Ashgabat (AsiaNews) – During a five-day visit (9-13 June) to Central Asia, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an end to all forms of violence, urging governments to respect human dignity, protect human rights and facilitate political participation, as well as create equal opportunities for their citizens.
Ban’s first stop was in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, for the ‘Water for Life’ conference. The event is meant as an opportunity to take stock of the progress made during the International Decade of Water for Life (2005-2015) and a venue to highlight the continued importance of safe water and sanitation.
“Access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene represent some of the highest development priorities of countries worldwide,” Mr Ban said in his opening remarks at the Dushanbe conference.
At the same time, they “are also important human rights issues”. In fact, he touched upon the latter in the second leg of the trip, in Kazakhstan, where he stressed the need to fight against religious extremism and military conflicts.
Mr Ban stressed that religious leaders have a pivotal role to play in times of turmoil, providing a values-based glue to hold communities together as well as common ground for peace making.
In the other three Central Asian nations (Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan), the UN secretary-general appealed to local authorities to improve their respective human rights records and respect fundamental liberties.
In Kyrgyzstan, he called on the government to hold an impartial investigation into ethnic clashes between majority Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks in Osh that left more than 400 people dead in June 2010. Some 2,000 people were also wounded in interethnic strife with some 400,000 people forced to flee their homes.
The country’s “Parliament must serve as the national guardian of human rights for all persons in Kyrgyzstan regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, religion or any other status,” Ban said. And since women's rights are human rights, the “Parliament must [also] play [a] key role in systematically addressing persistent gender inequality and ending violence against women.”
In Uzbekistan, the secretary-general was particularly insistent with President Islam Karimov, urging him to improve the treatment of prisoners and stop the use of forced labour in cotton fields.
"President Karimov has emphasized the importance of the rule of law. But laws in the books should be made real in the lives of people," Ban said.
Uzbekistan is one of the world's largest producers and exporters of cotton. However each year, the authorities force citizens from other sectors of the economy to spend time working in the cotton fields for minimal pay, including minors.
According to recent reports, a known activist was arrested and tortured by the police for looking into cases of people, including doctors and teachers, forced to work under such conditions.
According to international human rights groups, there are thousands of political and religious prisoners in the country, and torture is common.
Ban also travelled to Turkmenistan, the last leg on his Central Asian trip. Here he also addressed the issues of human rights and prison conditions.
At a briefing with President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, Ban called for steps to improve Turkmenistan’s human rights record, and allows independent observers to visit prisons.