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Police Reform in Tajikistan: What Should Be the Priority?

Tajik authorities expect the reform of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to strengthen the potential of the police in order to combat crime and ensure internal security. However, civil society expects these changes to also be a step forward in the fight against torture and ill-treatment. 


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Brief overview of the article:

  • The completion of police reform was planned by 2020. Less than a year is left before the deadline, however no visible results can be seen yet;
  • The main work is carried out on establishing relations between law enforcement bodies and the population;
  • Now the results of the reform can only be assessed as preparatory;
  • There is a very weak emphasis on improving the situation with respect for human rights by the police;
  • The international community is being promotive of reform but is no longer putting pressure due to human rights issues.

Presentation of the new Tajik police uniform samples during the coordination meeting of donors, Dushanbe, March 2019. Photo: osce.org

The problem of low competence of law enforcement agencies in Tajikistan is now acute. The situation is aggravated by the problems of drug trafficking, border security and the activities of criminal groups. The community hopes that law enforcement reform will help to solve security problems by increasing the competence of police officers. The government itself, which is trying to increase the image of law enforcement officials, also has considerable expectations. In this article, the author will try to analyze the current results of the reform, lasting for almost ten years.

Why is the reform needed?

In Tajikistan, the discussion of the reform process in law enforcement agencies and the progress in their implementation has been ongoing since the early 2010s. First of all, the government of the country is interested, in increasing the force potential of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, so that the authorities have more resources to ensure internal security.

On the other hand, police reform should raise the issue of respecting human rights in the country and increasing the level of public confidence in law enforcement agencies. This is especially true against the background of frequent reports of torture committed by representatives of internal affairs bodies.[1]

The importance of reform is also associated with the problem of rising crime in the country, as evidenced by official statistics.[2] For example, President Emomali Rahmon personally spoke about the crime problem in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region.[3] The government then took active measures with the involvement of power structures and military units. Moreover, such cases of military force usage in the particular region have occurred more than once.

In the next 2020th year, it is planned to complete the strategy for police reform, which was adopted back in 2013[4].

The state has neither means nor experience of carrying out such reforms, therefore international organizations, in particular the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have joined this process.

Coordination meeting on reform of the Ministry of Internal Affairs with the participation of OSCE. Photo: mvd.tj

It is important for the OSCE to demonstrate involvement in the political development of Tajikistan, possibly regardless of the reform success. For Tajikistan, this reform may be the first step towards strengthening communication between the population and law enforcement agencies and increase confidence in the police.

The presented draft of the current police reform is not  different from the adopted law on police in 2004.[5] For example, the vision on the problem of observing the rights and freedoms of citizens has not been changed in this document, which are often violated by law enforcement officials. With this in mind, it seems that this reform will not be a step forward in solving this problem.

Today’s implementation strategy discourse mainly consists of access to law enforcement services in selected areas of Tajikistan, gender representation among police personnel and the prohibition of dual citizenship for the employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

In such a situation, a thorough analysis of the law enforcement reform project in Tajikistan is needed. In the future, this can provide expert support for the project, as well as allow the population to look at such an initiative from all sides without resorting to excessive speculation.

After all, currently the main work on the reform is carried out in the field of establishing links between the population and law enforcement agencies. In this sector, the state is trying to cooperate with non-governmental organizations and civil society, and now, this can be called the most noticeable result of the reform. But over an almost 10-year period of reform, such measures look more like initial steps. This can be said, despite the fact that by the next 2020th year it was planned to complete the reform.

What are the current results?

To date, little is known about the results of the reform. On the website of US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, which acts as a contractual organization for this reform, reports on 32 working groups and 49 community centers throughout the country can be found.[6]

Another partner in the implementation of the reform, Saferworld, an international non-profit organization, is engaged in a separate project to train employees of public relations centers in 4 regions of the republic. In general, the reform is currently being submitted both through the media, and through government channels as a way of establishing links between the population and the internal affairs bodies. Issues related to combating corruption and respect for human rights and freedoms, have not been covered yet by the process of reform implementation.

Civic associations are beginning to play a more important role in the reform process. For example, in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, civil society is actively involved in discussions on police reform and works closely with government agencies. The same trend can be seen in Tajikistan.

Last year, the government announced a competition for the admission of citizens to the Public Council for Police Reform. Such a step can be perceived as a compelled one – a measure dictated by international donors to democratize institutions. Nevertheless, the state took the initiative to establish cooperation with the population in the framework of the reform. Such a measure also increases the political participation of society, which is not quite usual for Tajikistan, especially taking into account how low the activity of citizens is. However, there is no need to talk about any fruitful interaction, the population’s awareness of the reform is still low, and the level of distrust of the authorities is still high.

Another positive point is that government bodies cooperate with non-governmental organizations. They are attracted through international partners to discuss reform issues[7] related to public-police relations. Such meetings are aimed at establishing an equal dialogue, therefore participants who were not representing law enforcement agencies, were given Ministry of Internal Affairs’ ID cards.[8]

This is a good indicator, as representatives of NGOs are closely connected with civil society and can fully represent their interests in the framework of the reform. A similar development can be observed in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, where a “civic point of view” is attracted for reform, which in principle increases the level of inclusiveness in the decision-making process.

Round table of the Khatlon region Public Council on the police reform. Photo: mvd.tj

At the end of the day, the current police reform in Tajikistan is distinguished by its close connection with civil society and non-governmental institutions, whether it be NGOs or public organizations. This is certainly a positive trend, as it allows government agencies to see a wider picture in the process of how reform is being implemented.

Therefore, we can say that the reform is already changing the view of government institutions on the value of involving various groups, stakeholders in the event of the implementation of any projects, reforms or strategies. Naturally, this is not the main goal of the reform, and such progress, unfortunately, does not compensate the fact that the reform does not give visible results yet.

Another important point: the Saferworld project began in 2016 and will last until 2021 – which returns to the deadline for the completion of the reform strategy in 2020. If the project, being part of the implementation of police reform, goes beyond the time frame of the strategy, then the reform is likely to be extended. This will provide an opportunity to integrate initiatives of reform partners more effectively and demonstrate support for non-governmental initiatives. Given that the reform is still far from complete, it can be predicted that the implementation strategy will be extended for at least another three years.

Contradictions between authorities and international organizations

First of all, it is important to note that the implementation of police reform in Tajikistan is the subject of divergence in the views of the local government and international donors. According to experts, Dushanbe is most interested in enhancing the effectiveness of the bodies themselves, their professional preparation for responding, both in case of search and detention of criminals, and in the event of crisis situations. International partners, however, see reform as an opportunity to democratize law enforcement institutions, improve the human rights situation, and eradicate corruption in government.[9]

Such a situation can naturally affect the effectiveness of the reform’s results, since the lack of a common view of the problem creates risks. Moreover, the cooperation of the government with international organizations on this issue is the basis of the implementation process.

The lack of a pronounced focus on democratization and human rights can be explained by the complicated relations between Tajikistan and the OSCE, the main partner in the implementation of the reform. Nevertheless, the OSCE position in the republic regarding respect for human rights was rather passive.[10]

The OSCE position in the republic regarding respect for human rights was rather passive. Collage: osce.usmission.gov

Controversial situations surrounding the participation of Tajik opposition representatives at the annual human rights meetings in Warsaw have largely affected the negative perception of the OSCE. As a result, the organization’s mandate in Tajikistan was reduced, and the OSCE’s offices in the regions were abolished, leaving only the program office in Dushanbe.

Thus, the organization’s activity in the integration of human rights issues subsided. The OSCE is trying not to enter into a new confrontation with the government, as the issue of the complete liquidation of the organization in Tajikistan has often been raised. New disputes may lead to unfavorable result for OSCE, given how much money has been invested in the activities of the local office and the fact that there are no more representative offices in the South Caucasus.

All this leads to the fact that the comprehensive democratization of police reform can no longer be discussed, and human rights will not become part of its agenda. That is why against the background of such scenarios, the involvement of other organizations to attract civil society looks substantially positive.

At the same time, government officials are declaring their intentions to combat ill-treatment and torture. The head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the country reported that it was planned to install surveillance cameras in the office premises of the internal affairs departments, but so far the question of additional financing for taking such a measure remained open .[11]

On the other hand, such an initiative looks more superficial, which does not solve the problem as a whole. Nothing was said about any trainings or events to raise the awareness of human rights officers and the proper methods of working with citizens inside departments within the framework of the reform.

In 2018, 44 cases of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officers were recorded in Tajikistan.[12] In 38 of them, criminal cases were opened in Tajikistan at the request of the Civil Society Coalition against Torture and Lawlessness. The government is preparing to take a series of measures, including measures to raise awareness among judges and law enforcement officials on human rights issues. To this end, a plan was adopted to implement the recommendations of the UN Committee against Torture for 2019-2022.[13]

However, it is not known whether international and non-governmental organizations will participate in the implementation of this plan and how much the current police reform will be integrated into this plan. As part of the reform, the issue of additional financing has already been raised, and given the state budget deficit, it is unclear how the new plan will be implemented.

Conclusion

The situation associated with reform is ambiguous in many aspects. The published materials in the media and government press releases give the impression of the fruitful actions of both state and international institutions. However, these impressions are illusive. No tangible results can be seen.

The positive points mentioned above still appear only at the level of meetings and discussions. The image of law enforcement is still the same – it scares more than arouses trust. On human rights and democratization of the government agencies’ work of is still not there.

On the other hand, it can be noted that measures are being taken to attract representatives of civil society and non-governmental organizations. For example, 10 years ago this could not be even imagined. The government does not behave like a monolith, which is not compromising. This is what gives hope that the state can understand the value of alternative points of view, including on human rights issues.

If this impression is true, then government officials could consider the following recommendations for police reform:

To rethink the reform strategy, involving representatives of civil society, in particular human rights organizations, independent experts and non-governmental organizations. For example, through the organization of working groups, the task of which will include an analysis of legislative acts and the reform implementation strategy itself. The working groups should not have representatives of law enforcement agencies in order to ensure the dominance of a civic outlook on problems.

To organize regular meetings following the results of the reform every three months. Government agencies, including power structures should prepare reports for such meetings. Representatives of civil society should be ensured freedom of expression and criticism at any moment. Such events must necessarily be open to the media.

Finally, to integrate the agenda of human rights and the democratization of law enforcement institutions into the reform strategy. In order to implement transparent measures related to employees retraining, the participation of international actors is important.

In extreme cases, to consider a new recruitment for service in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, using new methods of training employees.

To attract specialists from post-Soviet countries where the processes of reforming law enforcement bodies have been successfully completed. Collaboration is possible in the form of forums for the exchange of experience, as well as the direct involvement of specialists such as members of working groups.


This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.


[1] The coalition against torture summed up the results of its activities in 2018 http://notorturetj.org/news/koaliciya-protiv-pytok-podvela-itogi-deyatelnosti-v-2018-godu

[2] Number of recorded crimes, 1998-2017, https://www.stat.tj/en/database-socio-demographic-sector

[3] Buriev., M. 2018, Results of a special operation in the Pamirs: main actors and further development, CABAR.ASIA https://cabar.asia/ru/rezultaty-spetsoperatsii-na-pamire-glavnye-aktory-i-dalnejshee-razvitie/

[4] Police reform strategy in the Republic of Tajikistan for 2013-2020, https://mvd.tj/index.php/ru/postanovlenie-rt/prikazy-mvd-rt/2-uncategorised/11680-strategiya-reformy-militsii -v-respublike-tadzhikistan-na-2013-2020-gody

[5] Law of the Republic of Tajikistan “On Police”, 2004 http://base.spinform.ru/show_doc.fwx?rgn=8251

[6] Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs: Tajikistan Summary, https://www.state.gov/bureau-of-international-narcotics-and-law-enforcement-affairs-work-by-country/tajikistan-summary /

[7] In Khorog, confidence is strengthened between the police and the population, Radio Ozodi, 06/04/2019, https://rus.ozodi.org/a/29980863.html?fbclid=IwAR2tBqCfc9ioPkeNkpnLG5ZrxaDJGt-xkivIxVmJhVqzz

[8] Commentary by Olimjon Bakhtaliev, Saferworld Project Coordinator for Tajikistan

[9] Marat., E. 2012 OSCE Police Reform in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan: Past Difficulties and New Outlook , EUCAM Policy Brief No. 27, https://eucentralasia.eu/en/2012/10/osce-police-reform-programmes-in-kyrgyzstan-and-tajikistan-past-constraints-and-future-opportunities-ru/

[10] Foroughi . P. 2012, Politics and Human Rights in Tajikistan: Squandered Opportunities, Uncertain Future , OSCE Yearbook, https://ifsh.de/file-CORE/documents/yearbook/english/11/Foroughi-en.pdf

[11] In Tajikistan, they are preparing to reform the Ministry of Internal Affairs. But before turning the police into the police and changing the work of the security forces, Dushanbe should take into account the experience of neighboring countries. 07/29/2019 Satellite https://tj.sputniknews.ru/analytics/20190729/1029521818/policiya-reforma-mvd-tajikistan.html   

[12] Coalition Against Torture summarizes activities in 2018

http://notorturetj.org/news/koaliciya-protiv-pytok-podvela-itogi-deyatelnosti-v-2018-godu

[13] Tajikistan adopted a National Plan of Action to implement the recommendations of the UN Committee against Torture for three years http://notorturetj.org/tjun/v-tadzhikistane-prinyat-nacplan-deystviy-po-vypolneniyu-rekomendaciy-komiteta-oon-protiv- pytok? fbclid = IwAR1z5uUsnCGkFJRfKKysXKck6SsEyFDPvon3LcDss67rYwd90wYkjJdmZgk

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