Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called upon U.S. President Joe Biden to prioritize human rights during his forthcoming meeting with the leaders of five Central Asian countries on September 19. This meeting, scheduled to occur during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, marks the first time a U.S. president has convened with all five Central Asian presidents.
Amid the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both the United States and the European Union have been advocating that Central Asian governments resist Moscow’s attempts to utilize trade routes through the region to circumvent sanctions imposed in response to the invasion.
However, HRW emphasized that these geopolitical considerations should not overshadow critical human rights concerns. The organization urged President Biden to address issues such as politically motivated prosecutions, the suppression of free speech, and the lack of accountability for torture and police brutality in the region.
Iskra Kirova, Europe and Central Asia advocacy director at HRW, stated, “Biden should ask for explicit steps to end politically motivated prosecutions, suppression of free speech, and impunity for torture and police brutality.”
The meeting comes six months after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s inaugural visit to Central Asia, where despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the countries have maintained strong ties with Moscow.
HRW has called on the United States to leverage this meeting as an opportunity to press for independent investigations into human rights abuses and promote reform initiatives. The organization cited specific cases within the five Central Asian countries, all of which were formerly part of the Soviet Union.
For instance, Kazakhstan faced criticism for its crackdown on protests in January 2022, which resulted in the deaths of at least 238 individuals. Additionally, there have been allegations of ill-treatment and torture in detention following the post-protest violence.