GENEVA (20 May 2022) – The UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, today urged Tajikistan to end a deadly crackdown against the Pamiri minority in the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region (GBAO), warning that the use of counter-terrorism operations to quell protests could fuel even wider and more violent trouble.
“The Government’s heavy-handed response to end protests by the Pamiri minority through arrests, the excessive and unlawful use of force, and the involvement of the military is disproportionate and deeply disturbing,” the expert said. “I call on all sides to exercise restraint, and to ensure this doesn’t spiral out of control.”
He called on the authorities to engage in constructive and open dialogue with the Pamiri minority. He urged the Tajik authorities to immediately implement conflict-prevention measures that meet international human rights standards, including the protection of the Pamiri minority.
On 18 May, the Government sent military forces into the region as part of an anti-terrorism operation. Roads, schools, shops and the internet have been closed. Reliable sources report as many as 40 people have allegedly been killed in the security crackdown in the Rushon district.
Protests turned violent on 16 May in the regional capital Khorog when security forces allegedly fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and teargas, killing a local Pamiri man.
“I am shocked by reports that following the counter-terrorism operation by Tajikistan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs in response to recent Pamiri protests in the GBAO, that many Pamiri lives have been lost,” the expert said.
De Varennes expressed regret that earlier warnings of violence by a group of the UN experts including himself, along with recommendations to avert an escalation in trouble, were not heeded. “Sadly, the Government of Tajikistan didn’t respond to our letter and tensions that flared in the GBAO in November 2021 have continued on a larger and more dangerous scale,” he said.
Tensions flared in the GBAO last November when Gulbiddin Ziyobekov, a young Pamiri minority representative, was allegedly tortured and killed by Tajik security forces. Authorities responded violently to disperse ensuing protests, killing two Pamiri men and wounding 17.
Pamiris took to the streets of Khorog on 16 May demanding the prosecution of those responsible for Ziyobekov’s killing, and called for the release of GBAO residents who remained in custody following subsequent demonstrations.
Authorities say the protests are “unlawful” and undermine the safety of the country.
The expert said that like in November 2021, the media has been forced into censoring news about events taking place in GBAO. “Many journalists, including several in Dushanbe, have allegedly been threatened or assaulted for reporting on developments in the GBAO,” the expert said.
De Varennes said many Pamiris live in fear of a return to the violent conflict of the 1992- 1997 Tajik civil war. “As I and my colleagues stressed, a violent conflict can indeed happen should disregard of the Pamiri minority grievances by Tajik authorities and the securitization of the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region remain unaddressed,” he said. “I reiterate: Tajik authorities must act now before it is too late.”
The expert is in dialogue with the Government of Tajikistan on this issue.
Mr. Fernand de Varennes was appointed as UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues by the Human Rights Council in June 2017. He is tasked by the UN Human Rights Council, to promote the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, among other things.
Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.