A special police unit from Tajikistan's Ministry of Internal Affairs during counter-terrorism training.
A program by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to provide human rights training to police in Uzbekistan has sparked controversy, with local activists arguing that such training is at best useless and would simply be window dressing.
The training, funded by the government of Germany, will train 50 police in the Kashkadarya, Andijan, Ferghana and Namangan regions. According to an OSCE press release:
Participants in the training courses will study basic principles of human rights and the international system of human rights protection. They will also discuss case studies on the role of law enforcement agencies in ensuring rights, including the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and privacy.
Well, who could object to that? It turns out, human rights activists in Uzbekistan, according to a report on UzNews.net.
Human rights activists in Tashkent are convinced that these training courses serve no useful purpose and what the OSCE and the German government are doing is simply the imitation of training.
Human rights activist Tatyana Dovlatova believes that the Uzbek police “could not care less about international law”. “All these courses of the OSCE are just idle talk,” she said....
Another human rights activist, Shuhrat Rustamov, said that training courses for the Uzbek police would turn into a mere “talking shop”.
“This event is only for appearance sake,” he said.
Central Asia expert Erica Marat, in a very useful report (pdf) for EUCAM on OSCE police reform efforts in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, noted that those countries were able to redirect well-intentioned international efforts toward their own aims of self-preservation. "Both countries have invited international donors to help reform national police agencies. Both, however, have also learned ways of accepting material assistance without actually improving their human rights record or increasing transparency." She concludes that:
[T]he international community can have only a marginal impact on police reform in former Soviet states... In general, externally driven efforts are futile and cost-intensive, because they seek to instil a culture of community policing in countries with authoritarian political regimes and weak local governance.
And that's Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, where the conditions for successful reform are better than in Uzbekistan. Asked about the Uzbekistan program, Marat told The Bug Pit:
To instill a culture of human rights, there needs to be a genuine interest for the government to improve the way police treat citizens. Ideally, this interest comes from pressures outside of the state domain such as NGOs, mass media, voters, etc. This means that political leaders will look for a more service oriented police if they face a challenge of not being reelected or they are wary of strong elements in the society. I.e. human rights are likely to be respected in countries with some elements of democratic culture. In countries like Uzbekistan (or for that matter Tajikistan, where the OSCE/USG are helping implement police reform) police training efforts will serve the interest of the regime, not the people.
She also notes that while military training tends to get more attention, police training is more sensitive:
Police reform is a more complicated undertaking compared to military reform because police forces are the crucial connectors between the state and society. In everyday politics the states relies on the police more than it does on the army.
The best argument for doing training in these kinds of environments is that you will reach a handful of officers who truly are interested in the reforms you're espousing, even if the higher-ups in the government aren't. And that that cadre could be a positive force when, or if, substantial political change ever does come. But does that potential benefit outweigh the harm caused by a mistaken perception that Uzbekistan is actually interested in reform? That seems to be what the OSCE is banking on.