Tajikistan is an authoritarian state, with President Emomali Rahmon and an inner circle of loyal supporters dominating political life. While the constitution guarantees basic rights, the authorities have shown little respect for democratic principles. There are several political parties, but actual political pluralism is limited. The November 2006 presidential election lacked genuine competition, and the ruling People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan dominated by-elections for national parliament seats in 2007. The government's human rights record remained poor, and widespread corruption continued to hamper democratic, economic, and social reform. Law enforcement and security services largely acted with impunity, and organized criminal associations continued to exert an undue degree of influence in the country. The criminal justice system was widely perceived as unfair and inefficient, with a dysfunctional civil court system contributing to an untenable economic environment. There were no daily newspapers, and the government controlled most media outlets, either directly or indirectly. The government also restricted civil society by creating cumbersome registration requirements and selectively using administrative or tax inspections to harass or disrupt organizations' activities. Government policies also limited freedom of religion.
The U.S. government's strategy to assist in building respect for democratic principles and human rights addresses legislative reform, building institutional capacity, and developing good governance practices both with the government and individual citizens. In developing and implementing this strategy, the United States works with local and international NGO partners, international organizations with a field presence in the country, and other governments. First, U.S. legislative reform programs focus on helping to redraft key pieces of legislation to improve the long term prospects for democratic change by promoting compliance with international norms and commitments. Second, U.S. programs aim to improve the institutional capacity of government agencies to support democratic reform using technical assistance and training to improve the overall ability of key government and civil society institutions to function fairly and competently. Third, U.S. programs train key individuals who have the potential to advance democratic principles from within government structures or civil society.
U.S. legislative reform programs focus on redrafting laws in three key areas: criminal justice, land use, and basic freedoms. U.S. programs provide technical assistance to the working group of officials redrafting the criminal procedure code, and the United States consistently advocates for substantial revisions that will bring the code more in line with internationally recognized standards. The United States also consistently promotes the modernization of laws governing the use of agricultural land to improve property rights for agricultural workers, who make up 70 percent of the country's working population. U.S. programs provide technical drafting assistance, and NGO partners monitor implementation of reform. To strengthen basic freedoms, in 2007 the United States, in conjunction with other members of the international community, urged the government to remove unduly restrictive provisions from draft laws on NGOs and religious organizations. Engaging the government on the reform of its electoral laws has been difficult, reflecting the government's unwillingness to initiate meaningful steps toward pluralism. The U.S. government hopes to reengage a U.S. NGO that has had some success in the area of electoral reform in the past.
In addition to promoting legislative reform, U.S. assistance aims to increase the capacity of governmental and civil society institutions to promote and respect democratic principles. The embassy focuses efforts on three cornerstone institutions: the media, the judiciary, and political parties. In the media sector, programs assist print and electronic outlets to function independently. The embassy invites journalists from the United States each year to conduct training on specialized aspects of reporting. In 2007 training sessions focused on how associations of journalists can draft codes of ethics. The embassy also sponsors local television crews to travel to the United States to prepare documentary films for local broadcast about democratic development issues of interest in the country. U.S. funding allows NGO partners to provide programming for independent television stations throughout the country. In the judicial sector, an ongoing land reform project provides legal assistance for hundreds of farmers who are seeking to claim their property rights. The project places this highly politicized issue into the purview of the courts and tests judges' willingness and ability to apply the law fairly. In the criminal justice sector, U.S. programs provide training for judges and defense attorneys. Unfortunately, government officials have used cumbersome NGO registration requirements to prevent the U.S. political party development program from progressing, again reflecting a reluctance to develop a pluralistic political environment.
Many additional U.S. programs contribute to democracy promotion efforts by addressing institutional capacity or individual development. To address issues of inefficient management, overlapping responsibilities, and lack of accountability within government, a U.S.-funded local governance capacity program aims to provide assistance in decentralization and improving public administration. The project specifically aims to improve local government capacity 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. As part of the program, a group of national and local officials were taken on a study tour to the United States to learn about how municipalities can improve services to their citizens.
The United States works to identify individuals who can promote democratic principles within governmental structures and civil society by instituting professional development programs. The embassy manages exchange programs that send media professionals, judges, law enforcement officials, parliamentarians, government officials, and civil society activists to the United States. Elements of each program include significant exposure to democracy and rule of law issues. Exchange programs for reporters focus on freedom of the press, and the embassy sponsors talented reporters to travel the United States on special reporting tours and thematic visits that expose participants to important issues affecting the media. In December 2007 four parliamentarians, including the chairman of the lower house of parliament's Human Rights Committee, traveled to the United States to discuss principles of democratic governance with legislators, academics, and other civic officials. In 2007 the United States also sent 17 mid- to senior-level military officers and government officials involved in defense issues to conferences sponsored by the George C. Marshall Center, which focused on defense reform, civilian control of the military, good governance, and human rights. In 2007 the embassy sponsored 10 young women leaders, including local government officials, to travel to the United States on a leadership program.
The United States also maintains outreach and civil society development programs. One U.S. implementing partner provides legal support to NGOs that must complete the government's highly technical registration process. The embassy provides small grants to local NGOs that host monthly public meetings with representatives of the government and opposition political parties. A U.S.-funded water user association support program is a grassroots democracy-building exercise that empowers farmers to engage local authorities on water use issues and become more active in local government. Through embassy outreach programs, U.S. officials regularly discuss democracy and human rights issues with a wide spectrum of society at American Corners, in schools and universities, and in other venues throughout the country.
U.S. programs aim at building and improving local capacity to prevent and combat trafficking in persons in the country and to protect victims trafficked from, to, through, and within the region. The United States provides funding for the only two shelters for trafficking victims in the country. U.S. programs help victims by focusing on continued support and capacity building of crisis centers, hot lines, and shelters, including preventative and rehabilitative vocational training for targeted vulnerable groups. In January 2008 U.S. funding led to the opening of an antitrafficking training center within the Law Faculty of the State National University of Tajikistan in Dushanbe. The U.S.-funded implementing partner recruited experts to train law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, and border officials on how to identify and assist victims and how to investigate and prosecute traffickers.