The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, says countries in Central Asia continue to use the war on terrorism as an excuse to violate the human rights of their citizens. Arbour has just returned from a two-week visit to Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA on a news conference given by the High Commissioner on her return to Geneva.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, says government officials in all the Central Asian countries she visited expressed concern over, what they call, extremism, terrorism, and separatism. She says they used these security concerns as reasons for maintaining tight state control over civic activities.
"The question of combating extremism and terrorism is always put forward as a justification for having, very strong executive, a very robust law enforcement," she said. "Whatever human-rights issue I raised, I am always told, 'Well the United States do not bother with that, so why should we," access to detention centers, visits by special rapporteurs [investigators]. Now, in a lot of cases, they are actually wrong in the factual assertions."
But Arbour says these governments do not know which people have access to terror suspects held in Guantanemo Bay, nor do they know the conditions and circumstances under which special U.N. investigators are invited to examine alleged human-rights abuse in the United States.
"Again, I think it is symptomatic of a perception that human-rights standards worldwide have been lowered and therefore that we should not be making unreasonable expectations particularly of countries that do not have a lot of capacities, when others that do, have lowered their international standard expectations," added Arbour. "That argument is present in virtually all meetings."
The High Commissioner says Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan do not have the kind of free press that allows human rights to flourish. She says they are all characterized by having a strong executive branch, a weak legislative branch, and an even weaker judicial branch.
She says she urged government officials to reform their judicial systems, including law enforcement and criminal procedures. She says these elements and an independent judiciary are necessary for the protection of human rights.
Arbour says one of the main purposes of her visit was to get agreement for the establishment of a Regional Office for Central Asia, which could monitor human rights and advise and assist countries on how to improve their human-rights records. She says the governments were positive to this idea.