Tajikistan must reconsider its attitudes towards civil society and view human rights defenders as allies instead of enemies, a UN expert said on March 8 after the dissolution of 700 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the country.

In November 2023, the Tajik Minister of Justice announced that 700 NGOs had been liquidated in Tajikistan over an 18-month period.

“The dissolution of human rights NGOs signals a deteriorating environment for civil society and human rights defense in Tajikistan,” said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

“Human rights defenders working on so-called sensitive issues, including freedom from torture, the right to housing and compensation for requisitioned land, minority rights, freedom of belief and good governance, political rights, and particularly the right to free and fair elections have been reportedly subjected to threats and intimidation,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“Some of those NGOs had been in operation for over 20 years,” the UN expert continued. “This decision also affects those working on early intervention on disability issues, expanding access to education, supporting victims of domestic violence, protecting the environment and promoting public access to land.”

Some organizations were reportedly forced to close following unrest in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) in 2022.

Official statistics show that after these events, the courts ordered many public organizations to shut down while several other organizations self-dissolved.  It is reported that in GBAO, of 300 registered organizations in early 2022, only around 10% can continue operating.

Several NGOs decided to self-dissolve after their directors were repeatedly summoned to the Department of Justice or local executive authorities.  They were then reportedly placed under pressure or coerced into shutting down their organizations ‘voluntarily.’

“Interfering with the activities of NGOs and forcing civil society organizations to cease activities will have a serious knock-on impact on a whole range of human rights in Tajikistan,” said Ms. Lawlor.  “I call on the government to reverse these closures.”

Ms. Mary Lawlor is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.  

The UN Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.  Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.