Central Asia

2004 04 23
A Start

From State:

Press Statement
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 23, 2004

Uzbekistan Rescinds Open Society Registration

The United States is disappointed that the Government of Uzbekistan decided last week not to renew the registration of the Open Society Institute (OSI), a non-governmental organization active in democratization programs, to continue U.S.-funded and other work in Uzbekistan. The Open Society Institute receives funding from the United States and has spent close to $22 million in Uzbekistan in order to help build a vibrant civil society.

This jeopardizes valuable assistance programs a $16.7 million Drug Demand Reduction Program and a $12 million Basic Education program.

In the 2002 Strategic Partnership Framework, the Governments of Uzbekistan and the United States pledged to work together to strengthen democratic institutions in Uzbekistan. The work of OSI in Uzbekistan supports these goals.

That’s a start, but if it stays talk it doesn’t count for much. Regimes like Uzbekistan’s know that foreign donors have to squawk a bit when they do something awful. The only thing they care about is what the foreign donors actually do. The fact that the regime felt comfortable enough to kick out the OSI suggests that they are gambling on the U.S. doing little more than squawk. The fact the U.S. is putting out a statement rather than taking firmer measures suggests that it had either failed to issue a timely warning about consequences, or had already decided that it would hold the line at squawking.

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2004 04 21
Uzbekistan and the Open Society Institute

Via Oxblog, I see that the Uzbekistan government has decided to give the Open Society Institute the boot. This is really terrible news, since the Open Society Institute obviously did good work attempting to build civil society in the country.
Continue Reading »

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2004 02 04
[Yglesias on Uzbekistan]

He’s a bright lad, that Matthew Yglesias. This post gets succinctly at the stupidity of U.S. policy with respect to Uzbekistan.

I’ll add a quick point to it. People are always looking back at this or that policy from the Cold War and saying, “Oh yes, in hindsight perhaps it wasn’t so wise to fuel the spread of Islamic radicalism throughout the 80s,” or “Golly, if only we’d known that propping up the Shah would have such effects,” and so on. And the point is often made that it’s easy to say these things in hindsight, but that at the time it seemed awfully clever.

Well, yeah, it did seem clever – to them. But at the same time there were serious and insightful critics of the policies doing their very best to make the point that these policies were stupid, and for precisely the reasons that the apologists now accept.

That, I believe, is exactly what will happen years from now when we look back at the current U.S. support for Uzbekistan. Apologists for the admin attempting damage control will concede that the policies were stupid, but that that is clear only with the benefit of hindsight.

No. No, it’s clear today to anyone who cares to consider the matter honestly that the policy is evil and imprudent. It’s clear today.

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2003 10 29
[Support for dictators]

This piece in the Guardian is highly recommended.

The author writes of the very low standards which Blair and Bush apply to allies like Uzbekistan, after resting the case for war against Iraq partly on humanitarian grounds. This lack of consistency is both wrongheaded (support for dictators hasn’t proven a particularly useful strategy in the past, has it?) and corrupting.

In Bush’s case, I suppose you might argue that he’s hardly aware that such a country exists. So perhaps the piece only directly challenges the moral coherence of his position, rather than the sincerity with which he holds it (this is not exculpatory, nor am I taking a position on whether he is in fact sincere). In Blair’s case, it’s obvious that he knows exactly what the score is, but he simply does not care. The piece shreds the moral coherence of Blair’s position and his claim to be genuinely concerned about human rights.

And don’t tell me that this policy of sucking up to dictators is part of the cost of the war on terror, or that in the real world we’re forced to make difficult trade-offs. No administration that squanders as many lives and as much credibility and influence as this one has in Iraq deserves to lecture me about the costs of my policy prescriptions. And neither do any of its apologists.

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2003 09 27
[Dictators, etc.]

Now, if I had a hand in the formulation of U.S. foreign policy, one priority would be to try to avoid a mistake that the U.S. made throughout the Cold War: to support dictators uncritically as the lesser of two evils. I think it’s fair to say that many in the U.S. now rue the decision to treat Saddam Hussein with kid gloves during the 80s, to take just one example.

One area to focus on would be the stans around Afghanistan: Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, especially. These are strategically important areas, and I think I can see why the U.S. would consider it in its short term interests, at least, to cultivate the cooperation of the leaders of these countries. But it has been clear to me for some time that the U.S. government is making one of its classic mistakes here: They are aligning themselves with wretched tyrants, and for little long term advantage.

Support for corrupt dictatorships doesn’t work. If you go in for morality, rely on that as your reason to reject current policy. But also reject it if you’re a cold hearted realist: It won’t work. In the long run, societies get ruined more quickly and more thoroughly if their brutal crackdowns are supported by global powers. And when societies are thoroughly ruined, they make for the kind of instability that breeds violence.

Check out this piece in the WaPo.

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2003 09 17

You would think that all the recent criticism of the U.S. decision in the 80s to back Saddam Hussein would lead to a bit of soul searching about regimes that the U.S. is currently supporting for strategic reasons. You would think.

Look, if we learned any lesson from all that, isn’t it that often we would have been better off from a strictly prudential point of view if we had just followed our consciences and refused to support evil dictators, however convenient it seemed at the time?

I think the situations in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, in particular, demand more attention from our press. These are countries that are slipping further every day into totalitarian nightmares of precisely the sort that breed instability and lawlessness in the long run. And yet they have the U.S.’s support, and the U.S.’s military aid, because they are considered important in the war on terror. I’m telling you, whatever they’re giving the U.S., it’s not worth the long term price.

Here is a nice piece from Eurasianet on the deteriorating situation in Uzbekistan which emphasizes the dilemma it poses for U.S. policymakers.

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2003 07 07
What a frickin embarrassment

This is from a recent Central Asia Report (produced by Radio Free Europe):

LEADER’S VISIT TO CANADA… On 27 June, Kazakh President
Nursultan Nazarbaev wrapped up a five-day trip to Canada. The visit
showed Canada trying to balance concerns about Kazakhstan’s
worsening democracy and human rights record, which is too egregious
to disregard, and its interests in Kazakhstan’s hydrocarbon
resources, which are too vast to ignore.
Strengthening bilateral economic cooperation was the main
subject of talks between Nazarbaev and Canadian Prime Minister Jean
Chretien in the Canadian capital Ottawa, Khabar news agency reported
on 27 June. Chretien pledged to consider increasing investments in
Kazakhstan, especially in the high-technology sector, and to help
develop its small and medium-sized enterprises. Bilateral agreements
were signed on strengthening economic partnership and on mutual legal
assistance in civil and criminal cases. Furthermore, Nazarbaev
obtained Canadian agreement to assist in reforming his country’s
judicial system and training Kazakh peacekeeping specialists (see
“RFE/RL Newsline,” 27 June 2003).
According to state-controlled Khabar TV, Chretien praised
Kazakhstan’s economic and political reforms and opined that they
should serve as models for other post-Soviet republics. If true, such
remarks set the prime minister painfully at odds with critical voices
among Canadian human rights groups, local press, and even some
politicians. Jason Kenney, shadow finance minister of the opposition
Canadian Alliance, protested in a 19 June letter to Chretien that it
was “unacceptable that the government of Canada intends to welcome
this man [Nazarbaev] to our nation’s capital with open arms. The
only result of this visit will be to strengthen the dictator’s
rule by providing him with another useful propaganda tool.” A
statement by Human Rights Watch’s Toronto Committee was similarly
scathing about Ottawa’s friendly reception of Nazarbaev.
“Kazakhstan’s vast energy wealth has made it an important
geo-strategic partner for many countries, but it has not made the
country more democratic,” the statement said. “As the country’s
wealth grows, the government is misusing revenue, consolidating
power, and closing political space. Kazakhstan is starting to look
like another case study in how oil windfalls bolster dictatorships
rather than foster democracy.”
On a side note, Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev
was also pressed on the need for human rights, press freedoms, and
election reforms during a meeting in Washington on 1 July with U.S.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, Reuters reported. Kazakhstan was
urged to redress “last year’s downturn” in the field of democracy
and human rights, according to a senior State Department official.
Toqaev said his country was committed to go forward, but “to go
forward probably slowly…. We cannot do things overnight while the
democratic build-up in some countries took more than 200 years.
It’s not so easy.”
The Canadian government clearly shared some of the concerns
about Nazarbaev. According to the Russian daily “Vremya novostei” on
27 June, the Kazakh president was received in Ottawa at a lower level
than would have been expected for a foreign head of state. He was
granted a “working visit,” rather than a “state visit” due to
Canadian reservations about Kazakhstan’s human rights record and
the so-called “Kazakhgate” scandal, the newspaper commented (see
“RFE/RL Newsline,” 27 June 2003). The scandal encompasses allegations
that Mobil Oil Corp. (now ExxonMobil), which obtained a 25 percent
stake in Kazakhstan’s Tengiz oil field in 1996 for $1.05 billion,
arranged for bribes totaling $78 million to be paid into the bank
accounts of two unnamed top Kazakh officials, generally assumed to be
Oil Minister Nurlan Balgymbaev and Nazarbaev himself. Merchant banker
James Giffen, chairman of the New York-based Mercator Corporation,
stands accused of handling the payments. He was arrested on 30 March
and charged with violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. A
pretrial conference with prosecutors has been scheduled for 5
September, eurasianet.org reported on 1 July, adding that the
arraignment of Giffen is only part of a wider corruption probe by
U.S. law-enforcement agencies to investigate the dealings of oil
conglomerates in Kazakhstan.

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2003 06 03
Worth Repeating

Here’s a recent press release from Human Right Watch:

Uzbekistan: Torture Death in Prison

(New York, June 3, 2003)-Another Uzbek prisoner was tortured to
death, contradicting U.S. claims that Uzbekistan is making
progress on human rights, Human Rights Watch said today.

Otamaza Gafarov was due to be released in September from Chirchik
prison in northern Uzbekistan. Instead, he died there on May 3,
apparently from torture.

Human Rights Watch received information about his death shortly
after the U.S. State Department issued a memorandum certifying
that Uzbekistan has made “substantial and continuing progress” in
respecting human rights.

“Another prisoner tortured to death in Uzbekistan is not
progress-it is more of the same,” said Elizabeth Andersen,
executive director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of
Human Rights Watch. “This is the tenth torture-related death in
custody we’ve documented in the past year and a half. The State
Department’s claims of human rights progress simply do not
reflect reality.”

Family members who helped to wash Gafarov’s body told Human
Rights Watch that they observed a large wound to his head that
appeared to have been caused by a sharp object. There was also
bruising to the back of his head. Gafarov’s rib cage, chest and
throat were also bruised, and his hands were scratched.

The State Department memorandum, signed in May 2003, specifically
cited torture among the areas where the Uzbek government had made
progress. The memorandum certifies that Uzbekistan made overall
progress in meeting its human rights and democracy commitments
under the “Declaration on the Strategic Partnership and
Cooperation Framework” that the two countries signed in March
2002. The certification is required semi-annually to release U.S.
assistance to the Uzbek government.

The March 2002 declaration committed Uzbekistan to ensuring a
“strong and open civil society,” “respect for human rights and
freedoms,” a “genuine multi-party system,” “free and fair
elections,” “political pluralism, diversity of opinions and the
freedom to express them,” “the independence of the media” and
“independence of the courts.”

In a critique of the memorandum (available at:
http://hrw.org/backgrounder/eca/uzbek060303-bck.htm), Human
Rights Watch noted that the State Department cited isolated
positive steps taken by the Uzbek government without
acknowledging ongoing practices that undermine these nominal
measures. The critique describes ongoing setbacks, including
torture-related deaths in custody; new arrests and convictions
based on peaceful religious expression; denial of the right to
register for political opposition parties; dismissals,
intimidation, and beatings of journalists; and harassment and
arbitrary arrest of human rights defenders.

With regard to torture, the State Department cited the Uzbek
government’s “adequate cooperation” with the U.N. Special
Rapporteur on Torture Theo van Boven during his December 2002
visit as evidence that the government “has become more willing to
discuss torture.” In fact, Mr. van Boven has made clear that he
did not receive adequate cooperation. Moreover, the Uzbek
government has taken no serious steps to implement his
recommendations for ending torture.

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