Events of 1993

Human Rights Developments

Following the government's victory in the civil war against an alliance consisting of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan (DPT) and the Islamic Revival Party (IRP), Tajikistan became a human rights disaster area. From early December 1992 through February1993 the Tajikistan government, led by Emomali Rakhmonov, presided over an extraordinarily ruthless campaign of revenge against individuals believed to have supported or sympathized with the DPT-IRP coalition, which had governed Tajikistan for six months in 1992. In later months the government began arresting and convicting persons for their conduct during the DPT-IRP coalition period, continued a crackdown on the press, and banned the country's four main opposition political organizations.

The war brought disaster to Tajikistan, killing an estimated between 20,000 and 50,000 people and wrecking the country's cotton-dependent economy. More than 500,000 residents of Tajikistan fled the civil war, seeking refuge either in other parts of Tajikistan or in Afghanistan. In the spring and summer refugees and the displaced began to return to their homes and suffered harassment, beatings, and killings, partly due to inadequate protection measures on the part of local governments.

Pro-government paramilitary groups entered Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, on December 10, 1992. Led by the Popular Front of Tajikistan, the main pro-government army in the civil war, they conducted a campaign of summary executions and "disappearances" of people of Pamiri and Garmi (regions of Tajikistan that had supported the DPT-IRP coalition) origins, killing more than 300 and "disappearing" hundreds of others. According to eyewitnesses interviewed by the Moscow-based human rights group Memorial and Helsinki Watch, Popular Front soldiers and other pro-government forces stopped buses and trolley buses, stopped people on streets, and deployed forces at the Dushanbe airport in order to check individuals' documents. In many instances, those whose passports indicated that they were born in Pamir or Garm were killed or simply taken away and not heard from again. Graves containing as many as twenty or thirty corpses were exhumed in several places in and around Dushanbe.

The Popular Front committed summary executions in villages on the outskirts of Dushanbe after DPT-IRP rebels had already retreated, and, in at least one instance, the village of Subulak, in places that had never been a base for rebels. In another village called Kyrgyzon in January, the Popular Front, apportioning to itself law enforcement responsibilities, arrested and executed a thirty-one-year-old man (of Garmi origins) whom a neighbor had accused of murder. The summary execution was preceded by a two-minute "people's trial" in front of villagers.

The current government made no attempt to investigate the summary executions in Subulak and Kyrgyzon, and did not acknowledge that a campaign against Garmis and Pamiris took place from December 1992 through February 1992, attributing the large number of murders to the high rate of crime and banditry that characterized the government's first few months in power.

It is not known how many people disappeared in 1993. The disappeared were principally individuals who supported the DPT-IRP coalition or who were of Pamiri or Garmi origins. Their captors were paramilitary bands and warlords, mainly from Kuliab, one of the regions of Tajikistan that supports the current government. In some cases law enforcement officials mayhave been involved in the disappearances. A highly-placed Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) official, in an informal conversation with Memorial, alleged that MVD staff members sometimes collaborated in kidnapping. In addition, he stated that the MVD was most likely aware of the general pattern of disappearances and the reported existence of so-called "informal prisons." In the second half of 1993, disappearances became more professional and, in at least two cases, took place in the full view of local government or law enforcement officials.

Some of the disappeared were believed to have been brought to informal prisons, or buildings appropriated by warlords and used as detention centers for their captives. Helsinki Watch had good reason to believe that the Tajikistan government was aware of the existence of at least two informal prisons.

Instead of leading an effort to punish all parties guilty of crimes during and after the civil war, the government imprisoned during the year at least nineteen people who supported the DPT-IRP coalition. These included four television journalists, some of whom were beaten in detention, accused of "agitation and spreading propaganda for the violent overthrow of the government"; at least three members of the Islamic Renaissance Party, two of whom were charged with publicly calling for the overthrow of the government; one of the most well-known poets in Tajikistan, who was charged with inciting ethnic hatred with his poetry and was accused of having made a speech at the spring 1992 mass demonstrations that criticized members of parliament, and which the current government considers was a signal for the crowd to seize as hostages a group of parliamentarians; and the former dean of the law faculty of Dushanbe, a co-chairwoman of the DPT. In northern Tajikistan, which was left untouched by 1992's civil unrest and civil war, six members of the DPT, IRP and the popular movement Rastokhez were arrested in January. Five of these were charged with possession of bullets and pistols, but of the three who had been convicted as of November, including the chairman of the Leninabad region DPT, fingerprint tests were never ordered on the arms found.

On June 21, the Supreme Court of Tajikistan banned the DPT, IRP, the popular movement Rastokhez, and La'li Badakhshan (a Pamiri organization) for having organized the mass demonstrations in 1992 and for allegedly organizing fighters during the civil war. Freedom of expression suffered dramatically in Tajikistan after the current government came to power. In the first few weeks of December 1992, pressure on journalists stemmed from the apparent desire from armed groups associated with the Popular Front and the Kuliabi regional faction to take revenge on newspapers and journalists who had been their sharpest critics. In December, most of the latter fled Tajikistan under threat. The editorial offices of Adolat (Equality), the DPT newspaper, and Charogi Ruz (Light of Day), an independent newspaper, were ransacked; their writers and editors went into exile. Although Tajikistan government officials never officially closed the above newspapers, the harassment eliminated critical voices in the press, and during 1993 even newspapers loyal to the government were prevented from publishing material on such matters as government corruption.

The government attempted, but failed, to arrest two Charogi Ruz journalists. Officials of the Procuracy (the executive branch's investigative arm) searched the apartments of one opposition journalist who fled the country, confiscating all of his archives, journalistic material, and personal albums. As an extension of this harassment campaign, four Moscow-based journalists who write about Tajikistan were attacked in Moscow in the course of 1993.

Some 20,000 refugees and displaced persons returning to their homes in southern Tajikistan were beaten, harassed, and killed in 1993. Their homes had become areas where they were seen as the enemy, and where local government and the police force were led by former commanders of the Popular Front, the army that forced the refugees out in the summer and autumn of 1992.

Most of the internally displaced who returned to their homes did so on their own, with neither coercion nor aid. Toward the end of March, however, the government expelled many of the 30,000 to 40,000 refugees in Dushanbe. Government troops forced the displaced onto trainsheaded south for Kabodion, where local residents refused to allow them back to the villages. The displaced were then abandoned in an open area with no food, water, or electricity. Several were killed by local people. After they were reintegrated into their villages, the returnees suffered beatings for some time.

Killings and beatings of returnees decreased in June but became frequent again in several districts in southern Tajikistan after July 13, when Tajik rebels in Afghanistan attacked Russian border troops. Violence against returnees grew so severe that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) temporarily suspended its repatriation program.

Returnees are frustrated by their inability to reclaim their property. In the Kabodion district, local officials allowed the displaced to return on condition that they sign a statement renouncing their claims to stolen property. Returnees are living in appalling conditions in mosques because their homes were either burned or are occupied.

The Right to Monitor

Helsinki Watch and Memorial attempted to visit four journalists who had reportedly been beaten in prison in Tajikistan. Despite their initial promises to help us gain access, high-level law enforcement officials deferred the decision to the case investigator, who at first refused, citing the need for secrecy during the investigation, and then "bargained" meters: Helsinki Watch and Memorial refused the investigator's final offer, which consisted of walking the journalists (shirts on) past us at a distance of five meters.

Local lawyers representing political prisoners in Dushanbe have reported receiving repeated telephone threats on their lives.

U.S. Policy

The State Department maintained almost complete silence on human rights abuses in Tajikistan during 1993. This degree of neglect was troubling in view of the grave human rights violations that continued there, and the key role played by Russia in the region. On those occasions when Tajikistan figured in the State Department's public agenda, the country's poor human rights record was not criticized.

The State Department's has rarely raised concerns about human rights violations in Washington; fortunately, the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan took seriously its human rights mandate. The Ambassador has personally visited Mirbobo Mirakhimov in prison, and visited with the wife of Bozor Sobir, the imprisoned poet; Embassy staff has also attended his trial. He also regularly raises specific human rights cases in his meetings with Tajik government officials. Embassy officials have made themselves available to opposition members who suffer persecution.

Following intense rebel attacks along the Tajik-Afghan border, in July, a State Department spokesperson mentioned that the subject "was of great concern to the United States, something that we expressed our concern to Russia about." Following Ambassador Strobe Talbott's visit to Tajikistan, the State Department reported that the ambassador's delegation had had "serious discussions with President Rakhmonov on the need for political reconciliation within Tajikistan. President Rakhmonov indicated that he was willing to work with international organizations to bring peace to Tajikistan."

Tajikistan received close to $50 million in assistance in 1992 and 1993, most of it humanitarian relief. In September, Ambassador Talbott announced that the U.S. government would promise $45 million in humanitarian aid to Tajikistan, provided the latter observed international human rights norms. In July 1993, Congress signed a trade agreement with Tajikistan.

Despite Tajikistan's dismal human rights record, there was no evidence that the U.S. government had invoked the human rights provisions of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) mandate, which require that governments receiving this insurance for U.S. business operations respect basic human rights.

Russian Federation Policy

Tajikistan relies heavily on Russia for military, economic and other assistance. Russian officials – including President Yeltsin – consider Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan their own. During 1993 Russia provided 70 percent of Tajikistan's foreign aid and was believed to provide as much as 50 percent of Tajikistan's state budget. The Russian army assisted in the formation of the Tajik National Army, and its own 201st Motorized Division assisted in the defense of the Tajik-Afghan border and in internal security, and was implicated in humanitarian law violations, fighting on the side of the government in the civil war.

Russian policy in Tajikistan aimed to fight "Islamic fundamentalism" and to protect Russians living in Tajikistan. While the Russian-Tajik Friendship Treaty provides for an intergovernmental human rights commission, the latter had not yet been formed as of November 1993. Indeed, Russia appeared to have no publicly stated human rights agenda in Tajikistan, and Russian government officials spoke out only once against human rights violations in Tajikistan. To his credit, Foreign Minister Kozyrev, however, encouraged the Tajik government to negotiate with the Tajik rebels in Afghanistan. The Russian Supreme Soviet, in a joint effort with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sent a delegation to Tajikistan in May to explore human rights conditions there, but had not issued a report as of November.

The Work of Helsinki Watch

Helsinki Watch devoted much time and resources to Tajikistan during 1993, seeking to have an effect both on the government of Tajikistan and on the Russian government. Beginning in December 1992, Helsinki Watch sent a series of five letters to Emomali Rakhmonov, chairman of Tajikistan's Supreme Soviet, inquiring about or protesting human rights abuses. Four of the letters were released to the press.

The results of a June fact-finding mission, carried out jointly with Memorial, were released in a preliminary report at a press conference in July in Moscow. Thanks to Memorial's efforts the report was widely distributed in the Russian parliament and among the Russian Foreign Ministry's special working group on Tajikistan. A final report, Human Rights in Tajikistan: In the Wake of the Civil War, was scheduled for publication in December.

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