Meetings held with Civil Society Leaders and Activists on Development Justice in Tajikistan
by Shoira Olimova
I was excited to have a meeting with local partners and representatives of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Tajikistan after two years of virtual meetings because of the COVID-19 restrictions. Partners from Khujand City, located at the northern part of Tajikistan, requested to organize an in person meeting to discuss more in depth the strategy, mission and vision of International Accountability Project (IAP) in Tajik. It was therefore decided to hold the meetings in Khujand City as well as Dushanbe on 3rd June and 10th June 2022, respectively. Overall, a total of 33 representatives from civil society, human rights defenders, and journalists participated in the meeting and workshop.
The main objective of the meeting was to present IAP’s programmatic work and introduce the Early Warning System (EWS) and Community Action Guides. In addition, we discussed the Community Resource Exchange (CRE) initiative and explored avenues for cooperation and joint action. From the expectations of the participants, it was evident that there was a lack of understanding about the EWS and IAP strategy since most of them have not yet participated in IAP’s activities.
“To be honest, I did not immediately know what your organization did [but] now, your work is much more clear to me.” — Guzal Mahkamova, head of the PO Peace and independent journalist in Tajikistan.
The meeting provided a clear picture of IAP strategy and programs, particularly the Early Warning System and Community-led Research. The format of the meeting was hybrid, as colleagues Medea Turashvili, CRE Regional Facilitator from the Coalition for Human Rights in Development and Hayk Abrahamyan, IAP Community Organizer for the South Caucasus and Central Asia, joined the meeting virtually.
The meeting was interactive in terms of group discussion, working on project tracking, tableaus, and snapshots. Printed copies of Community Action Guide as well as IAP Strategic Work Plan for 2021–2025 in Russian and Uzbek language were distributed. Participants were glad to receive copies of the Community Action Guide translated in Russian and Uzbek. However, there were also requests for a Tajik translation of materials for the local organizations and communities.
According to Public Organization (PO) Diyor leader Bahri Valievna, they have gotten a research grant from Public Foundation Notabene to look into the situation of homeless people in Sughd province of Tajikistan. Right now, homeless people are not getting any support from the government. They do not have legal documents and could not access an education. “Unfortunately, there is no information on their rights. Our organization urgently needed research on the condition of the homeless in our area”, Bahri Valievna expressed.
PO Diyor had no experience in doing research thus, the Community Action Guide is of great help to them. Currently, PO Diyor took the initiative to translate the Community Action Guide into Tajik language. Bahri also stated that they have studied the guide and used them in their research practice. In particular, they used the survey template as a reference in formulating their own questionnaire. As a result, they received positive feedback on their research.
Tajikistan civil society groups meet the Early Warning System
The Early Warning System (EWS) was introduced to the participants. Participants learned how to track projects using the Tableau and to read the EWS project summaries. They did some exercises in terms of finding a project and analyzing the provided information.
From 1st August 2019 to 31st March 2022, there are 66 known projects — a total of 1,520 million USD — were invested in Tajikistan where the energy and transport sectors received the largest amount of funds. The World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development are considered to be the leading development finance institutions (DFIs) in terms of total number of projects and amount invested in the country.
“The topics of the training were very interesting and the work that you are doing, I mean every 3 months updating the information about projects, is worthy of respect,” stated by Ataeva M. NGO Saodat representative
During the EWS exercise, the participants were asked to compare specific information between EWS and the project page of the development bank’s website. When the participants tried to find information on the development bank’s website, they noted some challenges they encountered with how the information is disclosed. Particularly, the participants noted that:
- It was difficult to find some key information about the project on the development bank’s website, as it’s either not disclosed or is only presented in very lengthy documents.
- The project documents on the development bank sites were not written in an accessible language. Even if some were in the local language, the language was technical with many abbreviations and obscure terms.
- For some projects, the the development bank links for complaints or access to information requests were not working. The instructions on how to file a complaint or a request were not available in local language.
During the reflection session, participants shared their insights on pressing issues such as corruption and lack of transparency involving DFI investments in Tajikistan. The participants believed that development banks should strengthen its monitoring system particularly on the transparency component of any project. They also shared that development banks, corporations, and governments seem to be more interested in their self-gain rather than fulfilling their target development commitments.
According to Fiuza Mirjumava, an independent journalist and founder of NGO Saodat, there are a number of requests coming from different local offices of international non-profit organizations as well as development finance institutions to document the outcomes and overall implementation of various projects. However, when they went to the field or project sites, the real picture of the project result was not satisfying. For instance, based on project documents, water pipes have to be supplied in a couple of villages. But the actual project deliverable was only done in one place which is the community of the village head.
Given the political and economic situation in Tajikistan, the people are not interested in getting involved with development issues or being critical of government policies because they fear of being arrested or prosecuted. Some partners who worked previously with monitoring of projects funded by Asian Development Bank and the World Bank were not able to engage the bank’s accountability mechanisms.
Introduction to the Community Resource Exchange
Medea Turashvili, CRE Regional Facilitator led a discussion introducing the Community Resource Exchange (CRE). She provided information on the work of the Coalition for Human Rights in Development and explained the objectives of the CRE program and support it provides to partners. Currently, the Community Resource Exchange program has around 400 partners including Indigenous Peoples, national, regional, and international organizations.
According to Medea, social movements and civil society organizations as well as local communities impacted by development activities can approach the Community Resource Exchange to request for specific types of support and collaboration as well as guidance to co-develop a strategy. For any request, there is an application process that needs to be followed. All requests will be assessed by the CRE Regional Facilitators with the support of the CRE International Coordinator. The Community Resource Exchange mostly focuses on reaching more communities all over the world that are impacted by development activities; providing more holistic support, using a variety of strategies; providing support for corporate and financial research; access to remedy; community organizing; advocacy and campaigns; scientific and technical expertise; and security support.
One of our active partners, Global Advocacy Team expert Atokhon Ganiev, received a grant from CRE this year and it was a great opportunity for other partners to get some pieces of advice from him in terms of understanding the CRE processes.
Moving forward, participants provided a couple of recommendations:
- Increase the capacity of the partners in terms of doing research, particularly the community-led research.
- Organize learning exchange activities and meetings with other partners from all over the world.
- Develop the capacity of partners in using google documents and research designing.
- Some partners requested for more information about the EWS and the possibility of co-administrating.
- PO Dawn requested to do a workshop specifically for the young members in terms of understanding development.
Shoira Olimova is the Community Organizer for the South Caucasus and Central Asia in International Accountability Project. She is based in Tajikistan.