Posts Tagged ‘Zentralasien’

USA: Drohneneinsätze und Völkerrecht

Montag, Juni 25th, 2012

“Drone strikes threaten 50 years of international law, says UN rapporteur

US policy of using drone strikes to carry out targeted killings ‘may encourage other states to flout international law’

By Owen Bowcott in Geneva
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 21 June 2012 17.54 BST

The US policy of using aerial drones to carry out targeted killings presents a major challenge to the system of international law that has endured since the second world war, a United Nations investigator has said.

Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions, told a conference in Geneva that President Obama’s attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, carried out by the CIA, would encourage other states to flout long-established human rights standards.

In his strongest critique so far of drone strikes, Heyns suggested some may even constitute “war crimes”. His comments come amid rising international unease over the surge in killings by remotely piloted unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Addressing the conference, which was organised by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a second UN rapporteur, Ben Emmerson QC, who monitors counter-terrorism, announced he would be prioritising inquiries into drone strikes.

The London-based barrister said the issue was moving rapidly up the international agenda after China and Russia this week jointly issued a statement at the UN Human Rights Council, backed by other countries, condemning drone attacks.

If the US or any other states responsible for attacks outside recognised war zones did not establish independent investigations into each killing, Emmerson emphasised, then “the UN itself should consider establishing an investigatory body”.

Also present was Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Zamir Akram, who called for international legal action to halt the “totally counterproductive attacks” by the US in his country.

Heyns, a South African law professor, told the meeting: “Are we to accept major changes to the international legal system which has been in existence since world war two and survived nuclear threats?”

Some states, he added, “find targeted killings immensely attractive. Others may do so in future … Current targeting practices weaken the rule of law. Killings may be lawful in an armed conflict [such as Afghanistan] but many targeted killings take place far from areas where it’s recognised as being an armed conflict.”

If it is true, he said, that “there have been secondary drone strikes on rescuers who are helping (the injured) after an initial drone attack, those further attacks are a war crime”.

Heyns ridiculed the US suggestion that targeted UAV strikes on al-Qaida or allied groups were a legitimate response to the 9/11 attacks. “It’s difficult to see how any killings carried out in 2012 can be justified as in response to [events] in 2001,” he said. “Some states seem to want to invent new laws to justify new practices.

“The targeting is often operated by intelligence agencies which fall outside the scope of accountability. The term ‘targeted killing’ is wrong because it suggests little violence has occurred. The collateral damage may be less than aerial bombardment, but because they eliminate the risk to soldiers they can be used more often.”

Heyns told the Guardian later that his future inquiries are likely to include the question of whether other countries, such as the UK, share intelligence with the US that could be used for selecting individuals as targets. A legal case has already been lodged in London over the UK’s alleged role in the deaths of British citizens and others as a consequence of US drone strikes in Pakistan.

Emmerson said that protection of the right to life required countries to establish independent inquiries into each drone killing. “That needs to be applied in the context of targeted killings,” he said. “It’s possible for a state to establish an independent ombudsman to inquire into every attack and there needs to be a report to justify [the killing].”

Alternatively, he said, it was “for the UN itself to consider establishing an investigatory body. Drones attacks by the US raise fundamental questions which are a direct consequence of my mandate… If they don’t [investigate] themselves, we will do it for them.”

It is time, he added, to end the “conspiracy of silence” over drone attacks and “shine the light of independent investigation” into the process. The attacks, he noted, were not only on those who had been killed but on the system of “international law itself”.

The Pakistani ambassador declared that more than a thousand civilians had been killed in his country by US drone strikes. “We find the use of drones to be totally counterproductive in terms of succeeding in the war against terror. It leads to greater levels of terror rather than reducing them,” he said.

Claims made by the US about the accuracy of drone strikes were “totally incorrect”, he added. Victims who had tried to bring compensation claims through the Pakistani courts had been blocked by US refusals to respond to legal actions.

The US has defended drone attacks as self-defence against al-Qaida and has refused to allow judicial scrutiny of the UAV programme. On Wednesday, the Obama administration issued a fresh rebuff through the US courts to an ACLU request for information about targeting policies. Such details, it insisted, must remain “classified”.

Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s national security project, said: “Something that is being debated in UN hallways and committee rooms cannot apparently be talked about in US courtrooms, according to the government. Whether the CIA is involved in targeted lethal operation is now classified. It’s an absurd fiction.”

The ACLU estimates that as many as 4,000 people have been killed in US drone strikes since 2002 in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Of those, a significant proportion were civilians. The numbers killed have escalated significantly since Obama became president.

The USA is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or many other international legal forums where legal action might be started. It is, however, part of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) where cases can be initiated by one state against another.

Ian Seiderman, director of the International Commission of Jurists, told the conference that “immense damage was being done to the fabric of international law”.

One of the latest UAV developments that concerns human rights groups is the way in which attacks, they allege, have moved towards targeting groups based on perceived patterns of behaviour that look suspicious from aerial surveillance, rather than relying on intelligence about specific al-Qaida activists.

In response to a report by Heyns to the UN Human Rights Council this week, the US put out a statement in Geneva saying there was “unequivocal US commitment to conducting such operations with extraordinary care and in accordance with all applicable law, including the law of war”.

It added that there was “continuing commitment to greater transparency and a sincere effort to address some of the important questions that have been raised”.

 

(Quelle: The Guardian.)

Siehe auch:

US drone strikes ‘raise questions’ – UN’s Navi Pillay
Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns
Obamas leise Killer

Afghanistan: Die US-Strategie ist gescheitert

Samstag, Juli 24th, 2010

“The Great Myth: Counterinsurgency

By Conn Hallinan

There are moments that define a war. Just such a one occurred on June 21, when Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry helicoptered into Marjah for a photo op with the locals. It was to be a capstone event, the fruit of a four-month counterinsurgency offensive by Marines, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, and the newly minted Afghan National Army (ANA) to drive the Taliban out of the area and bring in good government.

As the chopper swung around to land, the Taliban opened fire, sending journalists scrambling for cover and Marines into full combat mode. According to Matthew Green of the Financial Times, “The crackle of gunfire lasted about 20 minutes and continued in the background as a state department official gave a presentation to Mr. Holbrooke about U.S. and U.K. [United Kingdom] efforts to boost local government and promote agriculture in the town.”

The U.S. officials were then bundled into armored cars and whisked back to the helicopter. As the chopper took off, an enormous explosion shook the town’s bazaar.

When it was launched in March, the Marjah operation was billed as a “turning point” in the Afghan War, an acid test for the doctrine of counterinsurgency, or “COIN,” a carefully designed strategy to wrest a strategic area from insurgent forces, in this case the Taliban, and win the “hearts and minds” of the local people. In a sense Marjah has indeed defined COIN, just not quite in the way its advocates had hoped for.

The Missing Cornerstone

In his bible for counterinsurgency, Field Manual 3-24, General David Petraeus argues, “The cornerstone of any COIN effort is establishing security for the civilian populace.” As one village elder who attended the Holbrooke meeting — incognito for fear of being recognized by the Taliban — told Green, “There is no security in Marjah.”

Nor in much of the rest of the country. The latest United States assessment found only five out of 116 areas “secure,” and in 89 areas the government was “non-existent, dysfunctional or unproductive.”

That the war in Afghanistan is a failure will hardly come as news to most people. Our NATO allies are preparing to abandon the endeavor — the Dutch, Canadians and Poles have announced they are bailing — and the British, who have the second largest contingent in Afghanistan, are clamoring for peace talks. Opposition to the war in Britain is at 72 percent.

 But there is a tendency to blame the growing debacle on conditions peculiar to Afghanistan. There are certainly things about that country that have stymied foreign invaders: It is landlocked, filled with daunting terrain, and populated by people who don’t cotton to outsiders. But it would be a serious error to attribute the current crisis to Afghanistan’s well-earned reputation as the “graveyard of empires.”

A Failing Doctrine

The problem is not Afghanistan, but the entire concept of COIN, and the debate around it is hardly academic. Counterinsurgency has seized the high ground in the Pentagon and the halls of Washington, and there are other places in the world where it is being deployed, from the jungles of Columbia to the dry lands that border the Sahara. If the COIN doctrine is not challenged, people in the United States may well find themselves debating its merits in places like Somalia, Yemen, or Mauritania.  

“Counterinsurgency aims at reshaping a nation and its society over the long haul,” says military historian Frank Chadwick, and emphasizes “infrastructure improvements, ground-level security, and building a bond between the local population and the security forces.”

In theory, COIN sounds reasonable; in practice, it almost always fails. Where it has succeeded — the Philippines, Malaya, Bolivia, Sri Lanka, and the Boer War — the conditions were very special: island nations cut off from outside support (the Philippines and Sri Lanka), insurgencies that failed to develop a following (Bolivia) or were based in a minority ethnic community (Malaya, the Boer War).

COIN is always presented as politically neutral, a series of tactics aimed at winning hearts and minds. But in fact, COIN has always been part of a strategy of domination by a nation(s) and/or socioeconomic class.

The supposed threat of communism and its companion, domino theory, sent soldiers to countries from Grenada to Lebanon, and turned the Vietnamese civil war into a Cold War battleground. If we didn’t stop the communists in Vietnam, went the argument, eventually the Reds would storm the beaches at San Diego.

Replace communism with terrorism, and today’s rationales sound much the same. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates described Afghanistan as “the fountainhead of terrorism.” And when asked to explain why Germany was sending troops to Afghanistan, then-German Defense Minister Peter Strock argued that Berlin’s security would be “defended in the Hindu Kush.” British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown routinely said that confronting “terrorism” in Afghanistan would protect the home-front.

But, as counterterrorism expert Richard Barrett points out, the Afghan Taliban have never been a threat to the West, and the idea that fighting the Taliban would reduce the threat of terrorism is “complete rubbish.” In any case, the al-Qaeda operatives who pulled off the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon got their training in Hamburg and south Florida, not Tora Bora.

Hearts, Minds, and Strategic Interests

The United States has strategic interests in Central Asia and the Middle East, and “terrorism” is a handy excuse to inject military power into these two energy-rich regions of the world. Whoever holds the energy high ground in the coming decades will exert enormous influence on world politics.

No, it is not all about oil and gas, but a lot of it is.

 Winning “hearts and minds” is just a tactic aimed at insuring our paramount interests and the interests of the “friendly” governments that we fight for. Be nice to the locals unless the locals decide that they don’t much like long-term occupation, don’t trust their government, and might have some ideas about how they should run their own affairs.

Then “hearts and minds” turns nasty. U.S. Special Operations Forces carry out as many as five “kill and capture” raids a day in Afghanistan, and have assassinated or jailed more than 500 Afghans who are alleged insurgents in the past few months. Thousands of others languish in prisons.

The core of COIN is coercion, whether it is carried out with a gun or truckloads of money. If the majority of people accept coercion — and the COIN supported government doesn’t highjack the trucks — then it may work.

Then again, maybe not. Tufts University recently researched the impact of COIN aid and found little evidence that such projects win locals over. According to Tufts professor Andrew Wilder, “Many of the Afghans interviewed for our study identified their corrupt and predatory government as the most important cause of insecurity, and perceived international aid security contracts as enriching a kleptocratic elite.”

This should hardly come as a surprise. Most regimes the United States ends up supporting against insurgents are composed of a narrow class of elites, who rule through military power and political monopoly. Our backing of the El Salvador and Guatemalan governments during the 1980s comes to mind. Both were essentially death squads with national anthems.

The United States doesn’t care if a government is authoritarian and corrupt, or democratic — if it did, would countries like Egypt and Honduras be recipients of U.S. aid, and would we be cuddling up with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait? The priority for the United States is whether the local elites will serve Washington’s interests by giving it bases, resources, or commercial access.

 Afghanistan is no different. The government of Hamid Karzai is a kleptocracy with little support or presence outside Kabul.

In many ways, COIN is the most destructive and self-defeating strategy a country can employ, and its toxicity is long-term. Take what didn’t get reported in the recent firing of former Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal.

COIN’s Long History

McChrystal cut his COIN teeth running Special Operations death squads in Iraq, similar to the Vietnam War’s Operation Phoenix, which killed upwards of 60,000 Viet Cong cadre and eventually led to the Mai Lai massacre. The success of Phoenix is best summed up by photos of desperate South Vietnamese soldiers clinging to U.S. helicopter skids as the Americans scrambled to get out before Saigon fell.

But COIN advocates read history selectively, and the loss in Vietnam was soon blamed on backstabbing journalists and pot-smoking hippies. The lessons were rewritten, the memories expunged, and the disasters reinterpreted.

So COIN is back. And it is working no better than it did in the 1960s. Take the counterterrorism portion of the doctrine.

Over the past several years, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has been carrying out a sort of long-distance Phoenix program, using armed drones to assassinate insurgent leaders in Pakistan. The program has purportedly snuffed out about 150 such “leaders.” But it has also killed more than 1,000 civilians and inflamed not only the relatives of those killed or wounded in the attacks, but Pakistanis in general. According to an International Republican Institute poll, 80 percent of Pakistanis are now anti-American, and the killer drones are a major reason.

 “Hearts and minds” soldiers like Petraeus don’t much like the drone attacks, because they alienate Pakistan and dry up intelligence sources in that country.

But McChrystal’s Phoenix program of killing Taliban “leaders” in Afghanistan is no better. As author and reporter Anne Jones notes, “Assassinating the ideological leaders, the true believers and organizers — those we call the ‘bad Taliban’ — actually leaves behind leaderless, undisciplined gangs of armed rent-a-guns who are more interested in living off the population we’re supposed to protect than being peeled off into abject Afghan poverty.”

The “hearts and minds” crew have their own problems. McChrystal and Petraeus have long stressed the counterproductive effect of using airpower and artillery against insurgents, because it inevitably produces civilian casualties. But this means that the war is now between two groups of infantry, one of which knows the terrain, speaks the local language, and can turn from a fighter to a farmer in a few minutes.

As the recent Rolling Stone article found, McChrystal was unpopular because his troops felt he put them in harm’s way. Firefights that used to be ended quickly by airstrikes go on for hours, and the Taliban are demonstrating that, given a level playing field, they are skilled fighters.

In his recent testimony before Congress, Petraeus said he would “bring all assets to bear” to ensure the safety of the troops and “re-examine” his ban on air power. But if he does, civilian casualties will rise, increasing local anger and recruits for the Taliban.

The Choice

The war in Afghanistan is first about U.S. interests in Central Asia. It is also about honing a military for future irregular wars and projecting NATO as a worldwide alliance. Once the United States endorsed Karzai’s fraudulent election late last year, the Afghans knew it wasn’t about democracy.

One of the key COIN ingredients is a reliable local army, but U.S. soldiers no longer trust the ANA because they correctly suspect it is a conduit to the Taliban. “American soldiers in Kandahar report that, for their own security, they don’t tell their ANA colleagues when and where they are going on patrol,” writes Jones. Somebody told those insurgents that Holbrooke and Eikenberry were coming to Marjah.

Afghanistan is ethnically divided, desperately poor, and finishing its fourth decade of war. Morale among U.S. troops is plummeting. A U.S. military intelligence officer told The Washington Times, “We are a battle-hardened force but eight years in Afghanistan has worn us down.” As one staff sergeant told Rolling Stone, “We’re losing this f—ing thing!”

The sergeant is right, though the Afghans are the big losers. But as bad as Afghanistan is, things will be considerably worse if the U.S. draws the conclusion that “special circumstances” in Afghanistan are to blame for failure, not the nature of COIN itself.

There was a time when the old imperial powers and the United States could wage war without having to bank their home-fires. No longer. The United States has spent over $300 billion on the Afghan War, and is currently shelling out about $7 billion a month. In the meantime, 31 states are sliding toward insolvency, and 15 million people have lost their jobs. As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the Huffington Post, “It just can’t be that we have a domestic agenda that is half the size of the defense budget.”

Empires can choose to step back with a certain grace, as the Dutch did in Southeast Asia. Or they can stubbornly hang on, casting about for the right military formula that will keep them on top. That fall is considerably harder.

The choice is ours.

Conn Hallinan is a Foreign Policy In Focus columnist. He also writes the blog, Distpatches from the Edge.

Recommended Citation:
Conn Hallinan, “The Great Myth: Counterinsurgency” (Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, July 22, 2010)

 

(Quelle: FPIF.)

Global: Bedenkliche Diskriminierung religiöser Minoritäten

Donnerstag, Juli 15th, 2010

“State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2010


Links and Downloads


Use the Download menu to the right of this page to access a printable PDF of the full text, or download individual chapters by theme or region.

Read the full global press release, the Asia press release in English or the Europe press releases in EnglishHungarian (PDF), Czech (PDF) and Polish (PDF).


Summary


A decade into the new century sees religious minorities confronting serious violations of their rights around the globe. Following the violent attacks of 11 September 2001, governments of every political hue have used ‘war on terror’ rhetoric to justify the repression of religious communities.

Other religious minorities have faced a violent backlash, often unjustly accused of siding with belligerents. In Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, armed conflict and land seizures have forced minority and indigenous communities away from locations central to their religious beliefs. Europe has witnessed gains by extreme rightwing political parties which are targeting religious minorities with their inflammatory language.

In Central Asia, governments have introduced tough new registration requirements for religious communities and prevented the building of places of worship. In State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2010, Minority Rights Group International offers a comprehensive overview of the situation faced by minorities in a world increasingly divided along religious lines. It includes:

• An analysis of government initiatives that contribute to the marginalisation of religious minorities, such as religious profiling and registration laws.
• First-hand accounts, from around the world, of the discrimination and exclusion faced by those belonging to minorities who wish to exercise their right to freedom of religion and belief.
• An exploration of grassroots efforts through interfaith dialogue to ease tensions, overcome conflicts, and promote peaceful and equitable development.
• An overview of the human rights situation of minorities and indigenous peoples in every major world region.
• The unique statistical ranking and analysis, Peoples under Threat 2010.”

 

(Quelle: Minority Rights Group International.)

USA: Geheime US-Spezialtruppen in 75 Ländern

Mittwoch, Juli 7th, 2010

“Obama secretly deploys US special forces to 75 countries across world

By Tim Reid and Michael Evans, Washington

President Obama has secretly sanctioned a huge increase in the number of US special forces carrying out search-and-destroy missions against al-Qaeda around the world, with American troops now operating in 75 countries.

The dramatic expansion in the use of special forces, which in their global span go far beyond the covert missions authorised by George W. Bush, reflects how aggressively the President is pursuing al-Qaeda behind his public rhetoric of global engagement and diplomacy.

When Mr Obama took office US special forces were operating in fewer than 60 countries. In the past 18 months he has ordered a big expansion in Yemen and the Horn of Africa — known areas of strong al-Qaeda activity — and elsewhere in the Middle East, central Asia and Africa.

According to The Washington Post, Mr Obama has also approved pre-emptive special forces strikes to disrupt terror plots, and has given the units powers and authority that was not granted by Mr Bush when he occupied the White House.

It also emerged yesterday that Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, has ordered the Pentagon to find savings of more than $100 billion (£68 billion) over the next five years to redistribute more funds for combat forces — including special operations units. Mr Gates has called on all departments to come up with proposals by July 31, and is initially demanding $7 billion in cuts and efficiencies for the 2012 fiscal year, and further cuts each year up to 2016.

The effort to provide more money for combat forces in Afghanistan and Iraq — including special operations units — is likely to lead to a clash with Congress, and also with the defence industry if favoured equipment programmes are scrapped.

The aggressive secret war against al-Qaeda and other radical groups has coincided with a surge in the number of US drone attacks in the lawless border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, an al-Qaeda and Taleban haven, since Mr Obama took office.

Just weeks after he entered the White House, the number of missile strikes from the CIA-operated unmanned drones significantly increased, and the pattern has remained. In Iraq, US forces have killed 34 out of the top 42 al-Qaeda operatives in the past 90 days alone.

General Ray Odierno, the US commander in Baghdad, disclosed yesterday that special forces had penetrated the al-Qaeda headquarters in Mosul in northern Iraq, which had helped them to target key figures involved in financing and recruiting .

Mr Obama has asked for a 5.7 per cent increase in the Special Operations budget for the 2011 fiscal year — a total of $6.3 billion — on top of an additional $3.5 billion he requested this year.

Of about 13,000 US special forces deployed overseas, about 9,000 are evenly divided between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Their use, and the increase in drone attacks, is a strategy that has been strongly advocated by Joe Biden, the Vice-President, but criticised by the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Hundreds of civilians have died in special operations A report last week revealed that the top US commander in the Middle East had signed an order last September authorising a big expansion of clandestine military missions in the region, and also in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Somalia.

General David Petraeus signed the Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Executive Order on September 30. In the three months that followed there was a surge of special operations troops into Yemen, where US operatives are now training local forces.

Since then, US military specialists working with Yemeni armed forces are said to have killed six out of 15 leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The raids followed reports linking the group to the murder of 13 Americans at Fort Hood, Texas, and the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines jet.

The order also allowed for US special forces to enter Iran to gather intelligence for a possible future military strike if tensions over its alleged nuclear weapons programme escalate dramatically.

The seven-page document states that the surge is designed to build networks that could ‘penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy’ al-Qaeda and other militant groups, and to ‘prepare the environment’ for future military strikes by US and local forces.

• President Obama is reported to have chosen a US intelligence veteran, retired General James Clapper, as his new Director of National Intelligence. General Clapper, whose nomination comes at a time of mounting domestic terror threats, would replace Dennis Blair, who stepped down last month amid heavy criticism over a string of security lapses.

Under the radar

Nov 2002 Hellfire missile fired from a drone at a car in northwest Yemen kills six al-Qaeda fighters, including Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, aide to Osama bin Laden and the planner of the bomb attack on USS Cole

Jan 2006 Missile attack on village of Damadola, Pakistan, kills 18 Pakistani villagers — but not the target, al-Qaeda’s No2, Ayman al-Zawahiri

June 2006 Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda’s top man in Iraq, killed along with 18 others when a house near Baghdad is bombed by US jets

Dec 2008 Six members of the Afghan police force killed in exchange of friendly fire with US special forces near the city of Qalat

Sep 2009 Four helicopter gunships open fire on a convoy in Barawe, Somalia, killing four Islamic insurgents, including Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, linked to al-Qaeda

Source: Times archives

 

(Quelle: Times Online.)

Kirgisien: Der lange Schatten Stalins

Mittwoch, Juni 23rd, 2010

“Kyrgyzstan – Stalin’s harvest

The latest outbreak of violence in the ethnic boiling-pot of Central Asia will take generations to heal

Jun 17th 2010| Osh


A PLAINTIVE siren wails as a government unit, invisible in the darkness, patrols. “We will shoot anyone on the streets. Military curfew. Do not leave your homes,” comes the clipped command in Russian over the loudspeaker. A round of tank-artillery fire rings out. A machinegun crackles a response. This is “calm”, of a sort, after the bloody mayhem of inter-ethnic violence between the Kyrgyz majority and the Uzbek minority that broke out in southern Kyrgyzstan on June 10th. But in Osh, as elsewhere, the wounds that have been opened may take generations to heal.

By June 17th nearly 200 people, both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, had been confirmed dead. Other estimates are far higher. Local Muslim custom requires that the dead are buried within 24 hours. Many people are burying family members at once without registering their deaths. Some 45,000 Uzbeks have registered as refugees in neighbouring Uzbek-majority Uzbekistan. According to the United Nations’ children’s agency, a total of 100,000 people, mostly women and children, have crossed the frontier. On June 15th Uzbekistan closed its borders, saying it could take no more. Perhaps a further 200,000 people have been displaced within Kyrgyzstan itself.

By day, at least, the streets of Osh are now quiet. Charred vehicles are winched onto dumper-trucks. But markets remain closed. Residents have opened their jars of pickled vegetables, usually reserved for the winter. The town is roughly divided into Uzbek mahallas (neighbourhoods) separated by corridors of mixed-ethnic communities. To the east and west of the city are large concentrations of mostly ethnic-Kyrgyz homes. Behind the barricades marking the entrances to the mahallas, life has been transformed. Women and children have gone. The men who have stayed behind to protect their homes are red-eyed with fatigue. In every mahalla men show pictures on their mobile phones of the dead they have buried. One man presses a DVD on a visiting journalist, saying “Show the world this.” It depicts a mass funeral in a field, with more than 20 graves.

Uzbek men are now replacing fallen trees with welded iron barriers, to keep out their attackers “until the peacekeepers arrive”. Travelling between the roadblocked mahallas and the government-controlled centre of town is a dangerous journey. At each end, men armed with sticks eye each other across the divide.

Those who fled also face grim conditions. On June 12th at the border, Uzbekistani guards hesitated as hysterical women sobbed and stumbled towards them. They raised their rifles, but did not shoot. Then they began to allow them across. After the first stampede the bodies of four children lay, crushed to death, in the dust.

Nor are the 45,000 who have registered as refugees in Uzbekistan necessarily that lucky. Most are confined to newly erected camps, even if they have relations nearby. This is causing anguish among the refugees, but is in keeping with the control-freak tendencies of the regime of Islam Karimov, the president, for whom stability, or at least an outward semblance of it, is all.

Most of the refugees are not far from the town of Andijan, where several hundred protesters were shot dead in 2005. The Fergana Valley region of eastern Uzbekistan has also seen an intense crackdown on Islamist extremism, though the bar has been set very low. Some youths have been charged for holding prayer groups.

A well-off local Uzbek near the border on the Kyrgyzstani side is putting up some 200 people, mostly women and children, who are sleeping rough in his yard. At dawn a young man wakes up wailing. His neighbours at home have been shot dead, his house has been burned, and his wife and children are lost.

An Uzbek cameraman has footage of an armoured personnel-carrier going through a crowd of agitated Kyrgyz men as it approaches some Uzbeks. A soldier lowers his rifle. The crack of bullets whizzing past is unmistakable and the cameraman dives for cover. The government claims that some of its vehicles were seized on June 10th. The leader of Kyrgyzstan’s interim administration, Roza Otunbayeva, has admitted how weak her army is.


Simmering and boiling over

The origins of the unrest lie both in the recent turmoil in Kyrgyzstani politics, and in the country’s history as a former state of the Soviet Union. Alone in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan has had two “revolutions” since independence in 1991. Its bigger neighbours, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, have had, in Mr Karimov and Nursultan Nazarbayev respectively, one authoritarian leader since 1991. But Kyrgyzstanis have twice overthrown presidents seen as corrupt, nepotistic and dictatorial.

The “Tulip Revolution” of 2005 brought down Askar Akayev, a Soviet-era strongman, who now teaches maths in Moscow. However, his replacement, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, soon started following the fashion among regional leaders. Like Mr Akayev, he beefed up the powers of the presidency. (The constitution has been changed to this effect seven times since 1991.) He also hounded his opponents while tolerating the fast-growing business interests of his family, notably his son, Maksim, who was this week detained as he landed on a private plane at a British airport, seeking political asylum.

Mr Bakiyev is also in exile. After the security forces opened fire on unarmed demonstrators in April, and more than 80 people were killed in clashes in Bishkek, the capital, he was forced to flee. Belarus’s Alyaksandr Lukashenka, naturally sympathetic to the plight of a fellow post-Soviet strongman, offered him sanctuary.

He was replaced by the interim government, led by Ms Otunbayeva, a former ambassador and foreign minister. It is largely made up of disaffected members of Mr Akayev’s or Mr Bakiyev’s regimes. The small political class is both close-knit and fractious. In an interview with The Economist in May, Ms Otunbayeva grumbled about the difficulty of getting her colleagues to agree on anything.

However, they were committed to a referendum on June 27th, in which voters would be asked to approve a switch to a parliamentary system. Ms Otunbayeva insists the vote will go ahead, though with so many people displaced, and security still doubtful, that may be unwise. The first elections under the new system, which would incorporate many safeguards against the rise of another dictator, would be held in October. If genuine, this would be a radical shift not just for Kyrgyzstan, but for Central Asia as a whole.

The interim government blames the violence on the Bakiyevs. They retain support among ethnic-Kyrgyz residents of the south, the family’s base and stronghold. Several times since April there have been clashes between government forces and Bakiyev loyalists. The government’s case is bolstered by a recording posted on YouTube in mid-May, purporting to be of a telephone conversation involving Maksim Bakiyev. In it he says he intends to bring down the government by causing unrest in the south. A foreign-ministry official says mercenaries from the badlands of Tajikistan and Afghanistan were hired.

It is not just the interim government that detects an organising hand behind the violence. A UN spokesman, too, said there was evidence indicating that it began on June 10th with five simultaneous attacks in Osh involving men wearing masks and carrying guns. One target was a gym known to be frequented by criminals, an attack on which was bound to provoke a violent reaction. Aleksandr Knyazev, a political scientist from Kyrgyzstan, says the perpetrators were both Bakiyev-financed criminal gangs and ethnic-Uzbek groups financed by someone else.


The south is another country

Even if the spark came from outside—and first reports suggested that the initial cause was no more than a fist-fight in a gambling den—there was no shortage of dry tinder. In the chaotic weeks after Mr Bakiyev surrendered his seat in Bishkek, opportunistic mobs indulged in looting and score-settling across the country. In the north, around Bishkek, Kyrgyz gangs attacked enclaves of Russians and Meskhetian Turks.


It was in the south, however, that latent resentments manifested themselves most bitterly. Kyrgyzstan is divided both geographically—by high mountains—and ethnically (see map). In the north the legacy of Soviet rule is evident in a more Russified culture. Most of the country’s ethnic Russians live there, but so do Dungans (or Hui, a Muslim people of Chinese origin) and some ethnic Germans. The south is closer to Central Asian traditions and is more ethnically mixed. Most of Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbeks, who make up about 15% of its 5.4m people, live in the south, along with some Tajiks. Indeed, around Kyrgyzstan’s bit of the Fergana Valley—the eastern rim of the ethnically mixed heartland of modern Uzbekistan—Uzbeks form a narrow majority.

This is not the first time ethnic conflict in the area has claimed lives. In June 1990, during the last days of the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic, street brawling in Osh over land disagreements turned bloody. About 300 people died before Soviet troops restored order, and a curfew was imposed for the whole summer. Mr Akayev was appointed president, with instructions to keep the country’s ethnic frictions in check.

Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest countries formed by the break-up of the Soviet Union. But the north, around Bishkek (formerly Frunze) is more developed, with some industry. The south is more agrarian and devoutly Islamic. Only two usable roads through the mountains link north and south. It takes a day to drive from Bishkek to Osh.

Mr Akayev, the strongman, was a northerner. Under him southerners felt neglected and unrepresented. When the southern Mr Bakiyev came to power he appointed a northern prime minister, Feliks Kulov, in an effort at inclusion. Ms Otunbayeva, the interim president, was born in Osh, the second-largest city in the country and the south’s biggest. But after many years in the north and abroad she is no longer seen as a real southerner.

Uzbeks, who are under-represented in central government, regional administrations and the army, have long felt politically excluded. Whereas historically the Kyrgyz were nomadic herders, Uzbeks were settled farmers. Now the stereotype is that they make a living in the bazaars. The two groups often have very different outlooks, for example on the role of women. Kyrgyzstan is the first Central Asian country to have a woman as president.

The south is also a nest of spies from Uzbekistan—including taxi-drivers, businessmen and others, on the lookout for extremists or for other threats to the Karimov regime, such as members of a banned opposition party. The killing in 2007 of Alisher Saipov, a prominent ethnic-Uzbek journalist in Kyrgyzstan, shows Uzbekistan’s readiness to meddle elsewhere to further Mr Karimov’s perceived interests. Its secret service is said to have long crawled all over Osh and Jalal-Abad, the other big southern town, as if it was its own back yard. As the International Crisis Group, a think-tank, says in a 2008 report, northern Kyrgyzstani politicians complain that Uzbeks in the south make excessive demands for political rights, but have allowed Uzbekistan’s secret service free rein there since the Andijan massacre.


Blame Uncle Joe

Until the Soviet Union started to define its Central Asian territories in 1924, the region never had precise borders. Before Russian colonisation in the late 19th century, the boundaries of the different khanates shifted back and forth. The nomadic Kyrgyz and Kazakhs largely ignored the concepts of states and boundaries anyway.

After the October revolution of 1917, new autonomous republics were created. In 1924 Stalin divided the region into different Soviet republics. The borders were drawn up rather arbitrarily without following strict ethnic lines or even the guidelines of geography. The main aim was to counter the growing popularity of pan-Turkism in the region, and to avoid potential friction. Hence, the fertile Fergana Valley (formerly ruled by the Khanate of Kokand) was divided between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Some of these borders were redrawn several times until 1936. After 1991, this led to lively demarcation disputes among the newly independent countries. In addition, some small pockets of territory are nominally part of one country but geographically isolated from it. Kyrgyzstan, for example, has seven enclaves, two belonging to Tajikistan and five to Uzbekistan.


Uzbeks in exile

This has been only one cause of prickly relations between the “stans”, which are linked by Soviet-era roads, gas pipelines, electricity grids and other infrastructure. Water, in particular, is very sensitive. Mountainous Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are the sources of much of the water that irrigates Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The upstream countries want to develop their enormous hydropower potential. This is opposed, especially by Uzbekistan.

The downfall of Mr Bakiyev seems to have opened a new rift between Kyrgyzstan and its neighbours. Neither Mr Karimov in Uzbekistan nor Mr Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan wants to see protest spread across his country’s borders. Both closed them after the April unrest, putting severe economic strain on the interim government. Kazakhstan also limited the time Kyrgyzstani migrant workers could stay. “Our neighbours are very hostile,” says Isa Omurkulov, the mayor of Bishkek, who then plays up to their fears by threatening to “export our revolution”. After the unrest in the south, Kazakhstan sent more troops to its border.


Friends like these

All three big external powers in Central Asia—America, China and Russia—have a big interest in the region’s stability. China sees it as an important source of gas and other energy supplies. It is also, more alarmingly as seen from Beijing, a possible inspiration for Islamist nationalists in what was once “East Turkestan” and is now China’s region of Xinjiang.

Both America and Russia, for their parts, maintain military bases in Kyrgyzstan, both near Bishkek. The American Manas air base, or “transit centre”, as it is now called, is used for supporting American and NATO troops in Afghanistan. It is an important part of a northern supply route developed because of the vulnerability of convoys coming through the Khyber Pass from Pakistan. Russia’s base in Kant is part of an agreement by the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, which groups together seven members of the former Soviet Union, to set up a counter-terrorism base in the region. But the former imperial power still sees Central Asia as very much its own stamping-ground.

The Manas base has been a source of friction. Last year Mr Bakiyev promised Russia it would be closed and was promised aid. He reneged on the deal when America increased the rent it was paying. That is one reason why Russia was suspected of having a role in his downfall. And though domestic pressures were probably enough to unseat him, Russia was certainly quick to recognise and help Ms Otunbayeva’s government.

Russia did not, however, rush troops to its aid when Ms Otunbayeva asked for them, as the violence in the south span out of control. It limited itself at first to sending paratroopers to secure the base at Kant, and then sending relief supplies. In April Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, described Kyrgyzstan as “on the verge of civil war”. Russia presumably has no desire to be sucked in, as it was in Afghanistan in 1979—and certainly not without international backing.

Ms Otunbayeva insists there are no plans to throw the Americans out of Manas. But many of her colleagues accuse America of having pandered to Mr Bakiyev’s corrupt and dictatorial whims in exchange for access to Manas. They allege that Maksim Bakiyev profited from the fuel-supply contracts for the base. This claim is being investigated by America’s Congress. The privately-held company which has the Pentagon contract denies any knowledge of Maksim Bakiyev’s involvement in the firms they deal with. NATO has suspended flights by air-to-air refuelling tankers from Manas.

Even if the world’s big powers share an abiding interest in the stability of Central Asia as a whole, and hence of Kyrgyzstan in particular, they seem to have little idea how to achieve it. So far they have tended to compete for influence. But with an eye on the ethnic and religious tensions in the region, and the vulnerability of brittle authoritarian systems, it may be time to start co-operating.

(Quelle: The Economist.)

 

Siehe auch:

The ethnicisation of violence in Southern Kyrgyzstan

Crisis in Kyrgyzstan and the Interests of Empire

HIV-Alarm in Zentralasien

Dienstag, Juni 1st, 2010

“HIV Alarm in Central Asia

Large-scale population movement contributes to virus spreading across broad cross-section of society.

By Dina Tokbaeva, Beksultan Sadyrkulov, Aslibegim Manzarshoeva – Central Asia

Nigora discovered she was HIV-positive when she had a blood test in her seventh month of pregnancy. When her doctors spoke to her husband, he revealed that he had unprotected sex while working abroad, and his test showed up positive as well.

‘I wasn’t even aware of the disease, so I didn’t take precautions,’ he said.

Nigora’s baby was born HIV-free, but her first child was infected through breast milk.

Her story fits a pattern that is becoming increasingly in this region. Hundreds of thousands of people from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, generally but not always men, spend long periods of time abroad, often in Russia. There they are at risk of contracting HIV through high-risk behaviour such as unprotected sex, or in some cases sharing needles to inject drugs. When they come home, ignorance of HIV or shame about discussing it can mean they unwittingly pass on the virus to their partners.

Statistics show a steep rise in HIV infection rates across the Central Asian states. The statistics show the highest incidence among drug users who share hypodermic needles, followed by sexual contact, in some cases involving commercial sex workers. Although comprehensive statistics are not available, it is clear that HIV is not nearly as prevalent among migrants as a group.

However, what sets the migrants apart from other categories is that when infection occurs, families in their home towns and villages across the Central Asian countries are potentially vulnerable.

Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – the subjects of this report – stand out among the five regional states because exceptionally large sections of the population are either migrants themselves or have family members who are. Given the low level of public knowledge about the issues, unless a migrant’s wife undergoes testing during pregnancy, she and her family may remain unaware they are HIV-positive.

Experts say population mobility can lead to more rapid and wide-ranging transmission than, say, the use of shared needles, which occurs within a narrower section of the community.
‘If we consider the size of labour migration from Central Asia – as an example, it is estimated that one-fifth of the population of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are currently in labour migration – it is possible to imagine the significance of the problem,’ said Vasily Esenamanov, HIV programme advisor with the Central Asia office of DanChurchAid and ICCO, aid groups from Denmark and The Netherlands, respectively. ‘Labour migrants are [part of the] general population, not marginalised, and not so locked within their own stratum like injecting drug users or men who have sex with men.
‘What is visible from the official statistics is that the virus is bridging to the general population, meaning that new cases are not isolated to risk groups such as IDUs, but also found among women who are not using drugs and children. This is a critical issue as the virus can then catch speed and spread more rapidly in the population in general.’

According to Zamira Akbagysheva, head of the Congress of Women in Kyrgyzstan, ‘Labour migrants are more susceptible to HIV than static populations. Mobility…. frequently provokes riskier behaviour. Separation from family and from long-term partners, the sense of liberation from social constraints, and receptiveness to one’s new environment – all tend to encourage frequent changes of sexual partners.’

HIV ON THE MARCH IN CENTRAL ASIA

As of the end of December, Tajikistan had 1,853 people recorded with HIV, 80 per cent of them male. In Kyrgyzstan, the number of recorded cases stood at 2,837 as of March 2010; 70 per cent were men.

In both countries, the commonest route for infection was via reused hypodermic syringes. Most cases involve users of injected drugs. Infection through dirty needles used in hospitals is another route – around 120 children were infected in this manner in southern Kazakstan in 2006 and 170 in Kyrgyzstan two years later. In March, the regional news site Fergana.ru reported that around 150 children in the Namangan region of eastern Uzbekistan were infected through medical negligence in 2007 and 2008.

In Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, sexual contact accounted for about a quarter of cases.

In Uzbekistan, the most recent figure is for 2008, and indicates that 1,250 people were officially recorded as HIV-positive, a very low figure given that Uzbekistan had some 27 million people that year compared with Tajikistan’s seven million and Kyrgyzstan’s five million.

A human rights activist told IWPR that the overall figures for HIV/AIDs appeared to be grossly underestimates, and no figures disaggregated by risk category had been issued in the last two years.

He said work done by him and his colleagues suggested that migrants would amount to a low percentage of an accurate overall figure. At the same time, ‘bearing in mind that the number of labour migrants is incomparably larger than that of [specific] risk groups, the total number of migrants infected is of course much larger…. Another facet of the problem is that increasing numbers of women are going abroad to work and many unfortunately engage in prostitution, which of course increases the risk of HIV infection.’

An Uzbek analyst who asked not to be identified said surveys conducted by local NGOs suggested there were at least 7,500 people living with HIV in 2009, and the percentage of those who were migrants was ‘approximately 25 to 30 per cent’.

In Tajikistan, the number of recorded cases grew by 30 per cent year on year in 2009 and 35 per cent in 2008, although doctors say the increase is partly attributable to better diagnosis, thanks to funding from the United Nations Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Dr Katoyon Faromuzova, Tajikistan national coordinator for the International Organisation for Migration, notes that some experts believe that official statistics need to be multiplied by a factor of ten to arrive at more accurate figures. But she personally thinks the official figures are close to the truth, thanks to more effective testing that targets groups like pregnant women.

Zuhra Nurlaminova of Tajikistan’s official Republican AIDS Centre agrees that people are much more ready to come forward now that there are dozens of test clinics around the country.

‘Previously, there wasn’t any express-service testing….there wasn’t the required equipment. Public awareness was very low,’ she told IWPR. ‘But now there are public-service ads on television and banners in the streets, so there’s a lot more people coming in,’ she said. ‘Whereas it used to be that virtually no one would come in for an anonymous test, now there are a lot more admissions.’

HOW IMPORTANT IS MIGRATION TO HIV SPREAD?

Measuring the number of cases involving migrant workers contracting HIV abroad is a lot more difficult. Officially, there were 197 such cases in Tajikistan in 2009, or 11 per cent of the total. Kyrgyzstan does not separate out figures for migrant workers, although the authorities recognise this category is a high-risk one.

Sagynbu Abduvalieva, head of infant pathology for Kyrgyzstan’s National Centre for Mother and Child Protection, estimates that migrants account for up to 20 per cent of HIV-positive people in the country.

In Uzbekistan, the analyst who spoke to IWPR said the available evidence indicated that as elsewhere in the region, intravenous drug users were the most at-risk category, but ‘migrants and prostitutes come in equal second place, with not much between them’. He noted that the overall number of migrants from Uzbekistan – predominantly consisting of male manual labourers – includes some women travelling to other countries to work as prostitutes.

Potential HIV carriers among the families of migrants are even harder to track given the paucity of official data, he said. ‘It’s precisely these ‘family’ carriers who are the group that is most hidden and hard to capture in the statistics,’ he said. ‘They are latent [carriers] and because of the stereotypes that have grown up, they don’t generally fall within the risk group as it is commonly conceived.’
In Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, Esenamanov said, ‘There is no evidence supported by official statistics. However, many local organisations working in the area of HIV in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan state that there is evidence of a rapidly growing number of infections among wives of men who return from labour migration…. This can indicate that number of infections through labour migrants is growing rapidly and that HIV is bridging to the general population. ‘

Mohira Hamidova, an HIV prevention specialist with the national AIDS Centre in Tajikistan, also sees a correlation between migration and the rise in sexual transmission rates.

‘It used to be that injecting accounted for more than 70 per cent of cases, but now that has gone down to 54 per cent, while the sexual transmission route has risen as a proportion,’ she said.

‘My work involves working with pregnant women infected with HIV. Of the total number now under observation at the Centre, 102 are pregnant and 70 per cent of that number are the wives of labour migrants. We identify them among all the women who undergo testing at clinics and maternity hospitals, and only then does it become apparent that they were infected by their labour migrant husbands.’

Nurlaminova was less certain that migrants play a pivotal role in transmission.

‘It would be wrong to say labour migration is the basic problem; instead, it is drug users. Labour migrants account for just 11 per cent,’ she said.

Faromuzova says that in Tajikistan, migrants do constitute a risk group.

‘If young men are cut off from their families and go away for a long period, they become at risk. For one thing, it occurs because they find themselves in that social environment. For another, they are cut off from their families but still have psychological and other needs. Young people are away from their parents’ influence and feel liberated. So they are at risk for that reason.’

The reason the migrants are an important group to watch, said Esenamanov, is that they represent such a large proportion of the total population – one fifth of the populations of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
The numbers of people involved in migration are staggering – from 400,000 to one million from Kyrgyzstan, anywhere between 600,000 and 1.5 million from Tajikistan, and between one and four million from Uzbekistan. Most go to Russia, and smaller numbers to Kazakstan. As Esenamanov noted, ‘This is incomparable [larger than] the number of sex workers, injecting drug users, men who have sex with men, and other risk groups.’

LACK OF AWARENESS AMONG MIGRANT COMMUNITIES

Migrant workers in Russia and Kazakstan are typically engaged in low-status manual work, and are vulnerable to rights violations by employers and local police.

While immigration authorities in Russia and Kazakstan now demand HIV tests as a condition of entry, a high percentage of workers from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan avoid these procedures and work illegally in the grey economy.

Matluba Rahmanova of Tajikistan’s AIDS Centre said that while the clinic tested dozens of migrants taking the legal route every day, and less than one per cent of them tested positive, ‘One should not forget most migrants leave the country without these certificates – those who are working abroad illegally.’

‘It’s important to understand the labour migrants are a vulnerable group,’ explained Esenamanov. ‘They seek work abroad in order to feed their families, often end up in very low paid and insecure jobs, and are harassed by authorities and local citizens in Russia. Many, but not all, have a low education and come from rural areas. There are few and limited educational programs and materials available about reproductive health – sexually transmitted diseases [STD] and how to prevent them – and our extensive baseline study shows a very low level of knowledge about the risk of HIV and other STD, which of course increase the risk, and high-risk sexual behaviour such as non-use of condoms.’

Esenamanov said HIV infection could come through contact with prostitutes. He cited a study by the Humanitarian Action Foundation in St. Petersburg which showed that 50 per cent of local sex workers are intravenous drug users, and 95 of that category are HIV-positive.

‘Therefore, the risk of contracting HIV is quite high when visiting commercial sex workers. [The migrant] does not use a condom as he is simply not aware of the need to do so, or does not think this is necessary, and contract HIVs,’ he said. ‘After returning home not aware of having HIV they infect their wives.’

Labour migrants who inject drugs through shared needles can also contract acquire HIV, and pass it on to their wives. In Kyrgyzstan, Akbagysheva said husband-to-wife transmission was a significant factor.

IWPR interviews with migrant workers past and present suggest widespread ignorance about HIV, its transmission, and preventive methods.

‘We ‘gastarbeiters’ only seek [medical] help under extreme circumstances, for example for industrial injuries,’ said Yoldash, a young man back from Moscow and living in Jalalabad in the south of Kyrgyzstan. ‘There’s a class of people who are educated, and they safeguard themselves against HIV, but those who are uneducated don’t protect themselves.’

Jasur, now at medical school in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, also spent time working in Russia. He said that most of his fellow-workers there had little education and were uninformed about HIV. While some might put themselves at risk by injecting drugs, he said he believed ‘the sexual transmission route for HIV infection took first place.’

The rights activist from Uzbekistan agreed that ‘the overwhelming majority of labour migrants have a very weak understanding of HIV/AIDS and the risks, infection routes, and preventive measures. Many don’t have a clue what HIV is.’

WIVES INHIBITED BY SHAME FACTOR, LACK OF AWARENESS

Women in traditional rural communities, said Esenamanov, ‘cannot demand that their husbands get tested or use condoms; nor do they know of HIV at all. Women infected by their husbands give birth to HIV-positive children, as these women are not aware of prevention of vertical, mother-to-child transmission.’

Nurlaminova agreed that male labour migrants were commonly unaware of their HIV status. ‘They discover they are ill when their pregnant wives undergo testing.’

She said dealing with couples was more straightforward when the husband was aware he was HIV-positive, but added that ‘it’s a lot more complex when it’s the wife who’s the first to discover she is infected. Fearing that she will be unjustly accused of adultery, she will wait for months while she thinks about how to tell her husband.’

Awareness levels are generally low in the rural communities from which migrants often come.

‘Urban people are better informed about the issue. They’ve heard of AIDS, they know the transmission routes and many take precautions for sexual contact,’ said Nurlaminova, adding that the majority, young people from rural areas, ‘generally don’t know much about it, or else they know nothing at all.’

She went on, ‘Another feature of labour migrants here is that most of these ordinary village lads never use condoms. When you talk to them, some of them don’t even know what those are, and neither do their wives.’

Pia Dyrhagen, who was a programme officer with DanChurchAid in Central Asia until December, initiated a project on HIV/migration for together with local organisations about two years ago. She says anyone identified as HIV-positive faces high levels of discrimination. ‘Neighbours, villagers and even family members refuse to talk to them and turn their back on them if meeting them in the street,’ she said. ‘There are cases of chidren not being admitted to school when the head of school found out the child was HIV-positive. In Tajikistan [our NGO] partners speak of cases of suicide among women who were HIV infected by their husbands who returned from migration.

‘All this because people don’t know enough about the virus.’

This lack of awareness is in part due to education programmes that have hitherto focused on narrower high-risk categories.

‘The fact that this transmission route takes place among the general population is the most critical issue,’ said Esenamanov. ‘Whereas intravenous drug users and commercial sex workers in Central Asia have been receiving targeted information for the last seven years, nobody has been disseminating information about sexually transmitted diseases among the general population, at least not in a very structured and engaging way, as this group had not been prioritised… by the donor organisations. The high level of taboo surrounding sex and the use of condoms makes it a difficult topic to talk about, especially in schools and other official institutions.’

He noted that people living with HIV tended to be stigmatised ‘in medical institutions, among representatives of authorities and religious leaders, but also among the local population’.

‘If the spread of HIV should be curbed, it is necessary to engage all the parties involved in a dialogue where all problems can be discussed openly and with mutual respect,’ he added.

GOVERNMENTS START TO TAKE ACTION

There are signs that governments in the region are becoming aware that migrants constitute a risk category, and need to be targeted with special awareness-raising campaigns.

Hamidova pointed out that in Tajikistan, the wives of labour migrants were now counted as one of five categories of women subject to mandatory testing when they visit gynaecological clinics or maternity hospitals.

‘Doctors refuse to examine them unless they undergo the test,’ she said, adding that the provision of rapid HIV testing facilities in all such institutions last year has greatly helped identify HIV cases, and women not included in the five key categories, which also includes women who inject drugs or have partners who do so and commercial sex workers.

According to Esenamanov, ‘the Kyrgyz and Tajik governments have both made migrants a priority group in their respective national strategies for HIV’. He said his organisation had found the authorities in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan responsive, and the main challenge now was ‘finding effective measures to curb the spread of HIV and finding the resources to carry these out’.

In Uzbekistan, a recent law stipulates that HIV tests for certain groups should be free and confidential. But it has yet to focus on migrants as a particular category.

‘The [Uzbek] authorities’ failure to recognise migrants as a risk group alongside prostitutes and drug abusers is one of the reasons why they have not to date been included in mandatory prevention work and registration,’ said the analyst interviewed in Uzbekistan.

The human rights activist also in Uzbekistan said that while the government was trying to tackle the spread of HIV, it placed severe restrictions on information and statistics relating to the problem. Some of the leaflets produced to help people understand the issues had been denounced as ‘pornographic’ by officials, he said.

In one case reported by IWPR earlier this year, psychologist Maxim Popov was sentenced to seven years imprisonment after a court in Uzbekistan found that a book he produced to educate young people about sexually transmitted diseases and shared needle use was illegal because it allegedly encouraged young people to use narcotics. Popov headed a group called Izis which worked with drug users and sex workers to prevent HIV/AIDS, and ran a needle exchange programme for addicts.

Esenamanov told IWPR that donor organisations in Central Asia did not prioritise labour migrants as a specific target group until recently. That was now changing and a range of international and local NGOs were working together to curb the spread of HIV among labour migrants and those with whom they come into contact.

‘So far – one year after project start – there are many positive results and it is the hope that it will be possible to continue the project and expand the scope,’ he said.

Bonivur Ishemkulov, project coordinator with the United Nations Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Kyrgyzstan, said a number of NGOs were now focusing on migrants as well as other groups.

A project to prevent HIV specifically among migrant workers was launched last December, as a component of the Central Asia AIDS Control Project, a 27-million US dollar initiative funded by the International Development Association and Britain’s Department for International Development. An education centre in the Tajik capital Dushanbe will coordinate work in in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakstan and Uzbekistan as well as Tajikistan.

Meanwhile, the HIV prevention project launched by the Congress of Women in Kyrgyzstan in February is trying to provide information direct to migrant workers.

‘Our trainers are now going round the markets, airports and railway stations giving out leaflets and posters for migrants to read and find out how to protect themselves,’ she said.

Many of the experts interviewed for this report were at pains to point out that while targeted awareness campaigns were essential, that did not mean the large number of Uzbeks, Kyrgyz and Tajiks people travelling abroad to earn a living should be lumped together as some kind of dangerous group.

Dr Faromuzova expressed concern that migrants, often the most enterprising part of the labour force, should not become the target of ‘fear, discrimination and stigma’.

‘It isn’t enough that they are providing for their families, easing social tensions and helping develop their country – they could have this label slapped on them as well,’ she warned.

Akbagysheva agreed, saying, ‘We can’t make scapegoats out of the labour migrants. But we definitely have to work with them.’

Dina Tokbaeva is IWPR editor in Kyrgyzstan. Beksultan Sadyrkulov is a pseudonym for a reporter in Bishkek and Aslibegim Manzarshoeva is an IWPR-trained journalist in Dushanbe.

This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

(Quelle: Institute for War & Peace Reporting.)