To put it mildly, the Human Rights Committee has a lot of concerns about Tajikistan. In its concluding observations, a 12-page document, half a page includes an introduction and “positive aspects,” while the remainder catalogs “principle matters of concern and recommendations.”
To those familiar with Tajikistan, there are no surprises in the report. The list of concerns hits all the hot topics: corruption; discrimination; violence against women; problematic states of emergency regulations; ambiguity and overreach with regard to terrorism and extremism; reports of torture; the deaths of prisoners in custody; unfair and closed trials; harassment of journalists, lawyers, activists, opposition politicians; interference of the state into matters of religious practice; and more.
Tajikistan’s last such review, in 2013, was in many ways the same. The areas of difference are down to the examples, not the necessarily the core concerns themselves.
For example, in 2013 the review highlighted the fresh case of Zayd Saidov, a Tajik businessman and politician who announced the creation of a new political party “New Tajikistan” in April 2013 with eyes on contesting the presidential election later that year. He was soon after arrested. In the August 2013 review, the committee noted his case specifically:
The Committee expresses its concern at reports of politically motivated harassment of opposition political leaders with a view to deterring their participation in future elections. In this regard, it is particularly concerned at reports of arbitrary detention of Zayd Saidov, the head of a new political party called New Tajikistan, and the secrecy surrounding his case before the court (arts. 9, 14, 25, 26).
The committee urged Tajikistan to “foster a culture of political plurality and, to this end, desist from harassing opposition political parties and groups that are considered as holding contrary political views to the ruling party.”
In December 2013, Saidov was sentenced to 26 years in jail on a bevy of charges ranging from fraud to rape of a minor. The trial was held behind closed doors. In early 2015, his outspoken lawyer, Shukhrat Kudratov, was jailed for nine years, and then Saidov faced additional charges which resulted in the adding of three years to his sentence.
Jump ahead to 2019. It’s quite clear Dushanbe did nothing but ignore the committee. The 2019 review mentions not only Saidov, but also the leaders of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) and a handful of jailed human rights lawyers.
The period after 2013 marked a significant turning point for Tajikistan’s political climate. The downturn hit its full stride in 2015 with the banning of the IRPT and the persecution of its leaders, their lawyers, and their extended families.
It’s a good bet that Dushanbe’s next review — set for 2025 — will follow in the same vein. The committee offered, in both 2013 and this year, a range of legal and regulatory changes that would improve the human rights climate. But unless Tajikistan’s leadership sees value in making those changes (or put differently, unless it faces punishment for a lack of change), there’s no reason to believe the country will suddenly become a freer place just because some committee suggested it do so. That touch of cynicism aside, it’s important to chronicle Tajikistan’s continued defiance of its own commitments to international treaties like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The diplomatic and systematic process does have value, though it’s also quite clearly not enough on its own to motivate improvements.