The global Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in growing restrictions on fundamental rights in Central Asia, as the authorities of the region have limited such rights in ways that go beyond what is justified on public health grounds. International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and its Central Asian partners have documented this alarming trend as part of an initiative to monitor the human rights impact of governments’ handling of the pandemic.
“What we have seen is that the Central Asian governments have stepped up pressure on independent media, civil society and social media users at this time when such actors have a more crucial role to play than ever”, said Brigitte Dufour, IPHR Director.“It is particularly outrageous that medical workers are among those targeted for speaking out about shortcomings in the governments’ Covid-19 response”, she added.
The governments of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan quickly introduced emergency regimes as the Covid-19 pandemic spread to their countries, while Uzbekistan enforced a strict lockdown without declaring any state of emergency. By contrast, the governments of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan adopted a policy of denial, claiming that the pandemic had not reached their countries. Tajikistan’s government later acknowledged the spread of Covid-19, but Turkmenistan’s government has continued to deny and cover up the evident Covid-19 outbreak in this country. Despite these differences in government approach, human rights protection has deteriorated across the region because of measures taken in response to the pandemic or pushed through in its shadow.
Monitoring by IPHR and its partners shows that Central Asian authorities have sought to stifle discussion on Covid-19 on media and social media platforms; intimidated and harassed those critical of government responses to the pandemic; and pushed ahead with controversial laws negatively affecting civil society and the media without proper discussion and consultation. While failing to ensure adequate protection against Covid-19 for medical professionals and patients, authorities have gone after medical workers raising their voices on such issues. The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of the national health care systems, aggravated the problem of domestic violence, and reinforced concerns about prisoners and other vulnerable groups of the population across Central Asia.
“The current post-election crisis in Kyrgyzstan has highlighted the pitfalls of pursuing policies that run counter to human rights standards and should serve as a lesson for all the region’s leaders on the importance of upholding fundamental rights and the rule of law, including in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic”, said Brigitte Dufour.
The main findings of the Covid-19 impact monitoring carried out by IPHR and partners are described in the document Central Asia: Human rights protection during the Covid-19 pandemic – key trends.
Additional information can be found in country reports on this topic prepared by IPHR and its partners Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, Legal Prosperity Foundation, Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia:
The report on Uzbekistan is forthcoming.