Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions
Tajikistan is an authoritarian republic in which President Emomali Rahmon and an inner circle of loyal supporters dominate political life. While the constitution provides for basic political rights, in practice the government obstructs pluralism. Widespread corruption, a deteriorating education system, and mismanagement have left the country with a largely ineffective civil service. Law enforcement and security services often act with impunity, and organized criminal associations exert influence throughout the economy and in all parts of the country. The criminal justice system is inefficient and often unfair, and a broken civil court system does not allow citizens to seek redress for limitations on their rights. The government controls most major media outlets, and the media generally refrain from reporting on sensitive subjects most likely out of fear of reprisal from the government. The government also constrains the activities of civil society with cumbersome registration requirements and by selectively using administrative or tax inspections to harass organizations. Government authorities have instituted increasingly restrictive measures to control religious expression under the guise of fighting extremism and "foreign influences."
Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives
The United States recognizes that promoting democracy in the country is difficult due to its isolation and other environmental challenges, citizens' lack of exposure to democratic principles, and government resistance to meaningful democratic reforms. Therefore, although short-term successes are possible, the U.S. strategy focuses on the long term. The U.S. Government works closely with local and international NGOs, international organizations with field presences in the country, and other bilateral missions to develop and implement this strategy. U.S. technical assistance aims to improve the institutional capacity of government agencies to function more fairly and competently. U.S. exchange and training programs focus on engaging key individuals who have the ability to advance democratic principles from within government structures or civil society in order to improve long-term prospects for democratic change. The United States uses both diplomacy and programming to assist the country in making much-needed legislative reforms. Finally, the United States uses outreach and civil society development programs to engage the public and promote democratic values.
Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance
U.S. assistance programs increase the capacity of government and civil society institutions to promote and respect democratic principles. The U.S. Embassy's local governance program is assisting the country to decentralize and improve public administration by developing local governments' competencies in budgeting and finance, resource management, and public service delivery. A key element is developing mutual accountability between local governments and indigenous civil society through joint training and project development. The U.S. Government supports a land reform project that provides legal assistance for hundreds of farmers who are seeking to claim their property rights. The U.S.-supported water-user's association program empowers farmers to manage their irrigation and drainage infrastructure, teaches techniques for community problem solving, and helps farmers advocate for their fair share of government resources and services. The United States helps fund legal support to NGOs that must navigate the highly technical registration regime implemented by the government. U.S. programs have also improved local capacity to prevent and combat trafficking in persons. The United States funds the only two shelters for trafficking victims in the country. In January 2008 U.S. funding supported the opening of an antitrafficking training center in the State National University of Tajikistan's law school.
Exchange and professional development programs enable the United States to identify individuals who can promote democratic principles. The U.S. Embassy manages a steadily expanding group of exchange programs that send media professionals, judges, law enforcement officials, parliamentarians, other government officials, students, and civil society activists to the United States to give them significant exposure to democracy and accountable, transparent governance. For example, in 2008 the U.S. Embassy funded two television crews to travel to the United States to film documentaries about U.S. immigration procedures and rule of law issues and a wire service correspondent who traveled to the United States to cover the presidential campaign. The U.S. Government sends mid- and senior-level military officers and government officials involved in defense issues to conferences on defense reform, civilian control of the military, good governance, and human rights. The U.S. Government also sends professionals from government and the private sector to the United States to enhance their capacity to promote community development.
U.S. legislative reform projects focus on four key areas of local law: criminal justice, land use, basic freedoms, and the business environment. The United States consistently advocates for substantial revisions to criminal justice legislation to bring it in line with internationally recognized standards. U.S. programs provide technical assistance to those seeking to liberalize agricultural legislation, focusing especially on property rights for agricultural workers, who make up 70 percent of the country's working population. U.S. assistance has already resulted in changes that significantly strengthen farmers' land use rights, but much remains to be done. U.S. officials consistently urge the government to remove unduly restrictive provisions on NGOs and religious organizations and to reform its electoral laws, but neither government nor parliamentary officials appear to have the will to push for necessary reforms. Finally, U.S. assistance programs also aim to reform business registration and licensing requirements, which have limited the ability of entrepreneurs to start and effectively run businesses of all sizes. Among the successes of these reforms, the cost of starting a business was lowered from $1,000 to just over $70.
U.S. outreach and civil society development programs are meant to engage the public. In 2008 the U.S. Embassy issued almost $250,000 in small grants to local NGOs for projects that included defending the rights of the elderly and disabled; engaging youth in political advocacy and civil society development; providing legal advice to migrant laborers, property owners, and farmers; raising public awareness of human trafficking; promoting gender equality; and improving journalists' reporting skills. Embassy officials regularly discuss democracy and human rights issues with a wide spectrum of society at U.S.-funded American Corners, in schools and universities, and in other venues throughout the country.