Tajikistan: Meet Nigina: Towards a functioning system that leaves no room for torture
Dec. 3, Dushanbe (Tajikistan) – Nigina Bakhrieva’s
visceral sense of justice was passed on to by her parents, as she quickly demonstrated
by following in the footsteps of her father – a prosecutor – in standing firmly
for the rule of law.
“It’s what I learned as
I child, “ she says. “When I witness human rights abuses, I cannot be
indifferent; I take action.”
And her career could
not have been more ominous. Nigina started law school in Tajikistan, at the
doorstep of Taliban-led Afghanistan, at the very outbreak of the bloody civil
war that followed the country’s independence, graduating five years later, in
1997, as the war ended, leaving behind a devastated country with some 100,000
people killed and 1.2 million displaced.
After teaching law at
the Tajik state university, Nigina became a consultant providing
capacity-building expertise for various organizations. Moving quickly into
human rights, she went to work for the United Nations Tajikistan Office for
Peace Building where she reviewed national legislation to make sure it
conformed to international human rights standards.
still as a budding lawyer and founder of the Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of
Law of Tajikistan, Nigina helped
to litigate with success Tajikistan’s first-ever human rights case before the
United Nations Human Rights Committee (the equivalent of a human rights court) –
something unheard of in Tajikistan until then. Her work for the abolition of
the death penalty in her country led to a moratorium being adopted in 2004.
This fertile training
ground provided a whole range of tools by which this ambitious lawyer was able
to help her country – a former-Soviet republic – advance towards the rule of
law. In 2009, she created Nota Bene, which
leads the Anti-Torture Coalition of 17 leading human rights organizations and
activists in Tajikistan.
A painstaking transition to modernity
The work initially seemed
to pay off handsomely: at the beginning of 2014, Tajikistan had pledged to
implement international human rights standards both in law and practice. The Government,
however, has recently been limiting the scope of action in the country of human
rights lawyers and organizations. It has indeed been made mandatory for non-governmental
organizations to declare all foreign funding. What is more, limiting access to the
legal profession and placing it under the Ministry of Justice has compromised its
“It is worrying that it
has become nearly impossible to find lawyers in Tajikistan willing to accept to
defend torture cases for fear of criminal prosecution,” reported the OMCT in
the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders on Nov. 30th.
As one of the few
lawyers who have not given up on combatting the widespread use of torture and
other forms of abuse, especially in the armed forces, Nigina is among the key
players pushing for full transition of Tajikistan to the rule of law. The
burden of such a heavy responsibility
understandably takes a toll.
“The work is hard”, she
says. “Each time we re-live with the victims what they went through, and it is
For change to occur,
though, the system must work and all actors must do their bit, she explains,
detailing every step of the process: individuals must lodge complaints when they are subjected to torture or ill
treatment; the Government must follow a zero-tolerance-for-torture policy; the
Prosecutor must respond to every complaint by thorough and effective investigation;
courts must punish all those found guilty – not only the direct perpetrators,
but also their superiors, who failed to prevent the crime; jail terms should be
proportionate to the seriousness of the crime; finally, the Government should
compensate all victims of torture.
When all parts of the mechanism of the justice system will function,
torture will cease to be the norm, and become rare and atypical in Tajikistan.
That is what Nigina silently keeps struggling for.
-- by Lori Brumat in Geneva
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