Jul 13

Preventing Transnational Repression, Protecting Human Rights Ideas for the Future?

Transnational repression takes place where authoritarian regimes repress former citizens beyond their borders and so outside of their sovereign territory. The Central Asian Political Exiles (CAPE) database documents this repression against political exiles that have fled from fear of persecution within the Central Asian states. The authorities of these countries may then track, target and harass these exiles living abroad.  The CAPE database identifies a range of different tactics used including the harassment and intimidation of the family and friends of the exile at home, an INTERPOL notice against them, an extradition request, extradition, rendition, or assassination.Representatives from human rights NGOS including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom Now!, Fair Trials, Civic Assistance Committee, and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, as well as academics and journalists, came together at the University of Exeter on the 21st June 2018 to discuss areas and possibilities for future collaboration. They also discussed the potential for a coordinated campaign to tackle these serious breaches of human rights committed by Central Asian and other authoritarian states around the world.

Maran Turner, executive director of Freedom Now, acknowledged that over the last ten years, advocacy work against these kinds of human rights abuses has become more challenging. For example, a decade or so ago, advocacy work aimed at diplomats within an offending country would occasionally lead to a political prisoner getting released within a few months. Turner observed that traditional methods continue to be used but are no longer working. In our globally inter- connected world, repressive authorities have obtained more allies and have figured out ways to use this system to their advantage. This is clearly true in authoritarian states using the putatively rule-of-law-based INTERPOL system to track and harass their political opponents; even if an INTERPOL red notice is removed from someone’s name it can still cause difficulties for the accused when travelling and obtaining bank accounts.

The discussion at the University of Exeter turned to what new and innovative methods to prevent these severe abuses of human rights could be. One suggestion raised by Steve Swerdlow of Human Rights Watch, was to campaign for a United Nations Special Rapporteur on transnational repression. This would send a direct and clear message that repression beyond borders is not going to continue unnoticed and unchallenged. The research obtained through this role would provide detail about the repression of the worst offending countries, allowing a variety of potential sanctions to be taken against them.

Further to this, Turner also suggested the importance of battling the ‘culture of impunity’ which has emerged in Central Asia, whereby individual political elites and members of the security services, continue to go unpunished for their gross human rights violations. This was highlighted in a publication by Human Rights Watch (2015) to mark ten years since the Andijan Massacre[1]. In the publication, it was noted that survivors of the massacre are still unable to speak out regarding the events of the day, with many individuals still regularly being summoned by the security services for questioning.

Turner argued that this culture of impunity is something that must be attacked and to do this, it is essential that human rights organisations move beyond traditional methods. Recently, Freedom Now developed a model for this by constructing a report which shows how the government in the Azerbaijan functions and is structured. Reports such as this enable the development of a ‘name and shame’ campaign, whereby certain sections of the government responsible for repression can be identified and targeted, enabling a campaign to develop aimed at specific individuals.

Moreover, there is also a space developing for the use of targeted sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act, to bring perpetrators of human rights violation in Central Asia to justice. In 2016, the ‘Global Magnitsky and Accountability Act’ was passed by US Congress, allowing for the US government to expand targeted sanctions beyond Russia[2]. The act allows for both the blocking of property and the right of refusal of entry to the United States. So far, the act has been used to target the daughter of the late Uzbek President Islam Karimov, Gulnara Karimova[3]. However, Karimova has long been under house arrest since the death of her Father and thus the extent of the credibility of targeted sanctions against her remains questionable.

Despite this, many Central Asian elites hold their valuable assets internationally, in places such as the United Kingdom and the US. Therefore, limiting access to these assets strangles the ability of elites to use their enormous wealth to reinforce their political positions. By extending sanctions to the individuals in power and their cronies, rather than countries as a whole, it is possible to hit elites where it hurts and strangle their financial operations.

The workshop at the University of Exeter demonstrated the need for innovative thinking and non-traditional mechanisms to target Central Asian human rights abusers, and to prevent transnational repression of political exiles. The fight for the protection of human rights and the prevention of transnational repression across the world continues.

[1] Human Rights Watch (2015). Uzbekistan: Decade of Impunity for Massacre Andijan Video Spotlights Need for UN Action. [online] Human Rights Watch. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/05/07/uzbekistan-decade-impunity-massacre. [Accessed 4 Jul. 2018].

[2] Congress (2016). Text – S.284 – 114th Congress (2015-2016): Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. [online] Congress.gov. Available at: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/284/text[Accessed 4 Jul. 2018].

[3] Najarian, M. and Eckel, M. (2017). U.S. Sanctions 52 People For Abuses Related To Global Magnitsky Act. [online] RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Available at: https://www.rferl.org/a/magnitsky-52-sanctioned-karimova-chaika/28931607.html.  [Accessed 4 Jul. 2018].