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State Dept.: Uzbekistan Human Rights Still Bad, Military Aid Notwithstanding

The defense bill that President Obama signed into law on December 31 contained a provision by which the U.S. could again start providing military aid to Uzbekistan, if the Secretary of State certifies that there is a national security reason for doing so. It also requires the State Department to provide an assessment of the progress that Uzbekistan has made in human rights.

Today, the State Department for the first time used that waiver, State Department officials tell The Bug Pit. And they sent along the language of the human rights assessment, which will likely warm the hearts of human rights groups: despite several recent statements by U.S. diplomats suggesting that Uzbekistan's human rights situation might be improving, there is no such implication in this document. (Of course, this is also probably why the State Department volunteered to send the document along.) The entire assessment is below, and it summarizes the woeful state of political, religious and media freedom; prison conditions; torture; child and forced labor; and the lack of an independent investigation into the notorious Andijan "events."

I wasn't told what aid specifically the State Department was seeking to provide via this waiver, but presumably it is the $100,000 in border guard training that has been already discussed. Anyway, the takeaway here appears to be that the U.S. can provide military aid to Uzbekistan without saying silly things about human rights there.

Separately, I had a conversation today about Uzbekistan with another official which reminded me of an important point in this debate that is often forgotten: Uzbekistan kicked the U.S. out of the air base at Karshi-Khanabad in 2005 not because the U.S. complained about Andijan, but because President Islam Karimov was worried about a U.S.-engineered "color revolution" coming to overthrow him. Of course, Andijan and the Western reaction were what prompted his worry about a color revolution, but in and of themselves Karimov probably could have handled them. But this was in the era of peak paranoia among post-Soviet dictators about the color revolution threat. In particular, Kyrgyzstan's "Tulip Revolution" happened just two months before Andijan.

So now that the threat (or promise, depending on your perspective) of color revolutions has passed, Karimov is likely using a different calculation for how much human rights criticism he's willing to take. And yet observers from Donald Rumsfeld to Human Rights Watch (and probably this blog, if you combed the archives) tie the eviction solely to the human rights related condemnation. It's not clear how significant a difference that is, but it bears keeping in mind.

Anyway, the full State Department assessment:

Human Rights Assessment

The human rights situation in Uzbekistan remains an area of serious concern, including restricted political and religious freedoms, lack of an independent media, forced adult and child labor, allegations of torture, and poor prison conditions. The government has not authorized an independent international investigation of the alleged killing of numerous unarmed civilians during the violent disturbances in Andijan in 2005.

Political Freedom: Uzbekistan is an authoritarian state with a constitution that provides for a presidential system with separation of powers. In practice, however, President Islam Karimov and the centralized executive branch dominate political life and exercise nearly complete control over the other branches of government. The government has suppressed the political opposition, preventing formation of a genuine multi-party system. While President Karimov called for greater democracy and a strengthening of the roles of parliament and civil society in a November 2010 speech, the Uzbekistan leadership has taken no significant steps in this regard. The last presidential elections, held in 2007, did not meet international democratic standards. The OSCE cited procedural problems and vote tabulation irregularities and noted all candidates publicly endorsed Karimov’s policies.

Religious Freedom: Uzbekistan has been designated a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act since 2006. We continue to urge the GOU to increase registration of minority and unofficial religious groups, ease registration requirements, and end arbitrary arrests and harsh treatment in detention for religious prisoners. We are working with the Government of Uzbekistan to set up a visit by Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook in early 2012.

Freedom of Expression and Media Independence: The law provides for freedom of speech, but the government severely limits freedom of expression in practice. Public insult to president is punishable by up to five years in prison. Publication of articles that incite religious confrontation are prohibited. The four state-run channels dominate television broadcasting.

Forced Adult and Child Labor: Use of forced adult and child labor is systematic during the cotton harvest. Many thousands of schoolchildren, university students, and teachers, among others, are required to work in the fields as a result of government mobilization.

Allegations of Torture: Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, law enforcement and security officials routinely beat and otherwise mistreat detainees to obtain confessions or incriminating information. Sources have reported that torture and abuse are common in prisons, pretrial facilities, and local police and security service precincts.

Prison Conditions: Prison conditions are poor and in some circumstances life threatening. Reports of overcrowding are common, as are reports of severe abuse and shortages of medicine. Food and water are of poor quality but generally available.

Andijan Investigations: After its 2005 investigation into the events in Andijan, the government stated that armed individuals initiated violence by firing on government forces. The government has since banned or denied registration to several political parties. The government has not authorized an independent international investigation of this incident.

State Dept.: Uzbekistan Human Rights Still Bad, Military Aid Notwithstanding

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