Dusti but does not go to Pyanj. The OSCE has received government permission to open two additional field offices in Gharm and Khojand.
The ICRC intensified contacts with government entities concerned with prisoners, but the Government continues to refuse the ICRC unconditional access to prisons in accordance with its standard modalities, despite letters from senior government officials that such access would be forthcoming.
While the Government agreed to establish a national human rights institution and ombudsman position with OSCE financial support, it decided in 1996 to establish such functions itself. However, thus far no institution or ombudsman position has been established.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution provides for the rights and freedoms of every person regardless of nationality, race, sex, language, religious beliefs, political persuasion, social status, knowledge, and property. It also explicitly states that men and women have the same rights. In practice, however, there is discrimination as a result of cultural traditions and the lingering hostilities from the 1992 civil war.
Wife beating is a common problem. In both urban and rural areas, many cases of wife beating go unreported and many of those cases reported are not investigated. There is a widespread reluctance to discuss the issue or provide assistance to women in abusive situations. In addition abduction of young women, who are raped or forced to marry their abductors, is widely reported, and there are reliable reports of young women prevented from leaving the country due to threats against their families should they do so.
The Criminal Code prohibits rape, although it is widely believed that most rape cases are unreported. One rape crisis center was established by a local NGO in Dushanbe in 1993. There are no special police units for handling these cases. The threat of rape is reported reliably as being used to coerce women. The situation is exacerbated by a general decline in public order, so that in many cities, including Dushanbe, women exercise particular care in their movement, especially at night.
Laws exist against keeping brothels, procuring, making or selling pornography, infecting another person with a venereal disease, and sexual exploitation of women. However, prostitutes operate openly at night in certain urban areas.
There are credible reports of trafficking in women, particularly among groups involved in the narcotics trade with Afghanistan. Although such trafficking is illegal, the Government has taken no significant action against it.
There have been reports of physical harassment of women by conservative Muslims in rural areas for not wearing traditional attire.
According to the law, women have equal rights with men. Inheritance laws do not discriminate against women. In practice, however, inheritances may pass disproportionately to sons. Girls often are pressured to marry men that they do not choose themselves. Although illegal polygyny is increasingly common.
The participation of women in the work force and in institutes of higher learning is one of the more positive legacies of the Soviet era. There is no formal discrimination against women in employment, education, or housing, and in urban areas women can be found throughout government, academic institutes, and enterprises. However, divorce rates in urban areas are comparatively high, and women tend to carry the burden of child-rearing and household management whether married or divorced. In rural areas, women tend to marry younger, have larger families, and receive less university education than women in cities. In rural and traditional areas, women receive less education in general, often leaving school after the eighth year. Due to the prevalence of large families, women in rural areas are also much less likely to work outside the home. Articles in the Criminal Code protect women's rights in marriage and family matters.
The extensive government social security network for child welfare continued to deteriorate. Women are provided 3 years of maternity leave and monthly subsidies for each child; health care is free. Education is compulsory until age 16, but the law is not enforced. The Government's lack of financial resources left it unable to fulfill many of its obligations for the provision of subsidies and care for maternal and child health.
There is no societal pattern of abuse of children.
People With Disabilities
The 1992 Law on Social Protection of Invalids stipulates the right of the disabled to employment and adequate medical care. In practice, however, the Government does not require employers to provide physical access for the disabled. Financial constraints and the absence of basic technology to assist the disabled result, in practice, in high unemployment and widespread discrimination. There is no law mandating accessibility for the disabled. There are facilities for the mentally disabled, however, funding is limited and the facilities are in poor condition. Several international NGO's provided limited assistance.
Muslim leaders occasionally have expressed concern that minority religious groups undermine national unity.
Muslims have harassed non-Muslim women for not wearing traditional attire.
After the civil war, over 75,000 people of primarily Gharmi and Pamiri origin fled to Afghanistan to avoid reprisals by progovernment forces. Most of these persons returned in 1994, 1995, and 1996, and many more returned after the June 1997 signing of the peace accords. All refugees in Afghanistan who wished to do so have returned. In general security for returning refugees was good, and the OSCE reported that the large inflow of returnees that began in the summer of 1997 suffered virtually no harassment.
With the exception of the trilingual (Tajik/Uzbek/Russian) school structure, Uzbek has no official status, although Uzbeks constitute nearly one-quarter of the population. The Government permits radio and television broadcasts in Russian and Uzbek, in addition to Tajik. In practice Russian is the language of interethnic communication and widely used in government. Ethnic Russians and related Russian speakers, for example, Ukrainians, make up less than 2 percent of the population. While the Government repeatedly has expressed its desire for the ethnic Russian and Slavic population to remain, economic conditions provide little incentive for them to do so, and some local Russians and other Slavs perceive an increase in negative social attitudes toward them. A Slavic university and an exclusively ethnic Russian high school operate in Dushanbe with Russian as the language of instruction. An agreement ratified by the Russian Duma in December 1996 allows for dual Russian and Tajik citizenship.
There is substantial underrepresentation of the Uzbek minority in official positions. Uzbek language newspapers, television broadcasts, and schools have declined significantly in number since 1992. Since the signing of the peace treaty in 1997, there have been multiple murders of ethnic Uzbeks in the Parij district. As a result of these attacks, more than 100 ethnic Uzbek families have moved to other locations in the district where Uzbeks predominate or to neighboring CIS countries. In an effort to reduce ethnic tensions, the local government has organized meetings to ease conflicts. A number of suspects for the murders of Uzbeks in July were arrested.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Law on Social Organization and the Law on Trade Union Rights and Guarantees provide all citizens with the right of association, which includes the right to form and join associations without prior authorization, to organize territorially, and to form and join federations.
The Federation of Trade Unions, a holdover from the Communist era, remains the dominant labor organization, although it has since shed its subordination to the Communist Party. The Federation consists of 20 professional trade unions and claims 1.5 million members, virtually all nonagricultural workers. The separate Trade Union of Non-State Enterprises has registered unions in over 3,000 small and medium-sized enterprises, totaling about 37,000 employees, although many of these enterprises are not functioning due to the general economic depression. The same is true for many members of the Federation of Trade Unions. The Council of Ministers formally consults both labor unions during the drafting of social welfare and worker rights legislation.
The Law on Tariff Agreements and Social Partnerships mandates arbitration before a union legally may call a strike. Depending on the scale of the labor disagreement, arbitration can take place at the company, sector, or governmental level. In the event that arbitration fails, unions have the right to strike, but both labor unions have disavowed publicly the utility of strikes in a period of deepening economic crisis and high unemployment and have espoused compromise between management and workers.
There were no official, union-sanctioned strikes, and wildcat strikes, which last occurred in 1996, are not known to have occurred during the year.
The law provides citizens with the right to affiliate with international organizations freely.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The right to organize and bargain collectively is codified in the Law on Trade Union Rights and Guarantees, the Law on Social Partnerships and Collective Contracts, and the Law on Labor Protection. Employees, members of the trade union, and management participate in collective bargaining at the company level. Negotiations involving an industrial sector include officials from the relevant ministry and members of the union's steering committee for that particular sector. As the economic situation worsens, it is becoming increasingly difficult for enterprises to engage in effective collective bargaining.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination or the use of sanctions to dissuade union membership, nor may a worker be fired solely for union activity. Any complaints of discrimination against a labor union or labor union activist are first considered by a local labor union committee and, if necessary, raised to the level of the Supreme Court and investigated by the Ministry of Justice. The law compels an employer found guilty of firing an employee based on union activity to reinstate the employee.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution prohibits forced labor, except in cases defined in law. No labor laws have been passed since the adoption of the new Constitution. Neither the Law on Labor Protection nor the Law on Employment, both predating the 1994 Constitution, specifically prohibits forced or compulsory labor. The Soviet practice of compelling students to pick cotton was banned officially in 1989, although high school students in some regions still are sent to the fields to pick cotton, particularly in the Leninabad area, sometimes with compensation. Residents of state or collective farms still may be required to pick cotton, although wages usually are not paid and these institutions no longer provide the services they once did.
Although forced or bonded labor by children is not prohibited by law, other than traditional family participation in agricultural or home craftsman work, there is no pattern of such activity.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
According to labor laws, the minimum age for the employment of children is 16, the age at which children also may leave school legally. With the concurrence of the local trade union, employment may begin at the age of 15. By law workers under the age of 18 may work no more than 6 hours a day and 36 hours per week. However, children as young as 7 years of age can perform household-based labor and participate in agricultural work, which is classified as family assistance. Many children under 10 years of age work in the bazaars or sell newspapers or consumables on the street. Trade unions are responsible for reporting any violations in the employment of minors. Cases not resolved between the union and the employer may be brought before the Procurator General, who may investigate and charge the manager of the enterprise with violations of the Labor Code.
Although forced or bonded labor by children is not prohibited by law, there is no societal pattern of such activity (see Section 6.c.).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The President, on the advice of the Ministry of Labor and in consultation with trade unions, sets the minimum monthly wage. The nominal minimum wage per month of $1.20 (1,000 Tajik rubles) falls far short of providing a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The Government recognizes this problem and has retained certain subsidies for workers and their families at the minimum wage. Although the Government adopted a wage indexation law in 1993 and inflation has been high, the law has not been implemented.
Although slightly improved over 1997, the economy remained extremely weak during the year with a majority of industrial operations standing idle. As factories and enterprises either remained closed or were shut down, workers were laid off or furloughed for extended periods. Some establishments, both governmental and private, compensated their employees in kind with food commodities or with the products produced by the enterprise. The employee could then sell or barter those products in local private markets. Citizens in rural areas intensified cultivation of food crops on their private or rented plots, while even urban residents started tending small vegetable gardens and raising livestock.
The legal workweek for adults (over age 18) is 40 hours. Overtime payment is mandated by law, with the first 2 hours of overtime to be paid at 1 ¸ times the normal rate and the rest of the overtime hours at double time.
The Government has established occupational health and safety standards, but these fall far below accepted international norms, and the Government does not enforce them in practice. The enforcement of work standards is the responsibility of the State Technical Supervision Committee under the Council of Ministers. While new statistics were not available, it is virtually certain, given the continuing economic decline, that 1993 statistics, which reported that over one-fifth of the population worked in substandard conditions, greatly underreported the number working in substandard conditions. Workers can leave their jobs with 2 months' notice, but, given the bleak employment situation, few choose to do so. The Law on Labor Protection provides that workers can remove themselves from hazardous conditions without risking loss of employment.
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