COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION EXAMINES REPORT OF TAJIKISTAN
9 August 2012
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined sixth to eighth periodic report of Tajikistan on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Introducing the report, Rustam Mengeliev, Minister of Justice of Tajikistan, said racial equality was enshrined in the Constitution of Tajikistan, which had 137 ethnic groups out of a population of 7.8 million. In 2009 the position of an Ombudsman on Human Rights was created whose mandate was aimed at preventing racial discrimination. Crimes of racial or religious hatred were listed in the Criminal Code and such acts were prohibited in legislation. Anti-discrimination measures in education included provisions for children to be taught in their own national language while many mass media agencies published in different languages. Measures to prevent and reduce statelessness had been introduced and Tajikistan was seeking ways to solve the problem of the high number of asylum seekers and refugees coming into the country.
During the discussion, Experts noted that since its independence in 1991 Tajikistan had undergone a painful transitional period from a centralized system to a market economy with democratic institutions. They asked the delegation questions on the work of the Human Rights Ombudsman, established in 2009; about the situation of the Roma and linguistic minorities; and about measures taken to prevent statelessness and help refugees, particularly asylum seekers from Afghanistan. Details of sanctions for acts of inciting racial hatred were requested, as well as of cases of racial discrimination brought to court. Experts also asked about provisions for religious minorities and about the Government’s cooperation with non-governmental organizations working in Tajikistan.
In initial concluding remarks, Ion Diaconu, Country Rapporteur, said Tajikistan had made tremendous progress since its last report in 2004, not only in the field of legislation adopted but also in the field of activity on the ground. Improvement was needed in some areas, for example provision of citizenship to stateless persons, although pending legislation would help.
Mr. Mengeliev, the Minister of Justice, speaking in concluding remarks, thanked the Committee for its attitude, approach and positive contributions and said Tajikistan would look at all recommendations issued by the Committee and reflect them in its next report.
The delegation of Tajikistan consisted of the Human Rights Ombudsman of Tajikistan and representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Agency for Statistics, Executive Office of the President and the Permanent Mission of Tajikistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Tajikistan towards the end of its session, which concludes on 31 August.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will start its consideration of the combined initial to third periodic report of Thailand (CERD/C/THA/1-3)
Report of Tajikistan
The combined sixth to eighth periodic report of Tajikistan can be read via the following link: CERD/C/TJK/6-8.
Presentation of the Report
RUSTAM MENGELIEV, Minister of Justice of Tajikistan, said Tajikistan had always been committed to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and racial equality was enshrined in its Constitution, while international treaties were enshrined in law. A Human Rights Commission was established in 2002 to that end. Tajikistan was a multinational State with 137 ethnic groups, and there were no distinctions based on race or social status. The population of Tajikistan was 7.8 million, which broke down into many different nationalities including 84 per cent Tajiks, 12.3 per cent Uzbeks, 0.8 per cent Kyrgyz, 0.2 per cent Russians, 0.01 per cent Ukrainians, 0.09 per cent Tartars, 0.03 per cent Roma, as well as other nationalities. Minorities had the same rights as other ethnic groups and were free to elect their own representatives, choose their own religion, and express their views in public or in the mass media. Crimes of racial or religious hatred were listed in the Criminal Code and such acts were prohibited in legislation.
Provisions were made for equal opportunities for parties to use all procedural means to defend their rights and interests. In line with the Constitution citizens had the right to participate in and create their own political parties. New legislation included a recent law which aimed to support cultural preservation, and measures had been taken to enhance cultural activities both inside the country and with partners outside the country. A civil society coalition was fully operational, and in order to strengthen the rights of citizens, the post of an Ombudsman on Human Rights was created in 2009. The Ombudsman’s activities were aimed at preventing racial discrimination. Anti-discrimination measures in education included provisions for children to be taught in either their own national language or in a mixture of languages. In addition human rights education had been included in the national curriculum. There were a large number of mass media agencies publishing in different languages in Tajikistan, including newspapers, television and radio.
Law enforcement officials and staff systematically conducted awareness-raising projects to teach the populace about human rights norms enshrined in the Constitution, particularly using the mass media as well as workshops and seminars, so as to raise people’s understanding of their responsibilities. A legal education and knowledge programme for citizens was in place that would run from 2009 to 2019, and sought to enhance levels of legal knowledge, as well as the democratization of social and political life. Measures to prevent and reduce statelessness had been introduced and Tajikistan encouraged the granting of citizenship to stateless persons. Tajikistan was one of the first countries to accede to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, in 1994, and had implemented it into national legislation, while seeking ways to solve the problem of the high number of asylum seekers and refugees coming into the country. Tajikistan was putting in place all measures to prevent racial discrimination, was committed to conscientiously implement all international obligations in the field of human rights, and was ready to further cooperate along those lines.
ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Chairperson, reminded the delegation and the Committee that today’s meeting – as with all country reviews conducted in public by the Committee – was being webcast live over the Internet, and anyone in the world could watch it. Hopefully Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, was watching! The live webcast can be accessed via the following link: http://www.treatybodywebcast.org.
Questions by the Experts
ION DIACONU, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Tajikistan, began by saying that Tajikistan was a Central Asian country whose neighbours included Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Since its independence in 1991 Tajikistan had undergone a painful transition period from a centralized system to a market economy with democratic institutions. Tajikistan was a developing country that had many problems, including significant poverty and economic migration levels and entrenched traditions which affected the place of women in society. There were 137 ethnic groups in Tajikistan, as well as refugees, migrants and asylum seekers.
The Rapporteur noted that important legislative and institutional progress had been made, including a new Criminal Code, an Act on State Language and the establishment of a Human Rights Ombudsman. What results had the Human Rights Ombudsman, established in 2009, had so far, and had it received any cases of racial discrimination? The Committee was concerned that the Roma people, although there were only a small number in Tajikistan compared to other European States, suffered from discrimination and a negative social attitude towards them. Were the Roma in Tajikistan sedentary and did they stay in one place or were they nomadic? If the latter, were there certain areas where they could live for a short period?
Although it had a definition of racial discrimination in the Labour Code, Tajikistan did not have a general definition of racial discrimination that was applicable in all fields of social life, the Rapporteur noted. What sanctions were applicable for the dissemination of material or propaganda for arousing racial or ethnic discord, including for radio and television organizations? The report contained a lot of data on the representation of persons belonging to various ethnic groups in public life, but did not contain data on the enjoyment of economic and social rights by persons belonging to ethnic groups, for example unemployment rates, illiteracy levels, and access to healthcare, land and water.
Because of its geographic position the State party faced many problems with refugees and asylum seekers that were not easy to solve, particularly in a developing country, the Rapporteur said. He asked the delegation to provide more information on restrictions that forbade refugees from living in Dushabe and Kjujand, restrictions on refugees working, and the deportation of Afghan asylum seekers without giving them access to lawyers or an appeal process. There were also concerns that refugee children did not receive appropriate protection by the authorities. Regarding the streamlining of the procedure for acquiring Tajik citizenship by the 2008 Constitutional Act, what now were the conditions for obtaining Tajik citizenship?
The 2009 Act on State Language entitled all ethnic groups and peoples living in Tajikistan to use their mother tongue without restriction, which was a very generous allowance. However, there were difficulties in implementing that entitlement, such as insufficient textbooks in school and insufficient training for teachers in minority languages. Furthermore, while efforts to promote universal languages such as Russian and English were important, they should not be done at the expense of the languages of minority groups.
An Expert asked about the return of Tajik people after the end of the civil war, as until 2003 over one million Tajik citizens fled the country, but they were now returning. What support was available to those returnees? Could more information be given on the situation of stateless persons: who were those people, what was their background, and what measures were being taken by the Government to help them overcome their statelessness? There was no ethnic breakdown of refugees, particularly those coming from Afghanistan: perhaps there were Tajiks among those refugees? Human trafficking of women and children, including migrants and refugees, was another problem, and the Rapporteur welcomed measures taken by the State party to combat it and encouraged them to strengthen efforts in that field.
A major occurrence was the large numbers of Tajiks leaving the country because of the difficult economic situation, for instance migrating to Russia to find work. They were often living in Russia illegally without visas, in often horrific conditions, were sometimes exploited or trafficked, and faced tough competition for work. How did the Government support the huge population of Tajiks living in Russia, and how did the Embassy in Moscow help them?
An Expert asked the Minister of Justice specifically about whether the lack of cases of racial discrimination brought to court, and the lack of complaints made, was indicative of a lack of trust of the authorities by people in Tajikistan? Had any incidents of racial violence, harassment and discrimination been reported, that could potentially be prosecuted in a court? Another Expert asked about the practical life of the Ombudsman, as opposed to his mandate: what were the day to day responsibilities and work type in his office?
An Expert regretted that there had been no briefings by non-governmental organizations from Tajikistan, which was a loss to the Committee, as those briefings were valuable and non-governmental organizations did appear for most State party reviews. He continued to ask for clarification about the application of special measures in criminal proceedings, such as the right to an interpreter, and said that was not a special measure, but a human right.
Response from the Delegation
RUSTAM MENGELIEV, Minister of Justice of Tajikistan, explained that there was a new registration system for non-governmental organizations, which in Tajikistan could be both registered and non-registered.
Response by the Delegation
Racial discrimination was defined in Tajikistan legislation and its Constitution; all persons were equal before the law and the courts, all had equal rights. A new law on international treaties set out that Tajikistan would apply international treaties in domestic law, and proclaimed commitment to international obligations. The Criminal Code provided for cases when the equality of either side was violated, and provided legal sanctions for perpetrators. Regarding the relationship between criminal and religious liability, the Criminal Code provided for administrative sanctions. The Constitutional Law on Local Bodies of the State, and the Law on Local Self Government of Villages and Small Towns both provided further legal grounds to prevent racial discrimination.
Responding to a question about legal provisions to eradicate incitement to acts of racial discrimination, a delegate explained that in Tajikistan incitement was considered to be a way of participating in a crime. A person who urged another person to commit a racist act would also be assigned criminal liability and be considered an accomplice, as set out in the Criminal Code. Any person found inciting racial, religious or ethnic hatred, organizing genocide or other similar crimes, could be prosecuted by law.
There was a law to combat extremism. It defined extremism as a manifestation or expression of extreme forms of actions in order to whip up national, religious or ethnic enmity, such as incitement to racial, religious, ethnic or social discord; appeals to carry out violence; undermining somebody’s ethnic identity; mass disorder; hooliganism; vandalism; and preaching of exclusiveness or supremacy. The law to combat extremism also listed the responsibilities of officials. It spelt out responsibility not only on the basis of racial discrimination but also extremism.
Tajikistan believed its legal system was sufficient to carry out an objective elimination of racial discrimination. Racial discrimination was further prevented by the Labour Code, which forbade any discrimination towards workers, and similarly in the Family Code, which had provisions for marriage, inheritance, children and so on.
Regarding the provision of minority languages at court trials, the State language was Tajik and the administration of justice was delivered totally in Tajik. However, procedural legislation provided that trials could be held in the majority language of a local area, for example in areas with large Russian, Uzbek, Turkmen, Kyrgyz and other settlements. Interpreters were provided where possible, although in practice there were problems providing those services.
In 2011 legislation on a marriage between a Tajikistani national and a non-national was amended. Now a non-national must have resided in Tajikistan for a minimum of 12 months, and the marriage contract must be signed by both parties. The reason for the legal amendments was because of the number of petitions received by the Government from Tajikistani women who had married foreign nationals then obtained residence or citizenship of their husband’s country, only to find that their new husbands were already married in their home country. Multiple marriages were not allowed in Tajikistan. Once in their home country the new husbands often abandoned the Tajikistani wives, which in some cases led to those women becoming involved in prostitution and similar activities. In order to prevent such cases, protect Tajikistani women and prevent fictitious marriages, the amendments were introduced. The legislation had no ethnic or racial elements and it applied to foreign nationals in general, regardless of their race or nationality. Indeed, under the Family Code, the marriage contract included the same conditions and provisions, particularly for the division of property in the case of divorce, obligations related to children, and responsibilities to care for a spouse who could not work.
Regarding religious diversity in Tajikistan, a delegate said there were several different types of mosques and Islamic centres, as well as Christian churches and groups including Evangelical, Baptist, Russian Orthodox church, Evangelical, Catholic and more than 19 other churches of different confessions. The law also provided for ‘religious associations’ known under that term, which included communities and organizations.
A system of human rights education had been created that included the school curriculum, higher education programmes and school facilities. The core of the system was the provision of human rights education for school children, as launched in 2001. The question of textbooks was not so simple: translating Latin script textbooks into Cyrillic was something that did not always comply with the school curricula, especially as Uzbekistan’s school curricula did not always match Tajikistan’s. Although the two countries had similar backgrounds and cultures and worked closely together there were differences in their education systems. It was also difficult to train teachers in the national minority languages – figures were available for the Committee – although in the higher educational establishments teachers were now being trained in minority languages such as Uzbek and Kyrgyz.
A delegate presented data from the Agency for Statistics under the President, in order to answer questions about the Roma population in Tajikistan. In September 2010 a population and housing census took place, ten years after Tajikistan’s first ever census. The census contained a question about the number of Roma living in Tajikistan and showed that 2,334 persons were self-declared as Roma (56 per cent women, 44 per cent men). The figures indicated that the Roma population had decreased, as the 1997 census listed approximately 4,000 self-declared Roma in Tajikistan. Of the 2,334 Roma, approximately 300 said they were currently in work (the majority of whom - 231 people - worked in agriculture) and a further 37 were officially unemployed and registered with State unemployment offices as such. By way of comparison, overall unemployment in Tajikistan had recently been set at 11.5 per cent (55,000 persons), following data gathered with the help of the World Bank and the International Labour Organization. Regarding the education of the Roma, 40 of the total 2,334 persons indicated they had received higher education (from 15 years onwards), while a further 15 had advanced from secondary school to technical colleges. Basic education had been achieved by 5.6 per cent of the total number, while 165 of the Roma were said to be illiterate. There were a small number of people of African descent in Tajikistan – mainly students and staff members of international organizations.
Measures to tackle and treat HIV/AIDS were conducted by the Ministry of Health. A coordination council and committee for preventing and combating HIV/AIDS worked together with scientific institutes and non-governmental organizations to implement a programme, which ran from 2011 to 2015, on combating HIV/AIDS in Tajikistan.
Turning to issues of statelessness, a delegate said that in 2000 there were 2,293 registered stateless persons in Tajikistan. In 2010 there were 1,360 stateless persons living in the country, but 2012 figures showed that that number had today been reduced to 765 stateless persons. Between 2007 and 2012 there were only 12 requests for Tajikistan nationality from stateless persons, of which five were accepted. Of all the recommendations made by the Human Rights Council during Tajikistan’s Universal Periodic Review process, the recommendations on statelessness were already being taken into account and would soon be applied. In cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees a new bill was under development.
The delegation said Tajikistan was very open in cooperating with non-governmental organizations on many issues, and several organizations had participated in the drafting of the periodic report. Prior to the meeting, the Government met with the representative of one of the leading non-governmental organizations as to why there was no shadow report and why there would not be a non-governmental organization presence in Geneva. The representative informed that they were currently drafting a shadow report on issues of discrimination towards women, and were not able to come to Geneva because of workload issues.
In the 1990s Tajikistan was a receiving country for many refugees: with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees many of those refugees were sent to the United States and Canada. Tajikistan currently had applications for asylum from 1,500 Afghanis: 58 per cent were men and 42 per cent were women, and most were from the Kabul province. Afghanistan was separated from Tajikistan by a 1,500 kilometre river, and special border guards who were posted on the country’s border with Afghanistan were provided with human rights training. The Government was trying to help Afghanistan, and contributed in practical ways such as helping them build power lines and other infrastructure in order to improve their economy. The process of voluntary repatriation continued, and in 2011 51 refugees were resettled back in Afghanistan. The refugees in Tajikistan all spoke the Tajik language which made it possible for them to easily live and work in Tajikistan. Children of the refugees were entitled to free education in Tajikistan. Annual quotas were provided for students from the refugee programme to attend universities.
The Human Rights Ombudsman of Tajikistan took the floor to speak about the formation of his office in 2008 and his day to day work. The Ombudsman had a broad mandate with the main objective of contributing to the rights of citizens, receiving complaints and petitions from citizens, stateless persons, and foreigners (774 received in 2011). Requests for help were received from persons no longer in Tajikistan, for example Russians who used to work there and needed papers. The Ombudsman could intervene in all questions of procedure, for example legal procedure. The mandate also included cooperation with the Government and non-governmental organizations on questions to do with human rights. The Ombudsman often met with those bodies, as well as representatives of the mass media, to discuss pertinent issues. The office worked closely with the human rights organizations of other countries and international organizations such as Amnesty International, and often received assistance from them. A priority for coming years was fighting torture and discrimination, as outlined in the new strategy. The Ombudsman was also responsible for reviewing legislation in the light of human rights. Tajikistan was a mountainous country where it was difficult to reach some remote areas, but the Ombudsman’s office staff worked hard to contact all regions.
In a series of follow-up questions Experts asked the delegation to what extent certain religious organizations could be limited in their operations, as they reflected upon potential discrimination against minority groups. How was religion respected in schools for children? Was it true that there was a ban on Muslim women praying in mosques?
An Expert said he understood very well that the measures taken by the State party against fictitious marriages were legitimate, and that many countries were doing the same. However, the methods taken were perhaps not the best: any measure that was against a foreigner was, according to the Convention, discrimination. If the Government was telling every couple that wanted to get married – including where both parties were Tajikistani – to go through the same process there would be no discrimination.
The State party needed to improve its data collection, disaggregated by ethnic origin. To what extent did minorities participate in decision-making bodies?
Response from the Delegation
There were some extremist religious organizations whose activities were forbidden on the territory of Tajikistan, and members of them – numbering approximately 100 – were people that had been convicted of carrying out prohibited activities in Tajikistan. Most Tajiks were Muslim.
The State has never prohibited women from attending prayers in mosques. However, there was a recommendation from a non-governmental organization that worked on ‘internal housekeeping issues’ for mosques, which had concluded that the Prophet had recommended that women pray at home rather than go out to a mosque. There was a fatwa in existence based on that recommendation.
A delegate said they would provide figures on minorities who took part in decision-making processes.
ION DIACONU, Country Rapporteur, said Tajikistan had made tremendous progress since its last report in 2004, not only in the field of legislation adopted but also in the field of activity on the ground. Improvement was needed in some areas, for example provision of citizenship to stateless persons, although pending legislation would help. The Rapporteur welcomed the work of the Ombudsman, and hoped the institution would be able to obtain the quality of a National Human Rights Institution according to the Paris Principals.
RUSTAM MENGELIEV, Minister of Justice, speaking in concluding remarks, thanked the Committee for its attitude, approach and positive contributions, and hoped that his delegation had been frank and responded to all questions. Tajikistan would look at all recommendations issued by the Committee and reflect in its next report all comments made during the meeting.
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