Urgent Interventions

Clampdown on civil society - Preliminary findings of a fact-finding mission on the situation of human rights defenders and NGOs

Geneva-Paris,November 30, 2015. “The Tajik authorities must put an end to the legal andadministrative harassment of human rights defenders and NGOs in the country”,said the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a jointOMCT-FIDH programme), following a fact-finding mission to Tajikistan.The inability of lawyers to carry outtheir work freely and the draconian restrictions against civil societyorganisations, notably those receiving foreign funding, are two of theprincipal concerns of the Observatory.

Thedelegation, who conducted the mission from November 15 to 21, 2015, met withcivil society representatives in Dushanbe and Khujand as well as diplomats. However,the delegation regrets it was not able to meet neither with the Ombudsman norwith any representative of the national authorities, notably the Directoratefor Human Rights Guarantees of the Executive Apparatus of the President ofTajikistan, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the Department of Legal EntitiesRegistration and the Tax Committee, in spite of formal requestsaddressed in due course. This denial of dialogue is a worryingsignal that adds to the preoccupying information received during the mission.

At the beginning of 2014, Tajikistan hadpledged to implement international human rights standards both in law andpractice in order to ensure a smooth working environment for civil society. Thecurrent crackdown on independent voices clearly shows this objective wasabandoned and it is about time for Tajikistan to live up to its internationalcommitments, declaredPeter Zangl, Representative of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) tothe European Union, who led the mission.

Thedelegation is concerned that an essential cornerstone of democracy and the ruleof law principle is about to disappear: on November 23, 2015, President Rahmonsigned the recently amended the Law on the Bar Association (Advocatura), whichsets out a new qualification procedure for both experienced lawyers andbarristers, which will undermine their independence. As such, the amended Lawalso undermines the independence of the Tajik Bar Association itself, as thelatter would be placed de facto under the MoJ.

Additionalamendments which are currently under consideration by the Government wouldfurther tighten access to the legal profession. Moreover,it is worrying that it has become nearly impossible to find lawyers in Tajikistan who would accept to defend human rights cases,including torture related, for fear of criminal prosecution.Instances of torture and other ill-treatments, which remain widespread in thecountry, including in the Armed Forces, therefore go widely unpunished.

The testimonies and analyses gathered during themission further attest that in Tajikistan human rights NGOsoperate under pressure in an increasingly insecure and bureaucraticenvironment.

The missiondelegation is particularly concerned that human rights defenders andorganisations in Tajikistan are subjected to restrictive legislation andpolicies, notably through art. 27§2 of the Law “On Public Associations” asamended by the Parliament on June 10, 2015. The amendments make it mandatory todeclare all grants received by NGOs from donors abroad or from internationalorganisations to a specialised register at the MoJ. The amendment alsointroduces an obligation to notify projects to be implemented with those funds.Although these amendments have reportedly already entered into force, theimplementing procedures are not yet known nor have they been presented to civilsociety. Accordingly, NGOs operate in a high risk, uncertain environment.

We particularly fearthat anybureaucratic hurdles on public associations receiving foreign funding will result in increasedcontrol by authorities over human rights organisations activities, declared Ekaterina Vanslova, InternationalProtection Consultant at the Russian NGO “Committee for Preventionof Torture”, who was also part of the mission delegation.

Furthermore,increasing unscheduled inspections of NGOs - the legal base of which remainsoften unclear - were reported to the mission delegation, sometimes followed bylegal actions for alleged infringements of the law. Those defending the rightsof detainees held on charges involving “religious extremism”, “terrorism” or“undermining national security”, are particularly monitored by the authorities.

Publicfoundations, which are not covered by the Law “On Public Associations” butregistered with tax authorities, are equally affected. The Tax Committee of theRepublic of Tajikistan has recently started rejecting public foundations'registration applications and referring them to the MoJ, which has nocompetence over them according to national law. For instance, on June 5, 2015the Tax Committee brought an action to liquidate the human rights organisation“Nota Bene Public Foundation” for allegedly taking advantage of gaps in thelegislation when obtaining registration in 2009. The Tax Committee’s claim iscurrently being heard by the I. Somoni’s District Court of Dushanbe.

The Observatory is concerned about recent developments thatnegatively impact the work of human rights organisations and undermine thecrucial role they play. Independence of civil society organisations inTajikistan is under threat.

A missionreport will be issued in the coming months and will present detailedconclusions and recommendations to the Government of Tajikistan, non-Stateactors, the United Nations, the European Union, the OSCE and foreign embassies in Tajikistan.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

For moreinformation, please contact:

· OMCT: Delphine Reculeau / MiguelMartín Zumalacárregui: +41228094939

· FIDH: Arthur Manet / Audrey Couprie:+ 33143552518

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