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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Tajikistan

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1998
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Tajikistan, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1e16.html [accessed 23 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.

TAJIKISTAN

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, comprised largely of natives of the Kulob region, continued to dominate the State.

Tajikistan took a significant step toward national reconciliation after its 1992 civil war, with the signing of a comprehensive peace accord in June, and the inauguration of a Commission on National Reconciliation in July in Moscow. An amnesty agreement and accord on exchange of prisoners also were signed; the Commission on National Reconciliation met in Moscow in July, before moving to Dushanbe in September. Despite the agreement, the United Nations Mission of Observers to Tajikistan (UNMOT) reported two cease-fire violations in August. Under the peace accords, the opposition is allotted 30 percent of government positions but as of year's end, the Government still had not given the opposition any positions. The judiciary is not independent.

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, has primary responsibility for guarding the border with Afghanistan, and is comprised mostly of Tajiks with some Russians and a limited number of other Central Asians, although the officer corps remains principally Russian. 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. Opposition forces based near Kofarnihon, east of Dushanbe, carried out a variety of attacks during the year. Some members of the security forces and government-aligned militias committed serious human rights abuses. The armed opposition also committed serious human rights abuses, including abductions and murders. There have been credible reports of threatening, extortion and abuse of civilian populations by both government and United Tajik Opposition units.

The economy continued to be extremely depressed, and government revenue remains highly dependent on the government-owned aluminum and government-dominated cotton industries. Economic reform has been halting. Most Soviet-era factories operate at a minimal level, if at all, while privatization has moved ahead only slowly. As much as one-third of the total population is unemployed or significantly underemployed according to government estimates. Inflation increased during 1997, and the exchange rate declined substantially as the Government failed to maintain fiscal and budgetary discipline. Many, but not all, wages and pensions are being paid. However, because most yearly salary percentage increases are still meager and do not keep up with inflation, the sums remain extremely low and not enough to support adequate nutrition without supplemental income. Gross domestic product increased marginally, but remained as low as $200-$400 per person, according to official statistics. There were serious shortages of natural gas for heating and industry, largely as a result of continued disputes with Uzbekistan over natural gas purchases. Wheat acreage and the total harvest continued to increase dramatically as privatized farmers responded to their own and market needs for increased production, although state farm harvests continue to be mediocre.

The Government's human rights record improved slightly, due principally to the reduced level of violence and the absence of widespread military conflict; however, serious problems remain.

The Government limits citizens' right to change their government. Some members of the security forces were responsible for killings and beatings, and often abused 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 various leaders, who generally have government positions. These forces committed similar abuses. The government prosecuted few perpetrators for these abuses. Prison conditions remain life threatening, and the Government continued to use arbitrary arrest and detention. 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. There has been public criticism of corrupt or criminal actions by Ministry of Interior employees, several dozen of whom were removed from their positions during the year.

The Government severely restricts freedom of the press, restricts freedom of speech, and dominates the electronic media. No genuine opposition media appeared during the year, and the Government suspended and harassed independent local television stations. The authorities strictly control freedom of assembly and association for political organizations. Freedom of assembly is hindered. Two new political parties were allowed to register, bringing the total to 11; the 3 opposition parties and a branch of the fourth affiliated with the armed opposition remained suspended. The Government cooperated to a limited extent with the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Dushanbe, but did not establish a human rights ombudsman as recommended by the OSCE. The Government also did not establish its own ombudsman, despite its statement in 1996 that it would do so. Violence against women is a problem.

Several armed clashes among ostensible government supporters occurred, resulting in civilian deaths, abuse, and property damage. The general weakness of government control and continuing decline in social order led to an increase in crime and violence, including politically-inspired violence.

The armed opposition committed numerous serious abuses. Opposition forces were responsible for killings, kidnapings, abuse, threats, and extortion, including against civilians.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of Tajikistan in 1991, regional, political, and religious tensions led to a brief but violent civil war in 1992-93. A low scale guerrilla war continued until late 1996, led by a coalition of regionally based, democratic and Islamic groups, with a political base and refugee population in northern Afghanistan, against the winners of the civil war, a loose coalition of also regionally based, but more politically traditional, that is Communist, elements. By June a series of accords had been signed ending the civil strife and pointing to elections in 1998.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Extrajudicial killings numbered in the scores 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.

For example commanders under Presidential Guard chief Ghaffar Mirzoyev have reportedly carried out a number of killings in the Tursunzade area since they took control of it from mutinous forces in August. In one case, a religious leader with ties to the Tajik opposition and his son were killed by a hand grenade thrown into their house in early November.

In April an assassination attempt in Khujand slightly wounded the President and killed two members of his entourage. The grenade thrown at the President and defensive action by security forces also wounded 70 other persons. Government forces arrested a large number of civilians and some officials, in some cases using the assassination attempt to arrest opponents without any evidence of their involvement. Many of those arrested are still in jail. While some have been tried and sentenced, most are still being investigated. A number of local officials, businessmen, and professional figures were killed during the year for a variety of political, economic, and ethnic reasons. Few suspects, if any, have been identified. The Government has investigated some of the higher profile cases, but without positive results. The competence of those efforts as well as their independence are questionable. A number of murders have been essentially concealed with official news noting only that someone died.

At about 3:00 a.m. on October 16, gunmen attacked the headquarters of the Presidential Guards and killed 14 persons; some guards were shot and killed while they slept. Some of the attackers also were killed, but responsibility for the attack remained unclear at year's end.

In January an extended series of clashes between two groups seeking to control Tursunzade resulted in the death of at least several persons, and perhaps a significantly higher number, some of them unarmed bystanders. These killings do not appear to be connected with the government-opposition conflict, but reflect the lack of governmental control and the seizure of local authority by regional strongmen. Approximately 20 people were killed in clashes between followers of rival government officials in August. In the aftermath of this fighting between opposing elements within the government forces in southern Tajikistan, especially in the wake of the failed mutiny by renegade government Colonel Mahmud Khudoberdiev, there were widespread reports of killings of personnel belonging to or supporting Khudoberdiev's losing side, and of ethnic Uzbeks, although it is unclear whether the latter killings were politically motivated or resulted from the absence of law and order.

Several Russian army officers, soldiers, and staff were killed during the year. The Russian forces and the Government have generally blamed the opposition in these cases, charges that the opposition has denied. On February 18, six ethnic Russians, including two off duty U.S. Embassy security guards were killed. The alleged perpetrators, who belonged to the United Tajik Opposition, confessed in the presence of United Nations personnel. Opposition leaders denied that they had any responsibility for the attack. In September an ethnic Russian music teacher and her son were killed in her apartment. Death to Russians and Allahu Akbar were scrawled in blood on the wall.

Poor prison conditions and lack of food and adequate medical treatment resulted in a significant number of deaths in custody, although the situation improved over 1996 (see Section 1.c.).

There have been no developments in, among other outstanding cases, the 1996 murders of the mufti of Tajikistan and members of his family; Muhammad Osimi, a respected senior academic; and a prominent member of Parliament.

b. Disappearance

There were a number of disappearances during the year. The bodies of a number of persons who were kidnaped and killed were later found.

On February 4, 5, and 6, hostages eventually totaling 16 persons, including Minister of Security Saidamir Zuhurov, four UNMOT representatives, and four journalists, were seized by independent opposition commander Bahrom Alimardonovich Sodirov. The hostages were held from February 4 to February 17. In August two sons of former mufti Amonullo Nematzoda, the head of the Islamic Center of Tajikistan, were taken hostage and held for ransom. Nematzoda was taken hostage and released in October. A number of militia personnel were taken hostage at various times; some were killed.

Two French citizens, Franck Janvier-Dupuy, the director of the European Union's technical assistance program, and Karine Mane were kidnaped in mid-November in Dushambe and held hostage in proposed exchange for the leader of the February kidnaping incident. Mane died during a government-led rescue attempt.

The Government has not been active in investigating disappearances from previous years due to insufficient resources, political pressure, and a lack of professionalism. There were no developments in the 1996 disappearance of Zafar Rahmonov, the opposition cochairman of the Joint Commission on cease-fire observation.

There have been no reports of disappearances tied to forcible conscription.

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.). There were no reports of rape or threat of rape of women in prison or detention.

Prison conditions remain harsh and life threatening. Prisons are generally overcrowded, unsanitary, and disease-ridden, producing serious threats to many prisoners' health, although there was slight improvement in food and medical care reflecting ICRC assistance. 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 caused the virtual disappearance of these programs. Conditions in most prisons improved somewhat in 1997, due primarily to the efforts of international relief groups and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Some food production is resuming.

A major cause of the April uprising in a Khujand prison were reports that the Government planned to transfer prisoners to Dushanbe, away from their families and food source. Twenty-six prisoners were shot and killed when government forces retook the prison.

Family members are allowed access to prisoners only after a guilty verdict, in accordance with the law. The ICRC has 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). The ICRC has been able to establish a program to provide food for both guards and prisoners in many institutions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Criminal Code has not been significantly amended since independence, and it therefore retains many of the defects inherited from Soviet times. The Government continued to arbitrarily arrest and detain citizens. Revision of the Criminal Code is a high priority of the Majlisi Oli (parliament), however, because of the size and complexity of the code, the small parliamentary staff, and limited time in session for the Majlisi, progress has been slow. 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 fully restored, and the virtual immunity from prosecution of armed militia groups has further eroded 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 officially charged. 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 the trial begins.

Politically motivated arrests apparently have increased, especially in the north following the April 30 assassination attempt on the President, and in the south following the August military clash between government factions. Arrests numbered in the scores. There are credible allegations of illegal government detention for questioning of members of opposition political parties or their relatives. In most cases, the security officers, principally personnel from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and 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 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 the use of forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The 1994 Constitution states that judges are independent and subordinate only to the Constitution and the law; it prohibits interference in their activities. However, judicial officials at all levels of the court system are heavily influenced 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, to both appoint and dismiss judges and prosecutors. In one case involving Abdulhafiz Abdullajonov, the brother of a political opponent of the President, who was arrested in early summer, narcotics charges appear fabricated. The judge was removed after ruling against the Government's case; the Government has since claimed that the judge took a bribe and was removed for corruption. Abdullajonov is now charged with direct involvement in the April assassination attempt against the president and is on trial for that crime. Judges at the local, regional and republic level are, for the most part, poorly trained and lack understanding of an independent judiciary.

The court system, largely unmodified from the Soviet period, includes city, district, regional, and national levels, with a parallel military system. Higher courts serve as appellate courts for the lower ones. The Constitution establishes additional courts, including a Constitutional Court. This court has begun to function, has heard some cases, and issued decisions.

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 attorneys but may not necessarily choose among court-appointed defenders. In practice arrested persons are often denied prompt, and in some cases any, access to an attorney.

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 is theoretically given equal weight, regardless of the 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 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 is also considered to be widespread.

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 June 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, having defected. The Government released 48 prisoners in July in exchange for 49 prisoners held by the opposition. A second prisoner exchange in August was delayed by fighting resulting from Khudoberdiev's mutiny. In September 25 soldiers held by the opposition were released and in October, the opposition released 85 and the Government 78 persons.

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. Police may not enter and search a private home without the approval of the procurator. In some cases, police may enter and search a home without permission, but 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.

There are continuing credible reports of arbitrary illegal search, seizure, and looting by government forces, especially in the wake of the August fighting in southern and western Tajikistan.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

The level of violence that was dominant during the peak of the civil war in 1992-93 has dropped dramatically with the implementation of the cease-fire and the signing of the comprehensive peace accords. Those incidents of violence that have occurred during the year are largely the acts of terrorists or the consequence of actions by a still armed population.

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.

There is one national television service with several local offices which cover regional and local issues from an official point of view. There are also about 10 independent television stations that do not at this time have their own facilities and must make use of the official studios for most of their work. There are a variety of local newspapers, but only a handful attempt to cover serious news. Several are organs of political parties or blocs. Of three serious newspapers in Dushanbe, two were closed briefly in mid-November after one published an interview with a government opponent.

Both Ittihod, the weekly of the socialist party, and Samar, the weekly belonging to an entrepreneur and deputy of Parliament from the Vose district, on occasion were prevented from publishing articles critical of the Government. The Government nationalized a publishing house belonging to the Communist Party. An independent television station in the northern city of Khujand, linked to a former provincial chairman, closed by the regional government in 1996, remained closed. Despite passage of a new media law in December 1996, permitting independent television stations, the Government officially closed some such stations in 1997, and was very slow in publishing implementing regulations to permit independent stations to register. However, regulations were finally issued in the fall, and by the end of December, three stations were licensed and operating legally, and four others filed the required documents and need only pay registration fees.

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. In one incident, armed men broke into the house of the rector of the Tajik technological university and threatened to kill him if he did not resign within 10 days. He left Dushanbe shortly thereafter, but did not resign and returned to his position. The assailants have not been identified.

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 the right is granted, but the government subsequently has been known to take reprisals against the organizers. There were demonstrations in Khujand during the spring in connection with a local prison uprising, and there were public assemblies in several southern cities during the year. These events were held without interference, although there were reprisals in the north following the demonstrations.

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 must first register with the Ministry of Justice. This process is often 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 six political parties officially registered with the Government. Three of the four political parties suspended in 1993--the Islamic Revival Party, the Rastokhez National Movement, and the Lali Badakhshan Movement for the Autonomy of the Pamirs--remain suspended. In March 1996 a seventh political party, Adolatkhol (justice seeker), was registered. In addition a national front organization (Public Accord) established by the Government was registered in March 1996.

In several 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. Religion and State are separate, 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 are acting in accordance with the law, the practical purpose is to ensure that they do not become overtly political. Recently organized religious communities, such as Baha'i and Hare Krishna groups although unregistered exist with no apparent formal restriction and only limited experiences of prejudice. The independent Muftiyat was dissolved and a replacement Council of the Islamic Center was subordinated to the Government Committee on Religious Affairs. Muftiyat may have been dissolved to avoid conflict with the opposition over control of the organization. It happened quietly with no apparent objection from the observant Muslim community.

United Tajik Opposition leader, Abdullo Nuri, said in a July interview that the appearance of different faiths in Tajikistan was a threat to the survival of the nation.

d. 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 regulation.

The Government has stipulated that both citizens and foreigners are prohibited from traveling within a 25-kilometer zone along the country's borders with China and Afghanistan without permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In practice, however, international aid workers and diplomats travel freely in these regions without prior government authorization.

Residents of Dushanbe and those travelers wishing 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 are largely 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 on its jurisdiction and have not adhered to its formalities for foreign travel.

There is no law on emigration. Those wishing to migrate within the former Soviet Union notify the Ministry of Interior of their departure. Persons wishing 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 freely permitted to return. Some persons currently active with the Tajik opposition, whose travel documents expired, at times have had difficulty obtaining new documents permitting them to return.

Under the 1994 refugee law, a person granted refugee status is provided with the right to work and 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 forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status. There were no reports of forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution. 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.

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 the 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.

Almost all Tajik refugees from northern Afghanistan returned to Tajikistan following the signing of the peace accords, while those internally displaced persons in Gorno-Badakhshan who desired to do so, returned to their home areas. Although problems remain with illegal occupation of returnees' homes by those loyal to the victorious popular front militias, progress continues to be made in evicting the occupiers.

There is no legal basis for forcible repatriation, nor is there any evidence to suggest that it was practiced in 1997.

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 foresee parliamentary elections in 1998. The Government of President Rahmonov remains dominated by Kulobi regional political interests, although the prime ministers have been from the northern Khujand region. Some opposition party activists remained either jailed or in self-exile abroad, but since the signing of the peace accords, several members of the United Tajik Opposition, including its leader Said Abdullo Nuri, have returned to the country.

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. 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 16 female deputies in the Parliament, 1 female serving as a deputy prime minister, 1 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, has at times been critical of the Government. The Government initially refused to register Human Rights Watch as an international organization, asserting that it does nothing to benefit citizens, but has since 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 and with the United Nations Mission of Observers in Tajikistan and the U.N. Secretary General's Special Representative on the return of refugees from Afghanistan and internally displaced persons from Gorno-Badakshan.

The OSCE's mission continues to monitor human rights issues with the help of three field offices, which receive generally good cooperation from local officials. While the Government at first agreed to establish a national human rights institution and ombudsman position with OSCE financial support, it later decided, in 1996, to establish and fund such functions itself. However, thus far no institution or ombudsman position has been established. The Government refused the OSCE permission to open an additional offices in Gharm but, by the end of the year, had given permission to open an office in Khojand.

The ICRC intensified its contacts with government entities concerned with prisoners, but still was not given access to prisoners in accordance with its standard modalities, despite letters from senior government officials asserting that such access would be provided.

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.

Women

Wife beating is a common problem. In both urban and rural areas, many cases of wife beating are unreported and many of those 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 brides 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. There are no rape crisis centers or special police units for handling these cases. The threat of rape is reliably reported 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 openly operate at night in certain areas.

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.

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 education than women in cities. 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.

Children

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, and health care is free. Education is compulsory until age 16, but the law is not enforced. However, 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 results, 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.

Religious Minorities

There have been reports of physical harassment of non-Muslim women by conservative Muslims in rural areas for not wearing proper attire. Muslim leaders have occasionally expressed concern that minority religious groups undermine national unity.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

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 signing of the peace accords. Almost all refugees returned by year's end. In general security for returning refugees was good, and the OSCE reported that the large inflow of returnees that began in the summer suffered virtually no harassment.

With the exception of the trilingual (Tajik/Uzbek/Russian) school structure, Uzbek has no official status, although Uzbeks comprise 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, e.g., Ukrainians make up less than 2 percent of the population. While the Government has repeatedly expressed its desire for the ethnic Russian and Slavic populations 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.

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 unions 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 currently 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 50,000 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 federations during the drafting of social welfare and worker rights legislation.

The Law on Tariff Agreements and Social Partnerships mandates that arbitration take place before a union may legally 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 publicly disavowed the utility of strikes in a period of deepening economic crisis and high unemployment and espoused compromise between management and workers.

There were no official, union-sanctioned strikes, and wildcat strikes, which occurred in 1996, were not known to have occurred this 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 industry 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 laws have been passed defining such cases since the adoption of the 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 officially banned in 1989, although there continue to be reports of high school students sent to the fields to pick cotton, sometimes with compensation. Residents of kolkhozes may still be required to pick cotton, although wages are not often not paid and the kolkhoz no longer provides the services it once did.

Although forced or bonded labor by children is not specifically prohibited by law, other than traditional family participation in agricultural or home craftsman work, there is no pattern of such activity. The legal code specifies the minimum age of 16 years for employment and extensively regulates working conditions; children can perform household-based labor after age 7.

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 years, 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 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 streets. 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 for 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 of $.35 (322 Tajik rubles) falls far short of providing a minimal 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.

The economy remained extremely weak during the year, with a majority of industry standing idle by the end of the year. 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 the output of the particular concern for which the employee worked. 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 one and one-half 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 underreport 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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