Increasing transparency in Tajikistan detention facilities?

Friday, July 26, 2013

The UN Human Rights Committee this week joined the increasing number of actors which have called on Tajikistan to open up its places of detention to outside monitors. At present such institutions remain highly opaque contexts, to which very few actors have access. But is this about to change?

Earlier this week the UN Human Rights Committee called on Tajikistan to “institute an independent mechanism for inspection of all detention facilities by relevant international humanitarian organizations and/or independent national human rights NGOs.” While the ICRC has not had such access since 2004, civil society actors have had next to no possibility of crossing the threshold of a prison or police station. This was clearly the same conclusion reached by the UN Human Rights Committee during its examination of Tajikistan in Geneva earlier this month.

There are signs, however, that this insupportable state of affairs may be about to change.

In December 2012, the APT, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s office in Dushanbe and OHCHR’s Central Asia Regional Office initiated a round-table discussion to see whether a National Preventive Mechanism under the OPCAT, comprising the Ombudsperson’s Office and civil society actors, could be initiated on a pilot basis. After a gap of several months, these discussions resumed in early April 2013 eventually reaching a positive conclusion in early June 2013.

National actors have agreed to establish a multi-agency/civil society working group both to study the implications of ratifying the OPCAT and to create a joint detention monitoring group. This detention monitoring group is in the process of being established and will comprise the staff of the Ombudsperson’s Office and NGOs, who will undertake joint monitoring of places of detention. In view of the UN Human Rights Committee’s recent recommendat on the importance of the above developments should not be under-estimated.

Unsurprisingly, the UN Human Rights Committee is not the only international actor urging greater transparency in closed institutions. In both 2006 and 2012 the UN’s main anti-torture body, the UN Committee against Torture, made similar recommendations, while the ICRC is still in negotiation to secure access to Tajikistan’s prison estate nearly nine years after being shut out.

The APT therefore hopes that the pilot monitoring scheme comes to fruition as a precursor to Tajikistan ratifying the OPCAT.