HRW urges Kerry to push rights agenda on Central Asia tour

John Kerry. Source: Wikipedia

John Kerry. Source: Wikipedia

Human Rights Watch on Friday urged US State Secretary John Kerry to push Central Asian leaders to improve their countries’ rights records on his historic tour of the mostly-authoritarian region.

“Secretary Kerry should take full advantage of the spotlight this week to make clear to each leader in Central Asia –- and the region’s citizens -– that the status quo on human rights abuses just won’t do,” Hugh Williamson, HRW’s Europe and Central Asia director, said in a statement.

“This visit is an opportunity for Secretary Kerry to publicly convey a clear expectation that reforms are key to strengthening US ties to Central Asia.”

Kerry’s tour — the first-ever visit by a US secretary of state to all five Central Asian countries on the same trip — will begin Saturday in Kyrgyzstan, where Washington maintained a military base for the conflict in Afghanistan until June 2014.

US ties with the landlocked region’s only democratic country soured in July when Kyrgyzstan annulled a strategic partnership with Washington after the US State Department awarded a prize to a jailed human rights defender.

Kerry’s tour will also take him to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, two of the world’s most repressive states, as well as oil-rich Kazakhstan.

During his stop in Uzbekistan, Kerry will meet the foreign ministers of all five countries in the ancient citadel of Samarkand as part of a new C5+1 format for Washington’s dialogue with the region.

The top US diplomat will also visit Tajikistan, the region’s poorest country, which shares a 1,300-kilometre border with war-torn Afghanistan.

In addition to human rights, Kerry’s talks with regional leaders are likely to touch on the international fight against the Islamic State group, security in nearby Afghanistan and US economic ties with the predominantly pro-Russian region.

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