Clinton: "Progress" In Human Rights And Political Freedoms In Uzbekistan
Since the U.S. has moved to remove human rights-related restrictions from military aid to Uzbekistan, the Obama administration has been criticized for abandoning its scruples for the sake of Tashkent's cooperation on hosting supply lines to Afghanistan. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked about that yesterday, and she said there has been progress on human rights and political freedoms:
With respect to Uzbekistan, we value our relationship with Uzbekistan. They have been very helpful to us with respect to the Northern Distribution Network. They have also been helpful with Afghanistan in terms of reconstruction. They are deeply involved in assisting Afghans and the Afghan Government to try to rebuild and make Afghanistan a more prosperous, peaceful country. We believe that our continuing dialogue with officials of the government is essential. It always raises, as I have and as others from our government continue to do so, our concerns about human rights and political freedoms. But at the same time we are working with the Uzbeks to make progress, and we are seeing some signs of that, and we would clearly like to deepen our relationship on all issues.
Now, that contention is going to get a lot of scrutiny. She didn't give any examples of how the situation in Uzbekistan has improved. The most recent Freedom House rankings, for example, give Uzbekistan the lowest possible score, as they have for several years.
The most recent State Department human rights report does highlight a few areas in which Uzbekistan has improved. For example:
Parliamentary elections took place in December 2009. While observers reported noticeable procedural improvements in comparison to the 2004 parliamentary elections, the 2009 elections were not considered free and fair...
Defendants have the right to hire an attorney, and the government improved access to attorneys after establishing a 24-hour on-call system in 2008...
In 2008 the president signed a law ratifying the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. The law states that all government agencies must provide citizens with the opportunity to examine documents, decisions, and other materials affecting their freedoms. Implementation of the law was inconsistent; but in July the Prosecutor General's Office created a special working group to bring the legislation in line with the UN convention....
And, well, that's all I could find. Pretty thin stuff. But, technically speaking, there are "signs" of "progress." One wonders if she might have been better off just saying: "Yes, their human rights record is deplorable. But we need them for Afghanistan, so we have to put up with it for a while." That would be tougher to argue with.
UPDATE: I also like Twitter user Yulzopolis's suggestion of progress: "They haven't boiled anyone alive in at least 5 years!"