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Regional Rights Body Should Scrutinise Central Asia

By Inga Sikorskaya

A new human rights watchdog for the Muslim world would do well to begin by looking at Central Asian states, rights activists say.

Plans for the 18-member human rights commission were approved at a meeting of foreign ministers of the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation, OIC, held in the Kazak capital on June 30.

Speakers at the event said the wave of protests in North Africa and the Middle East demonstrated the need for fundamental reforms in the Muslim world towards greater democracy and respect for human rights.

Elshad Iskandarov, who heads the OIC’s Youth Forum for Dialogue and Cooperation, told IWPR that the revolts in Arab states reflected a failure to involve people in governing themselves.

Iskandarov welcomed the new OIC human rights structure, saying, "We should work on human rights ourselves, so that others don’t do it for us."

Central Asian human rights defenders say the commission should turn its attention to the situation in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, both of them predominantly Muslim states and both OIC members.

The Freedom in the World 2011 report from United States-based watchdog Freedom House lists Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan among the “worst of the worst” countries.

Surat Ikramov, head of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan, said the OIC commission should look at the use of torture and the persecution of devout Muslims.

"Muslims are arrested and tried en masse just for praying. They are accused of links to certain religious movements, although this is never proved in court,” Ikramov said. “They are described as Islamic terrorists, even though no proof of this is presented."

The OIC human rights body will not find it easy to exert pressure on the Uzbek and Turkmen authorities. 

"Serious organisations like the United Nations, the OSCE and the European Community that do a lot to protect human rights have failed to achieve progress [on human rights] in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan," Ikramov said. "The authorities do everything they can to get out of it, and carry on the persecutions and torture."

Vyacheslav Mamedov, head of the Civil Democratic Union of Turkmenistan, based in the Netherlands, argues that setting up the new commission will take a lot of time and require a lot of coordination among the OIC’s 57 members.

"I very much doubt that recommendations from this commission will ever be heard by the authorities in authoritarian Turkmenistan," Mamedov said.

This article was produced as part of IWPR's News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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