Fundamental freedoms under serious threat in Central Asia
Twenty years after the end of the Soviet Union fundamental freedoms are still under serious threat in the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Despite promises of gradual reform made by the authorities, the human rights situation in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan has not improved in any meaningful way in the recent period, while the situation in Kazakhstan has deteriorated. This is the main conclusion of a new report published on 7 March by a coalition of five human rights groups, including the Netherlands Helsinki Committee.
The report, which is entitled ‘A sobering reality: Fundamental freedoms in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan twenty years after the Soviet collapse’, describes violations of civil liberties such as freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion in the three countries under review. Twenty years after the end of the Soviet Union, these countries continue to be ruled by authoritarian leaders who severely curtail the rights of their citizens.
Harry Hummel, director of the Netherlands Helsinki Committee (NHC) commented: “While Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have long had the questionable reputation of belonging to the world’s most repressive countries, we are seriously concerned that the human rights situation in Kazakhstan has deteriorated in the recent period.” In the aftermath of the December 2011 events in western Kazakhstan, when police used excessive force to put down riots, the Kazakhstani authorities have launched a new crackdown on the political opposition, opposition media, internet and labor activists.
The report published by the five human rights groups outlines broader trends regarding the protection of fundamental rights in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and describes recent individual cases that illustrate these trends. It is primarily based on information obtained through human rights monitoring conducted by KIBHR, TIHR and the IGIHRDU in 2011 and early 2012. It ends with a set of recommendations to the authorities of the countries under review, as well as to the international community.