Wikileaks: Uzbekistan does "just enough to get the West off its back"
The activist site WikiLeaks has divulged another alleged diplomatic cable regarding Central Asia -- datelined Brussels, February 13, 2004, regarding a meeting between then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Lynn Pascoe and other US officials with the European Union on cooperation in Central Asia and the South Caucasus. (Pascoe is now Undersecretary of the United Nations for Political Affairs.)
It's interesting to see the old "differentiation policy" regarding Central Asia -- Kazakhstan is a "relative bright spot" and the EU is "pleased with Kyrgyzstan's extension of the death penalty moratorium," but the "EU shares US concerns about new NGO registration procedures; EU considering how to respond to UNHRC resolution; wants to be firm on HR without pushing Karimov away."
No danger there.
The cable contains what amounts to a forecast in 2004 of seven years of frustrating efforts, culminating in the very disappointing Astana summit of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE):
Irish Presidency rep Barbara Jones said she had recently met with the Russian Ambassador to the OSCE in Vienna, who did not see the US/EU/OSCE as having a role to play in the democratization of the region. Jones concluded from this that much of the U.S. and EU effort would therefore be bilateral, as Russia would limit the OSCE's role in the region.
It would be interesting to debate why the EU was so quick to roll over regarding Russia's "limit," but what's most fascinating about this cable is actually how consumed the diplomats seem with human rights concerns in their dealings with abusive regimes. They seem to raise the issues more than we might have imagined -- when we glimpse their quiet diplomacy.
But then, maybe due to that obsession (or feeling the pressure from outside), the diplomats seem to hasten to see progress in their engagement tactics -- and either magnify little things or indulge in wishful thinking:
The EU agreed with Pascoe that Uzbekistan posed a particular challenge because on the one hand it remains a notable human rights violator while on the other it continues to make progress ) albeit grudging and halting ) on political reform. Uzbekistan has not strayed from its determination to do just enough to keep the West off its back. Karimov had yet to realize that political and economic reform was necessary for Uzbekistan,s development, Pascoe said. Yet firm pressure works in Central Asia, Juul observed, and should be maintained; but we must also be careful to recognize the positive steps as they are taken. Both sides agreed that the key challenge was to maintain a firm line with Karimov while also not pushing him away from the table.
It's hard to remember what progress Uzbekistan was making in 2004 -- before the Andijan massacre. In 2003, at a press conference at the US Embassy in Tashkent, Pascoe said he "didn't want to get into...counting numbers". Then The State Department Country Reports for 2004 says, regarding unlawful arrests of people for free expression and religious belief, that "considerably fewer were arrested than in previous years" -- and you can't help wondering if this is because they'd already rounded up most of the suspects. Likely the "progress" consisted of the usual routines that "transitional" countries perform -- signing UN treaties, abolishing the death penalty, formally instituting habeas corpus -- none of which have any merit if the treaties aren't really implemented and people still get tortured and die in prison.
In the cable, the EU official is quoted as reporting a visit from a Human Rights Watch (HRW) representative who said, "it would accuse the EU of backpeddling if the Conclusions issued by January's meetings were any softer than those of earlier EU-Uzbekistan meetings."
Sadly, these same issues continue barely unchanged, more than seven years later. NGOs aren't legalized -- and particularly foreign NGOs such as HRW, registered for a time but whose staff was never permanently accredited, and whose office was just finally closed by court order.
That led to a contest this week between the US and the EU on "who can make the shortest statement long after the fact about this scandal that doesn't actually condemn Tashkent" in the "Foreign Policy You Can Almost Fit on Twitter" and the "Undoing What You Said in the First Part of the Statement in the Rest of the Statement" categories:
The United States is concerned by the Uzbek Supreme Court’s decision to close the Human Rights Watch Office in Tashkent. International NGOs such as Human Rights Watch have an important function to play around the world, and we regret that Human Rights Watch will not be able to do so in Uzbekistan.
The EU regrets the recent decision of the Uzbek authorities to close the office of the international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch in Tashkent. The earlier refusal of accreditation by the Uzbek authorities of the Human Rights Watch Director in Tashkent, as well as his predecessor, already impeded effective operation of this NGO in Uzbekistan, as was the case for others before...The European Union has confirmed its willingness to strengthen relations with Uzbekistan in a comprehensive manner...
By contrast, the statement from Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament, seems like stern stuff:
I am very disappointed about the decision of the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan to annul the registration of Human Rights Watch's office in Tashkent...I regard the closure of the offices of Human Rights Watch after 15 years of presence in the country as a very serious step in the wrong direction.