Voicing Concern About Serious Violations of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Most States of Central Asia

Voicing Concern About Serious Violations of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Most States of Central Asia

Representative
Christopher H. Smith
Washington, DC
United States
House of Representatives
106th Congress
Second Session
Congressional Record, Vol. 146
No. 140
Monday, October 30, 2000

Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and agree to the concurrent resolution (H. Con. Res. 397) voicing concern about serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in most states of Central Asia, including substantial noncompliance with their Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) commitments on democratization and the holding of free and fair elections, as amended.

The Clerk read as follows:

H. Con. Res. 397

Whereas the states of Central Asia--Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan--have been participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) since 1992 and have freely accepted all OSCE commitments, including those concerning human rights, democracy, and the rule of law;

Whereas the Central Asian states, as OSCE participating states, have affirmed that every individual has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, expression, association, peaceful assembly and movement, freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and if charged with an offense the right to a fair and public trial;

Whereas the Central Asian states, as OSCE participating states, have committed themselves to build, consolidate, and strengthen democracy as the only system of government, and are obligated to hold free elections at reasonable intervals, to respect the right of citizens to seek political or public office without discrimination, to respect the right of individuals and groups to establish in full freedom their own political parties, and to allow parties and individuals wishing to participate in the electoral process access to the media on a nondiscriminatory basis;

Whereas the general trend of political development in Central Asia has been the emergence of presidents far more powerful than other branches of government, all of whom have refused to allow genuine electoral challenges, postponed or canceled elections, excluded serious rivals from participating in elections, or otherwise contrived to control the outcome of elections;

Whereas several leaders and governments in Central Asia have crushed nascent political parties, or refused to register opposition parties, and have imprisoned and used violence against, or exiled, opposition figures;

Whereas in recent weeks fighting has erupted between government troops of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan;

Whereas Central Asian governments have the right to defend themselves from internal and external threats posed by insurgents, radical religious groups, and other anti-democratic elements which employ violence as a means of political struggle;

Whereas the actions of the Central Asian governments have tended to exacerbate these internal and external threats by domestic repression, which has left few outlets for individuals and groups to vent grievances or otherwise participate legally in the political process;

Whereas in Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbaev dissolved parliament in 1993 and again in 1995, when he also annulled scheduled Presidential elections, and extended his tenure in office until 2000 by a deeply flawed referendum;

Whereas on January 10, 1999, President Nazarbaev was reelected in snap Presidential elections from which a leading challenger was excluded for having addressed an unregistered organization, `For Free Elections,' and the OSCE assessed the election as falling far short of international standards;

Whereas Kazakhstan's October 1999 parliamentary election, which featured widespread interference in the process by the authorities, fell short of OSCE standards, according to the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR);

Whereas Kazakhstan's parliament on June 22, 2000, approved draft legislation designed to give President Nazarbaev various powers and privileges for the rest of his life;

Whereas independent media in Kazakhstan, which used to be fairly free, have been pressured, co-opted, or crushed, leaving few outlets for the expression of independent or opposition views, thus limiting the press's ability to criticize or comment on the President's campaign to remain in office indefinitely or on high-level corruption;

Whereas the Government of Kazakhstan has initiated, under OSCE auspices, roundtable discussions with representatives of some opposition parties and public organizations designed to remedy the defects of electoral legislation and now should increase the input in those discussions from opposition parties and public organizations that favor a more comprehensive national dialogue;

Whereas opposition parties can function in Kyrgyzstan and parliament has in the past demonstrated some independence from President Askar Akaev and his government;

Whereas 3 opposition parties in Kyrgyzstan were excluded from fielding party lists and serious opposition candidates were not allowed to contest the second round of the February-March 2000 parliamentary election, or were prevented from winning their races by official interference, as cited by the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR);

Whereas a series of flagrantly politicized criminal cases after the election against opposition leaders and the recent exclusion on questionable linguistic grounds of other would-be candidates have raised grave concerns about the fairness of the election process and the prospects for holding a fair Presidential election on October 29, 2000;

Whereas independent and opposition-oriented media in Kyrgyzstan have faced serious constraints, including criminal lawsuits by government officials for alleged defamation;

Whereas in Tajikistan, a civil war in the early 1900s caused an estimated 50,000 people to perish, and a military stalemate forced President Imomaly Rakhmonov in 1997 to come to terms with Islamic and democratic opposition groups and agree to a coalition government;

Whereas free and fair elections and other democratic steps in Tajikistan offer the best hope of reconciling government and opposition forces, overcoming the legacy of the civil war, and establishing the basis for civil society;

Whereas President Rakhmonov was reelected in November 1999 with 96 percent of the vote in an election the OSCE did not observe because of the absence of conditions that would permit a fair contest; Whereas the first multiparty election in the history of Tajikistan was held in February-March 2000, with the participation of former warring parties, but the election fell short of OSCE commitments and 11 people, including a prominent candidate, were killed;

Whereas in Turkmenistan under the rule of President Saparmurat Niyazov, no internationally recognized human rights are observed, including freedom of speech, assembly, association, religion, and movement, and attempts to exercise these rights are brutally suppressed;

Whereas Turkmenistan has committed political dissidents to psychiatric institutions;

Whereas in Turkmenistan President Niyazov is the object of a cult of personality, all political opposition is banned, all media are tightly censored, and only one political party, the Democratic Party, headed by President Niyazov, has been registered;

Whereas the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), citing the absence of conditions for a free and fair election, refused to send any representatives to the December 1999 parliamentary elections;

Whereas President Niyazov subsequently orchestrated a vote of the People's Council in December 1999 that essentially makes him President for life;

Whereas in Uzbekistan under President Islam Karimov, no opposition parties are registered, and only pro-government parties are represented in parliament;

Whereas in Uzbekistan all opposition political parties and leaders have been forced underground or into exile, all media are censored, and attempts to disseminate opposition newspapers can lead to jail terms;

Whereas Uzbekistan's authorities have laid the primary blame for explosions that took place in Tashkent in February 1999 on an opposition leader and have tried and convicted some of his relatives and others deemed his supporters in court proceedings that did not correspond to OSCE standards and in other trials closed to the public and the international community;

Whereas in Uzbekistan police and security forces routinely plant narcotics and other evidence on political opposition figures as well as religious activists, according to Uzbek and international human rights organizations;

and Whereas the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), citing the absence of conditions for a free and fair election, sent no observers except a small group of experts to the December 1999 parliamentary election and refused any involvement in the January 2000 Presidential election:

Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That the Congress--

(1) expresses deep concern about the tendency of Central Asian leaders to seek to remain in power indefinitely and their willingness to manipulate constitutions, elections, and legislative and judicial systems, to do so;

(2) urges the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and other United States officials to raise with Central Asian leaders, at every opportunity, the concern about serious violations of human rights, including noncompliance with Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) commitments on democracy and rule of law;

(3) urges Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan to come into compliance with OSCE commitments on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, specifically the holding of free and fair elections that do not exclude genuine challengers, to permit independent and opposition parties and candidates to participate on an equal basis with representation in election commissions at all levels, and to allow domestic nongovernmental and political party observers, as well as international observers;

(4) calls on Central Asian leaders to establish conditions for independent and opposition media to function without constraint, limitation, or fear of harassment, to repeal criminal laws which impose prison sentences for alleged defamation of the state or public officials, and to provide access to state media on an equal basis during election campaigns to independent and opposition parties and candidates;

(5) reminds the leaders of Central Asian states that elections cannot be free and fair unless all citizens can take part in the political process on an equal basis, without intimidation or fear of reprisal, and with confidence that their human rights and fundamental freedoms will be fully respected;

(6) calls on Central Asian governments that have begun roundtable discussions with opposition and independent forces to engage in a serious and comprehensive national dialogue, on an equal footing, on institutionalizing measures to hold free and fair elections, and urges those governments which have not launched such roundtables to do so;

(7) calls on the leaders of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to condemn and take effective steps to cease the systematic use of torture and other inhuman treatment by authorities against political opponents and others, to permit the registration of independent and opposition parties and candidates, and to register independent human rights monitoring organizations;

(8) urges the governments of Central Asia which are engaged in military campaigns against violent insurgents to observe international law regulating such actions, to keep civilians and other noncombatants from harm, and not to use such campaigns to justify further crackdowns on political opposition or violations of human rights commitments under OSCE;

(9) encourages the Administration to raise with the governments of other OSCE participating states the possible implications for OSCE participation of any participating state in the region that engages in clear, gross, and uncorrected violations of its OSCE commitments on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law;

and (10) urges the Voice of America and Radio Liberty to expand broadcasting to Central Asia, as needed, with a focus on assuring that the peoples of the region have access to unbiased news and programs that support respect for human rights and the establishment of democracy and the rule of law.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from Nebraska (Mr. Bereuter) and the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Lee) each will control 20 minutes. The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Nebraska (Mr. Bereuter).

Mr. BEREUTER. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days within which to revise and extend their remarks on this measure.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from Nebraska? There was no objection.

Mr. BEREUTER. Mr. Speaker, I yield such time as he may consume to the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith), the author of this resolution with whom I have worked. I appreciate his great effort.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Nebraska (Mr. Bereuter) for yielding me this time, and I want to thank him for his work in shepherding this resolution through his Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, and for all of those Members who have co-signed and cosponsored this resolution.

Mr. Speaker, this resolution expresses the sense of Congress that the state of democratization and human rights in the countries of Central Asia, Kazahkstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, is a source of very, very serious concern.

In 1992, these States freely pledged to observe the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE documents. The provisions contained in the 1990 Copenhagen Document commit the participating states to foster democratization through, among other things, the holding of free and fair elections, to promote freedom of the media, and to observe the human rights of their citizens.

Mr. Speaker, 8 years have passed since then, but in much of Central Asia the commitments they promised to observe remain a dead letter. In fact, in some countries the situation has deteriorated substantially. For instance, opposition political activity was permitted in Uzbekistan in the late 1980s. An opposition leader even ran for president in the December 1991 election.

In mid-1992, however, President Karimov decided to ban any manifestation of dissidence. Since then, no opposition movements have been allowed to function openly and the state controls the society as tightly as during the Soviet era.

An even more disappointing example is Kyrgyzstan. Once one of the most democratic Central Asian states, Kyrgyzstan has gone the way of neighboring dictatorships. President Akaev has followed his regional counterparts in manipulating the legal, judicial, and law enforcement apparatus in a way to stay in office, despite domestic protest and international censure. On October 29, he will run for a third term; and he will win it, in a pseudo-election from which all serious candidates have been excluded.

Throughout the region, authoritarian leaders have contrived to remain in office by whatever means necessary and give every sign of intending to remain in office as long as they live. Indeed, Turkmenistan's President Niyazov has made himself President for Life last December, and Kazakhstan's President Nazarbaev, who has extended his tenure in office through referenda, canceling elections, and staging deeply flawed elections, this summer arranged to have lifelong privileges and perks go his way. It may sound bizarre, but it may not be out of the realm of possibility that some of these leaders who already head what are, for all intents and purposes, royal families, are planning to establish what can only be described as family dynasties.

Certainly the worst offender is Turkmenistan. Under the tyrannical misrule of Niyazov, President Niyazov, his country is the only one-party state in the entire OSCE region. Niyazov's cult of personality has reached such proportions that state media refer to him as a sort of divine being, while anyone who whispers a word of opposition or protest is dragged off to jail and tortured.

Corruption is also rampant in Central Asia. Rulers enrich themselves and their families and a favored few, while the rest of the population struggles to eke out a miserable existence and drifts towards desperation. We are, indeed, already witnessing the consequences. For the second consecutive year, armed insurgents of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan invaded Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. While they have been less successful than last year in seizing territory, they will not go away. Impoverishment of the populace fills their ranks with people, threatening to create a chronic problem.

While the most radical groups in Central Asia might have sought to create theocracies regardless of the domestic policies pursued by Central Asian leaders, the latter's marriage of corruption and repression has created an explosive brew. Mr. Speaker, finally let me say the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan seem to believe that U.S. strategic interest in the region, and the fear of Islamic fundamentalism, will keep the West and Washington from pressing them too hard on human rights while they consolidate power. Let us show them that they are wrong. America's long-term and short-term interests lie with democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. So I hope that my friends and colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join in backing this important resolution.

Mr. BEREUTER. Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

Ms. LEE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this resolution. The post-Soviet independence of the Central Asian states has not panned out in the way that benefited the population of these countries. Instead, it created wealthy and often corrupt elites and impoverished the population. Although all of these newly-independent states have joined the OSCE and appear, at least on paper, to be committed to OSCE principles, in reality the leaders of these countries have consistently fallen back on their OSCE commitments.

The political development reinforced the Office of the President at the expense other branches of government. Parliaments are weak and the courts are not free. Presidents of some countries, such as Turkmenistan, have pushed laws through their rubber-stamp legislatures that extend their presidential powers for life. Other governments, like the government of Uzbekistan, have been using the justification of fighting terrorism and insurgency as a means to imprison and/or exile the opposition, censor the press, and control civic and religious activities.

On the other hand, some countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan have demonstrated varying degrees of progress. Until recently, opposition parties could function freely in Kyrgyzstan, while the OSCE agreed to Kazakhstan's 1999 parliamentary election, which they found falling short of international standards but, nevertheless, an improvement over the past. The stability of Central Asia is key to the stability of this region which borders on Afghanistan, Iran, China, and Pakistan. The governments of Central Asia cite the destabilizing influence of drugs and arms-trafficking from outside of their borders and the need to fight Islamic fundamentalism as justifications for their authoritarian regimes. 

Leadership: 
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    Promoting human rights, good governance, and anti-corruption abroad can only be possible if the United States lives up to its values at home. By signing the Helsinki Final Act, the United States committed to respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, even under the most challenging circumstances. However, like other OSCE participating States, the United States sometimes struggles to foster racial and religious equity, counter hate and discrimination, defend fundamental freedoms, and hold those in positions of authority accountable for their actions. The Helsinki Commission works to ensure that U.S. practices align with the country’s international commitments and that the United States remains responsive to legitimate concerns raised in the OSCE context, including about the death penalty, use of force by law enforcement, racial and religious profiling, and other criminal justice practices; the conduct of elections; and the status and treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

  • Justice Overseas

    Human rights within states are crucial to security among states. Prioritizing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, defending the principles of liberty, and encouraging tolerance within societies must be at the forefront of America's foreign policy agenda. Peace, security, and prosperity cannot be sustained if national governments repress their citizens, stifle their media, or imprison members of the political opposition. Authoritarian regimes become increasingly unstable as citizens chafe under the bonds of persecution and violence, and pose a danger not only to their citizens, but also to neighboring nations. The Helsinki Commission strives to ensure that the protection of human rights and defense of democratic values are central to U.S. foreign policy; that they are applied consistently in U.S. relations with other countries; that violations of Helsinki provisions are given full consideration in U.S. policymaking; and that the United States holds those who repress their citizens accountable for their actions. This includes battling corruption;  protecting the fundamental freedoms of all people, especially those who historically have been persecuted and marginalized; promoting the sustainable management of resources; and balancing national security interests with respect for human rights to achieve long-term positive outcomes rather than short-term gains.

  • Our Impact by Country

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