Remember how the United States has been cozying back up to the dictatorship in Uzbekistan for the sake of alternative supply routes to occupying forces in Afghanistan? And remember how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Uzbekistan in October, largely for the sake of public relations? Upon meeting with the Central Asian dictator Islam Karimov, she said publicly “Countries that make reforms to give their people the opportunities for political and economic participation that they demand and deserve will thrive. Those who do not will fall behind.”
She used that visit and that speech as a way to promise that Uzbekistan had made an earnest pledge to improve its wretched human rights situation, therefore retroactively justifying our bold new donations to the sincere – and barbaric – authoritarian. Those of us with fully operating brain systems knew it was baloney, but the establishment sure believed it. Turns out, the brain people were right: torture is still rampant, freedom of speech and of the press is actively and violently suppressed, the rule of law is continuously dismantled, and U.S. support for this dictatorship has only cemented Karimov’s cruel grip on power.
Uzbekistan has not kept its promises to stop torture in its criminal justice system, including electric shocks and asphyxiation, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Safeguards to halt the practice that were announced with fanfare have not been put into effect. Western governments seeking closer ties with the authoritarian Central Asian government for strategic reasons have all but ignored the abuses.
The 104-page report “‘No One Left to Witness’: Torture, the Failure of Habeas Corpus, and the Silencing of Lawyers in Uzbekistan,” provides rare first-hand evidence of wide-scale human rights abuses in the isolated country, from which United Nations human rights experts have been banned for almost a decade. In Uzbekistan, human rights activists are languishing in prison and independent civil society is ruthlessly suppressed.
“The West has to wake up to the fact that Uzbekistan is a pariah state with one of the worst human rights records,” said Steve Swerdlow, Uzbekistan researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Being located next to Afghanistan should not give Uzbekistan a pass on its horrendous record of torture and repression.”
The whole report demands a thorough study. Does anybody in their right mind believe that this lack of reform will prompt a change in policy from the Obama administration? For more on my coverage of U.S. support for Uzbekistan, see: