Posts Tagged ‘Human rights in central Asia’

How the West empowers Central Asian tyrants

August 8, 2018

The regime of Islam Karimov, who ruled the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan from 1991 to 2016, once had a couple of dissidents boiled alive.  When the grandmother of one of them complained publicly, she was sentenced to six years in prison.

People under his rule could be jailed, tortured or killed for the slightest reason.  Police raped women at will.  His country’s chief export crop, cotton, was picked by forced labor.  Karimov’s family, especially his daughter Gulnara, and his cronies controlled the economy.

Click to enlarge

But he was not a primitive tyrant ruling a backward country remote from the centers of civilization.  Rather he and his fellow Central Asian dictators were intimately connected with global finance and politics, and owed their power to those connections..

International banks helped Karimov and his family take their wealth out of the country and hide it.  Russian, American and Chinese governments completed for his favor, and turned a blind eye when his secret services reached out to capture and kill political opponents living abroad.

Corrupt Third World dictators that Western governments support are not mere puppets.  Empowering them means compromising and corrupting institutions that are supposedly based on the rule of law.

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I recently read two books about Central Asia – MURDER IN SAMARKAND: A British Ambassador’s Controversial Defiance of Tyranny in the War on Terror by Craig Murray (2006) and DICTATORS WITHOUT BORDERS: Power and Money in Central Asia by Alexander Cooley and John Heathersaw (2017).   I’ll first comment on Murray’s book, then on the other book.

Uzbekistan and the other Central Asian nations were part of the Soviet Union until it broke up.  Their governments were continuations of the former Communist governments.

Craig Murray was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2004. His descriptions of life in Uzbekistan reminds me of accounts of the USSR in the 1930s

He was a colorful character—a drinker, a womanizer and a proud Scot who appeared in formal occasions in Highland dress complete with kilt.  But his physical and moral courage were indisputable.

He once found himself with a stalled car on a country road, alone except for his female interpreter, a female staff member and the widow of a murder victim.

A couple of roughnecks approached, and the widow whispered Murray that they were the murderers of her husband.  Murray pushed one of them in the chest, told them he was the British ambassador and to get out of his way.  He did.

He in theory was supposed to advocate for human rights laws that the British government had endorsed, but in reality, his superiors wanted him to go along with U.S. policy, which was to support Karimov as a valued supporter of the U.S. “war on terror” and interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Uzbekistan was part of the Northern Supply Route, by which U.S. forces in Afghanistan are supported by way of Russia and Central Asia, and it allowed a U.S. air based on its territory.

This mean that Murray was expected to overlook at lot, as he told a Guardian reporter at the time:

People come to me very often after being tortured.  Normally this includes homosexual and heterosexual rape of close relatives in front of the victim; rape with objects such as broken bottles; asphyxiation; pulling out of fingernails; smashing of limbs with blunt objects; and use of boiling liquids including complete immersion of the body.  This is not uncommon.  Thousands of people a year suffer from this torture at the hands of the authorities.

Source: The Guardian

He once interviewed an old professor about imprisoned Uzbek dissidents.  A short time later, the body of the professor’s 18-year-old grandson, bearing the marks of torture, was dumped on the professor’s doorstep.  That is the “murder in Samarkand” in the title.

The U.S. ambassador strongly opposed Murray’s meddling.  At the time was Uzbekistan was a destination for American “extraordinary rendition” of suspected terrorists.  The CIA set great store by information obtained by torture and so did the British government.

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Uzbekistan’s cotton picked by forced labor

September 15, 2017

Uzbekistan is the most populous country in Central Asia and a crossroads of China’s so-called New Silk Roads—railroads and pipelines uniting the heartland of Asia and Europe.

This Human Rights Watch documentary shows how the Uzbek government uses forced labor and child labor in its cotton fields.

Students, teachers, medical workers, other government employees, private sector employees and sometimes children were ordered into the fields to harvest cotton in 2015 and 2016, HRW reported; they also were forced to plant cotton and weed fields early in 2016.

The World Bank has invested $500 million in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry.   Supposedly it should withdraw the money if Uzbekistan uses child labor or forced labor, but HRW says this is not enforced.

Ted Rall on the death of Uzbekistan’s tyrant

September 7, 2016

Ted Rall, who has traveled in Central Asia, had this to say about the death of Uzbekistan’s ruler Islam Karimov.

uzbekistan-C-Asia-MAPGiven Uzbekistan’s tremendous oil, gas and mineral wealth and its geographically and geopolitically strategic importance, its citizens ought to enjoy a high standard of living.  Instead, the average Uzbek subsists on $3 to $8 per day.

Where does all that energy wealth go? Karimov, his family and cronies steal it.  Gulnara Karimova, the deceased despot’s flamboyant chanteuse daughter, is accused of breaking in over $1 billion in bribes from telecommunications companies seeking permits to do business.  Another daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, is linked to shell companies that own gaudy multimillion estates in the U.S.  [snip]

Uzbekistan is routinely awarded the world’s “Worst of the Worst” status for its extreme corruption and violations of fundamental human rights.  Phones are tapped and militsia goons shake down motorists at innumerable checkpoints.  Print and broadcast media are completely state-controlled. There’s a zero tolerance policy toward political opposition.  [snip]

At least 10,000 political prisoners are rotting in the nation’s prisons. Torture is standard and endemic; Team Karimov landed a rare spot in the news for boiling dissidents to death.  In 2005, President Karimov asked security forces confronting protesters in the southern city of Andijon to wait for his arrival from the capital of Tashkent so he could personally witness and coordinate their massacre.  An estimated 700 to 1200 Uzbeks were slaughtered.  “People have less freedom here than under Brezhnev,” a U.S. official admitted.  [snip]

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Human rights in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan

June 19, 2010

Why Do I Care? (6/15/10)

My morning newspaper on Page 5A has an article about a massacre of Uzbek people in the central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan. It has lesser play than an article above it about the killing of an Israeli officer by Palestinian gunmen. Ordinarily I would scan the article, sigh, and think about something else.

The reason I don’t is that I have a friend who was born in Uzbekistan and immigrated to this country from Russia more than 10 years ago. She phoned me yesterday, very distrait, and told me about e-mails from Uzbek friends telling of old people being slaughtered, little girls being raped and a university, built by Uzbek people out of their own contributions, being razed to the ground.  The AP article in my newspaper tells of hundreds of people being killed and 100,000 people being turned back at the border of Uzbekistan.

Kyrgyztan and Uzbekistan are two majority-Muslim countries in central Asia formerly part of the old Soviet Union. It is hard for me as an American to imagine what differences Kyrgyz and Uzbeks could have that would motivate one of them to engage in large-scale killing of the other.

Uzbekistan is ruled by a cruel dictator, Islam Karimov, whose specialty is having his political opponents boiled alive. Uzbeks make up about 15 percent of the population of Kyrgyztan and about half the population in the southern part of the country. Most of them supported the overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April. The interim government has accused him of instigating the riots, but he denies it.

It is something that is much worse than what Israelis and Palestinians are doing to each other at the moment, and there are many other situations in the world, for example in Africa, that are just as bad or worse. I think of them much less than I do about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because I don’t feel personally connected to those countries. But this seems real to me because I only have two degrees of separation from the victims.

My friend asked me to post something on my web log, which I am doing even though I don’t see how I can help the situation.  The United States and the Russian Federation both have military bases in Kyrgyzstan, and they are important to the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan. The United States is sending humanitarian aid; this doesn’t really address the situation, but I don’t see what else to do. I make annual donations to Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders, but this doesn’t really address the situation either.

Why do I care? (6/19/10)

People in the central Asian nation of Uzbekistan are different from me.  They speak a different language.  They dress differently. They have a different religion. The very word “Uzbek” has a funny sound to American ears.

The only thing is, they are human beings.  They have as much inherent dignity and worth as I do.  They have as much right to live peacefully in this world as I do.  The killing of an innocent person in Uzbekistan is as great a tragedy in the cosmic scheme of things as my death or the death of someone I love.

Recently I read news accounts of a massacre of Uzbeks in the neighboring central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan. It is one of many horrible things going on all over the world, but I happen to have a good friend who was born in that part of the world. She has been in touch with what’s going on by text message and cell-phone. She tells of terrible stories of old people being murdered, young girls behind raped, people being driven out of their homes. News accounts (as of June 19, 2010) tell of 400,000 people being made refugees and more than 2,000 people murdered. My friend Oidin said the number is much higher.

She says this is the latest in a series of killings instigated by the Kyrgyz government, much like the pogroms against Jews under the Tsars of Russia. She blames the present Kyrgyz government’s Russian advisers and also the Obama administration; both the Russian Federation and the United States have strategically important bases in Kyrgyzstan.

Click on the following links for continuously updated information on central Asia.

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Human rights in central Asia

June 15, 2010

Central Asia is not often in the American public eye, but the region has some of the world’s most vicious dictatorships, the U.S. government is involved in the region, and the oppressed people of Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries have the same right to justice as people anywhere.

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Why Do I Care?

Recent News

My police state vacation by Bélen Fernández for Current Affairs (April 2018)

Uzbek Officials Discuss Human Rights in Washington by Catherine Putz for The Conversation (May 2018)

Testing the realities of Uzbekistan’s reforms by Hugh Williamson and Steve Swerdlow for Eurasianet. (July 2018)

What’s in a Name? In Uzbekistan, it signals a reform drive by Olzhas Auzezov for Reuters.  (July 2018)

Sources of Information

EurasiaNet

Choihona: independent news of Uzbekistan

Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan

Cotton Campaign: End Forced and Child Labor in Uzbekistan

Human Rights Watch reports on Kyrgyzstan

Human Rights Watch reports on Uzbekistan

Amnesty International reports on Kyrgyzstan

Amnesty International reports on Uzbekistan