Q. Will you be meeting with the country's leadership, if so, will this be just a formality in the framework of diplomatic relations, or will you also talk about any issues on specific topics? If so, what topics or issues are you going to discuss?


A. It is a great pleasure for me to return to Tajikistan. I have been working with the country and the region for many years – including in my previous capacity with the EU. But to return as Secretary General of the OSCE is truly special. This time, I am here to participate in the Second International High-Level Conference on the International Decade for Action “Water for Sustainable Development”, 2018-2028. I highly appreciate Tajikistan’s commitment to address water challenges. We need to strengthen regional co-operation to use, conserve and sustain the most precious natural resource – water. This is particularly important to me, also in the light of the challenges stemming from climate change. OSCE Foreign Ministers recently adopted a landmark decision in Stockholm in this respect. Based on the Stockholm decision we are launching an initiative for Central Asia to promote joint solutions for risk mitigation, including the crucial role women need to play as agents for change.

Of course, I will also meet with the host of the conference, President Emomali Rahmon as well as the Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin, and Colonel General Rajabali Rahmonali, Commander of Tajik Border Troops. I look forward to have discussion with representatives of the Tajik Parliament and civil society.

There is so much that the OSCE does with Central Asia as a region and with Tajikistan in particular. Our cooperation includes work on border security and management, strengthening women’s role in society, improving business and trade opportunities, preventing violent extremism, and much more.

I had planned to visit in February, but the war against Ukraine meant that I could not travel. Sadly, the war continues, and these are deeply challenging times, not only for Ukraine but for the OSCE as a whole and for so many people who are coping with its consequences. We are working to support Ukraine. But we are also trying to help other countries grappling with the effects of the war – including the economic consequences that are particularly felt in Central Asia. This is why I am glad to be here now.


Q. In 2017, the OSCE downscaled the status of its presence in Tajikistan to a Programme Office in Dushanbe. How has this affected the work of the Office? Are you considering the issue of returning the status, and is it being discussed with the government of Tajikistan?


A. The OSCE has been working in and with Tajikistan since 1994. I have been Secretary General for a year and a half now. From what I have seen the Programme Office’s work is broad, with activities that span from border management to environmental protection and economic development, to the promotion of women’s empowerment and human rights.

There are so many excellent activities implemented by the Programme Office, and the OSCE Border Management Staff College is just one great example, an OSCE wide educational institution for border security and management. Over the past years, the College has trained more than 4,000 mid-to-senior level border security and management officials. Every year, there is a course specifically for women, and I look so much forward to addressing them during my visit.

Tajikistan is particularly affected by the instability in Afghanistan at their southern border. This is why we are assisting Tajikistan on border management, also through the implementation of a project funded by the European Union.

The world is still struggling with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, domestic violence has increased everywhere. Our Programme Office has established a nationwide network of 14 Women’s Resource Centres to protect victims of domestic violence and to support them through education and developing skills.

Our office here also supports Tajikistan with water management, disaster risk reduction, human rights education and so much more. We really have excellent co-operation and I am proud of the good work the Programme Office in Dushanbe is doing.


Q. The expert community and civil society in Tajikistan have been very critical of the OSCE's activities in the country in recent years. They believe that the organization has practically stopped fulfilling its mission here, as it has stopped responding to situations related to human rights violations, their freedom, religion and political views, as well as freedom of expression, restrictions of access to information, etc. Can you tell us what is the reason behind this?


A. Let me tell you, civil society is one of the main stakeholders in our activities. I always meet with civil society when I travel, because it is a big priority for the OSCE as a whole and for me personally. Like everywhere, it is important here that civil society is engaged in dialogue with governments and international organizations, like the OSCE. In accordance with their respective mandates, the OSCE institutions are playing a unique role to promote resilient and effective democratic institutions in the interest of the people.

For example the Representative on the Freedom of the Media engages with authorities to support them in implementing OSCE wide commitments. Democracies can only function properly when human rights are respected, when people are well informed and when they are able to access and share information freely.


Q. The OSCE supports many government projects. But when private media or other public organizations receive grants/assistance from the OSCE, some government agencies start criticizing them for this. What do you think about this issue?


A. As I just said, it is in our mandate that we work with both government and civil society. We engage with all parts of society. This approach is our strength and the guiding principle of our work.

It is important to note that the OSCE’s approach to security goes beyond the traditional political-military notion. We look at security comprehensively, including environmental and economic issues, as well as the very important human dimension. These three aspects are interlinked, because if we address one aspect but not another, it’s unlikely that we will find sustainable solutions. So we work on border security as well as water safety. We work to address human trafficking, we and support community policing, as well as the legislative rights of people with disabilities for example.

We need this multi-dimensional and whole-of-society approach more than ever as we face new security threats. From countering the illegal trade of small arms and light weapons, to countering the nefarious consequences of corruption and strengthening the rule of law, the OSCE reinforces security across the region.


Q. For Tajikistan, the border issue with Kyrgyzstan is very important, where periodic conflicts with human casualties arise. The OSCE, on the other hand, has experience in mediating conflicts that become protracted in its region, creating mediation spaces of various formats to find solutions. Examples include the Transdniestrian settlement process; the Geneva discussions on Georgia; the Minsk Group for Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement; and the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) of Russian, Ukrainian and OSCE representatives to mediate and monitor the conflict in Ukraine. Given this experience and the OSCE's mandate, are you considering the issue of becoming involved in mediating the Tajik-Kyrgyz border conflict?


A. I have been following the situation on the Tajik-Kyrgyz border closely and have been in contact with both sides.

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have both decided to work on all outstanding issues bilaterally. The OSCE has offered support, and stands ready to offer assistance as requested.

In these challenging times, it is of utmost importance that all issues are resolved through peaceful means and dialogue. In connection to this, I welcome the recent meeting of topographic working groups. I understand that the next meeting will take place here in Tajikistan, which demonstrates the willingness of both sides to resolve all outstanding issues bilaterally.


Q. Access to information is also a core principle of the OSCE and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media has an early warning function and responds immediately to serious violations of OSCE commitments on media freedom and freedom of expression. Under your leadership, will the OSCE pay attention to this existing problem in Tajikistan?


A. As you rightly pointed out, observing media developments in the OSCE participating States is in the mandate of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. The Representative advocates and promotes full compliance with the Organization’s principles and commitments in respect of freedom of expression and free media.

The OSCE States have repeatedly stated that the public should receive information and ideas without interference from authorities. Independent media are essential to a free and open society and accountable systems of government. In this context, the OSCE and others have organized a widely-attended conference at the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day in early May with Tajik partners including media associations.