UNRCCA (Central Asia)
In July, the Special Representative and head of the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA), Natalia Gherman, is expected to brief the Security Council on UNRCCA’s work in closed consultations.
Key Recent Developments
Gherman last briefed Council members in closed consultations on 27 January. Among other matters, she provided an update on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic throughout Central Asia, and UNRCCA’s activities pertaining to counter-terrorism, transboundary water management, border demarcation, and the empowerment of women and youth. Gherman also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, including its impact on Central Asia, her interactions with the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the anti-government protests that took place in Kazakhstan in January, and the ongoing border dispute between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Since Gherman’s last briefing, there has been significant unrest in the Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan, an autonomous region in the country’s east that borders Afghanistan, China and Kyrgyzstan. Gorno-Badakhshan is ethnically and linguistically distinct from the rest of Tajikistan and accounts for approximately 45 percent of its territory and about three percent of its population.
Tensions have run high in Gorno-Badakhshan since November 2021, when a protest was sparked by the alleged torture and killing by Tajik security forces of Gulbiddin Ziyobekov, a local resident accused of killing a deputy prosecutor. Government troops reportedly opened fire on the demonstration, killing three people and wounding 17 more. Dozens of protesters were arrested following this incident, and many received substantial prison sentences.
The most recent bout of unrest began on 16 May with a series of protests that started in the region’s capital, Khorugh, before spreading to other areas. According to media reports, the protests were sparked by anger over the killing of Ziyobekov and the subsequent arrests of activists and others who participated in the November 2021 protests. Protesters also reportedly demanded the resignation of both the regional governor and the mayor of Khorugh. The protests quickly turned violent after police killed a 29-year-old protester on 16 May. Tajik authorities subsequently announced that they had commenced an “anti-terror operation” in the region. During the ensuing violence, Tajik security forces reportedly used rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas against the protesters. In a 20 May statement, the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues said that “as many as 40 people” were allegedly killed in the Rushon district of Gorno-Badakhshan during this operation. Tajik authorities continued to target demonstrators and leaders in the Gorno-Badakhshan region in the following weeks.
On 19 May, Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, said that the Secretary-General was “concerned at the reports of increased tension and violence in the [Gorno-Badakhshan region], including the reported loss of life”. Dujarric also said that the Secretary-General “calls for restraint and for all efforts to be made to resolve the current situation by peaceful means”. On the same day, the diplomatic missions of the EU, France, Germany, the UK, and the US to Tajikistan issued a statement that called on “all parties to spare no effort to de-escalate, exercise restraint, and refrain from excessive use of force and incitement to violence”, among other matters.
Several skirmishes between Kyrgyz and Tajik troops have taken place along the Kyrgyz/Tajik border in recent months. In late January, a dispute over a blocked road erupted into fighting between the two sides. Tajik authorities claimed that two people were killed and a further ten wounded during the clash, while Kyrgyz authorities said that 12 were wounded and more than 24,000 civilians were evacuated from the area. According to media reports, on 12 April, the Kyrgyz Border Guard Service said that Kyrgyz and Tajik forces exchanged fire near Maksat village in Leilek district after Tajik border guards entered Kyrgyz territory. A Tajik border guard was killed and two Kyrgyz border guards were wounded during the shootout. On 3 June, Kyrgyz authorities announced that Tajik and Kyrgyz forces had exchanged fire in the Bulak-Bashy district of the southern Batken region and that troops had been wounded on both sides.
On 5 June, Kazakhstan held a referendum on proposed changes to its constitution. Among other matters, the amendments decentralised decision-making in the country and stripped former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev of special privileges that gave him influence over the political process after leaving office. The Kazakh electoral commission said that 77.18 percent of voters supported the amendments, and that turnout was 68.06 percent.
The conflict in Ukraine has had a ripple effect throughout Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan’s banking regulator, for example, has reportedly predicted that remittance payments from migrant workers in Russia will decline by 20 percent in 2022, while the World Bank has recently projected that Kyrgyzstan’s economy will contract by five percent in 2022, primarily due to “an anticipated 33 percent decline in remittance inflows”. The price of food and other goods has also risen in the region. According to media reports, the price of palov, Uzbekistan’s national dish, has increased by approximately 70 percent since December 2019. In mid-April, Kazakhstan announced a limit on wheat and flour exports following Russia’s decision to suspend the export of wheat, rye, barley, and maize until 30 June. On 26 June, Russian state television reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to Tajikistan and Turkmenistan to attend high-level meetings during the last week of June. The visit is believed to be Putin’s first foreign trip since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Relations between Tajikistan and the Taliban have deteriorated in recent months. On 10 May, the Taliban closed the Afghan border with Tajikistan and reportedly seized the vehicles of Tajik truck drivers stranded by the closure. The move followed the 8 May announcement by the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) that it had fired rockets into Tajikistan the previous day, a claim denied by Tajik authorities, who said that ISKP fired bullets and not rockets into its territory.
On 6 June, UNRCCA, UNESCO and Tajikistan convened a conference on “water and mountains towards sustainable development”. The conference was held within the framework of the second high-level international conference on the international decade for action “water for sustainable development 2018-2028” and UNRCCA’s “strategy in support of cooperation between the states of Central Asia in the field of water, energy, environment and climate for 2022-2025”. Gherman underlined the importance of undertaking practical, scientific, and educational work at the regional level to support joint efforts to address glacier melt.
Gherman also continued to focus on increasing the participation of women in public life in Central Asia. On 21 April, she participated in a round table on “Topical issues of women, peace and security in Central Asia” with members of the Kazakh parliament and representatives of international organisations and the diplomatic community. In her remarks, Gherman emphasised the importance of implementing resolution 1325 on women, peace and security and highlighted important UN practices for promoting gender equality. She also discussed the role of the Central Asian Women Leaders’ Caucus in promoting gender-oriented policies and programmes in the region.
Key Issues and Options
One of the main issues for the Council is how to make the best use of UNRCCA’s expertise and whether there is anything else the Council could do to support UNRCCA’s efforts to facilitate preventive diplomacy and regional cooperation.
Council members will also be following recent events in Gorno-Badakhshan and the disputes on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Members are likely to be interested in learning more about the effect that these incidents might have on stability in the region.
The situation in Afghanistan and its impact on Central Asia is another issue for the Council. The Council could consider inviting a representative of UNAMA to participate in the consultations and provide information regarding developments in the country that may affect the wider region.
Council members are generally supportive of UNRCCA and view it as an important tool in promoting cooperation in Central Asia. Until 2015, Council members issued a press statement following the consultations, encouraging increased cooperation and coordination among the Central Asian countries, UNRCCA, and “relevant regional organisations”. In September 2015, however, Russia, the penholder on UNRCCA, sought to add specific references to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), as well as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the EU. The P3 (France, the UK and the US) opposed these additions, seeing the CIS, the CSTO and the SCO as vehicles for enhancing Russian influence in the region. As a result, a press statement could not be agreed upon for more than two years.
Kazakhstan was able to overcome these difficulties during its 2017-2018 term as an elected member by proposing compromise language. Press elements were issued in February 2017, and a press statement was agreed upon in January 2018. Since then, however, Council members have again been unable to reach agreement on a UNRCCA press statement owing to disagreements about referring to regional organisations. The conflict in Ukraine is likely to exacerbate these differences.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UNRCCA
|Security Council Letter|
|7 May 2007S/2007/279||This was a letter from the Secretary-General on the establishment of a United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy in Ashgabat.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|25 January 2018SC/13179||This was a press statement welcoming further cooperation and coordination between UNRCCA, the Central Asian States, and relevant regional organisations, including those organisations of which the Central Asian States are members.|