Events of 1994

Human Rights Developments

Two years after the end of the Tajik civil war, which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 people and the displacement of more than 500,000 residents, the situation in Tajikistan remained tense and unstable. Thoroughly undemocratic conditions during the 1994 presidential elections bore testimony to the abysmal state of civil and political rights in Tajikistan. In addition, the Tajik government continued to detain political prisoners, stifle the press, and allow mistreatment in detention. Also, it responded inadequately to the harassment and violence against Tajik refugees returning from Afghanistan.

Due to its strategic location, bordering on Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, and the strong influence of Russia, the resolution of the conflict in Tajikistan had broad international implications. In December 1992 the present government, deriving from the communist era, defeated the "opposition," composed of a wide range of democratic, nationalist, cultural revivalist, and Islamist parties. Armed struggle continued along the Tajik-Afghan border between armed factions of the opposition based in Afghanistan and Russian border troops assigned to guard the border.

In March, the government and the opposition entered into U.N.-sponsored peace negotiations, aimed at achieving national reconciliation and resolving the refugee problem. On July 20, the Supreme Soviet voted to hold presidential elections and a popular referendum on a new draft constitution on September 25. As a result of international pressure, particularly from the U.N., Uzbekistan, and Russia, both the elections and referendum were postponed until November 6. Shortly thereafter, on September 17, the government and the opposition signed a cease-fire and agreed to release political prisoners and prisoners of war within one month. Two deadlines passed, however, with no prisoners released. Finally, on November 13, the opposition released twenty-seven prisoners of war, in exchange for twenty-seven prisoners released by the government (four had actually been released earlier). The presidential election, which was won by Emomali Rahmonov, chair of the Supreme Soviet, was preceded by an unfair electoral campaign and conducted in a climate of fear, intimidation, and fraud. International organizations such as the United Nations and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) refused to send official monitors to the election.

Although there was a significant decline in the number of summary executions, political disappearances and murders, civil and political rights continued to be violated in Tajikistan. At least two individuals died during detention, one of whom had been among the prisoners scheduled to be released pursuant to the September 17 agreement. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki received frequent reports of mistreatment during detention and illegal searches of homes, as well as violations of the due process rights of detainees, including the right to legal counsel, the right to a fair and public hearing by an impartial tribunal and the right to be tried without undue delay.

In addition, even after the November 13 prisoner release, the government continued to hold scores of political prisoners, despite a lack of compelling evidence of criminal activity. Many of these prisoners had been detained without trial since early 1993 because of having exercised their right to legitimate, nonviolent dissent. The authorities also continued to pursue a sweeping criminal case against the leaders of the various opposition parties and movements.

The major newspapers in the country remained under government control, and a February 21 decree suspended the activities of the independent media. In August, at least four individuals were detained and mistreated for alleged distribution of Charoghi Ruz, an independent newspaper published in Moscow.

The repatriation of refugees from Afghanistan continued successfully, with the assistance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The UNHCR estimated that by November 1994, nearly 26,500 of the estimated 60,000 refugees who had fled to northern Afghanistan had returned through UNHCR-assisted repatriations, and many thousands of others had returned on their own. Precise figures for the number of refugees remaining in Afghanistan or other countries were unavailable.

Returning refugees whose origins were from the Pamir or Gharm regions of Tajikistan – regions associated with the opposition – continued to experience security problems in areas of Khatlon province in southern Tajikistan. At least twelve returning refugees were killed in Khatlon, and beatings and threats against refugees were even more common. Although the number of such incidents declined significantly as compared with the previous year, incidents that were reported to the authorities were inadequately investigated. In and around Dushanbe, residents of predominantly Gharmi and Pamiri neighborhoods were harassed, threatened and routinely subjected to illegal house searches by officials from the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Security. In a number of cases, these individuals were detained and beaten, and at least one person died during detention.

Another targeted group were the Uzbeks living in the Panj region who, during the course of a disarmament campaign, were subjected to illegal house searches and harassed, detained and beaten by forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, often simply to extract information regarding other individuals suspected of possessing arms. A number of Uzbeks reportedly fled the region as a result of these abuses. In heavily Uzbek regions such as Shahrtuz and Kabodian, however, where Uzbeks occupy positions of control in the local government and police, there was evidence of mistreatment of returning Tajik refugees by Uzbeks. In two separate incidents in March and July, hundreds of Uzbeks attacked Tajik returnees, causing scores of serious injuries.

Members of other minority groups, such as Russians, Jews, and Germans, continued to emigrate in large numbers. However, most of these departures were related to the general political and economic instability in the country, and not to acts of violence or discrimination aimed at these groups. Attacks on the 3,000-member Afghan community of Tajikistan also decreased, although there were still numerous cases of Afghans who were beaten or threatened, and in which the government failed to conduct satisfactory investigations.

The Right to Monitor

No indigenous monitoring group operated in Tajikistan during 1994; most rights activists had been forced into emigration. A small international community has functioned there, including several U.N. agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the CSCE, and during 1994 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki stationed a representative in Dushanbe for the express purpose of conducting human rights work. Although the government of Tajikistan did not interfere with the work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, it did not provide significant cooperation. We received no response to numerous protest letters addressed to government officials and, despite repeated requests, were never accorded permission to visit political prisoners. Moreover, we were often unable to obtain even basic factual information from authorities, and senior officials repeatedly expressed outrage that international organizations were "wasting their time worrying about fundamentalists, criminals and murderers." The ICRC continued to be denied universal access to prisoners. The Tajikistan mission of the CSCE also reported dissatisfaction with the lack of cooperation and, at times, hostile attitude shown by the General Procuracy, or prosecutor's office. However, the government cooperated, for the most part, with the UNHCR in the repatriation and reintegration of Tajik refugees.

The Role of the International Community: United States Policy

When officials of the U.S. Department of State met with Abdujalil Samadov, chair of the Council of Ministers, in March, and with Emomali Rahmonov, chair of the Supreme Soviet, in October, human rights concerns were privately raised. On September 22, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East held hearings on Tajikistan and included its human rights record. At this meeting, administration spokesman Joseph Presel, in answers to questions from members of Congress, frankly acknowledged serious abuses of human rights by the Tajik authorities, though his characterization of the upcoming November elections was more optimistic than necessary. He repeatedly stated that the elections would not live up to the standard of elections in Switzerland or the U.S., without attempting to convey the degree to which the Tajik elections fail to come close to even the most minimal international standards. While the State Department never spoke out publicly regarding the human rights situation in Tajikistan or the undemocratic conditions surrounding the presidential elections, the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan did take the initiative in raising human rights concerns at all levels of the government and intervening on behalf of victims of violations.

U.S. leverage with the Tajik authorities was somewhat limited, given that American aid was almost exclusively humanitarian and delivered through nongovernmental organizations. The U.S. provided $16 million in emergency humanitarian assistance to Tajikistan, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded a $1.3 million technical assistance program for training in fields including human rights. On the other hand, the United States could use its extensive influence with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and urge that the Russian government demand a stop to violations by Tajik authorities, over whom Russia wields enormous influence. However, when President Yeltsin visited the U.S. in September 1994, State Department officials indicated privately that the issue of Tajikistan was not even on the agenda.

Russian Federation Policy

In addition to providing significant humanitarian and economic assistance, Russia continued its heavy military involvement in Tajikistan. Approximately 7,000 troops of the 201st Motorized Rifle Division made up the vast majority of the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.) peacekeeping forces in Tajikistan. Despite their peacekeeping mandate, many sources alleged that these forces were actually involved in the hostilities. In addition, approximately 17,000 border troops under Russian command continued to guard the Tajik-Afghan border and were involved in regular clashes with the armed opposition.

Russia sought to justify its strong military presence by citing a need to curb "Islamic insurgency," although Russian border troops were reportedly responsible at times for provoking incidents along the border. On the other hand, Russia supported efforts toward national reconciliation and pressured Tajikistan to postpone the presidential elections until there could be broader political participation. Once the elections had been postponed, however, the Russian position became far more complacent, despite remaining flaws in the election process and continued violations of human rights by the Tajik government. Russia also sought to safeguard the rights of ethnic Russians in Tajikistan.

Policy of the Republic of Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan continued to demonstrate its influence in Tajikistan by controlling the Tajik-Uzbek border and blocking the import of goods, automobile and passenger rail transportation, and even the repatriation of refugees from Afghanistan. Uzbekistan exerted pressure on the Tajik government to postpone elections, but its policy was guided by a desire to influence politics, not human rights.

United Nations Policy

The United Nations, particularly the Secretary-General's special envoy to Tajikistan, Ramiro Piriz-Ballon, was instrumental in arranging peace negotiations between the government and the opposition. U.N. mediation also played an important role in the subsequent postponement of the elections and the agreement of the parties to sign the September 17 cease-fire agreement. The United Nations Mission of Observers to Tajikistan (UNMOT) was active in coordinating the U.N.'s peacemaking initiatives and observing the military and security situation in the country. UNMOT also worked towards an improvement in human rights but, despite its visibility in the country, kept a low public profile in this respect, opting to discuss human rights issues privately with authorities. The UNHCR played a critical role in protecting the human rights of returning refugees and internally displaced persons.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki established an office in Tajikistan in April 1994. In light of the grave human rights violations committed by all parties to the conflict during the civil war and by the Tajik government, in particular, immediately thereafter, our goal was to monitor the post-war transition period and urge those governments with interests in Tajikistan to condition economic and military assistance on an improvement in the government's human rights record. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki also sought to inform both the Tajik government and the international community of the conditions necessary to ensure that presidential elections could be considered free and democratic. In addition, we intervened regularly before the General Procuracy and the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Security on behalf of individuals who had experienced human rights violations, and briefed multilateral organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and journalists on the current situation in the country.

In September, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki testified on human rights in Tajikistan before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East. Two newsletters released in October dealt with, respectively, political prisoners and the general human rights situation on the eve of Tajikistan's presidential elections. Throughout 1994 we issued twelve press releases and letters of protest concerning, among other things, deaths in detention, continued detainment of political prisoners, and undemocratic elections conditions.

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