Sanctions Urged on Uzbekistan; Critics Cite Intimidation of U.S. NGOs

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 17, 2006 | Go to article overview

Sanctions Urged on Uzbekistan; Critics Cite Intimidation of U.S. NGOs


Byline: Katie Stuhldreher, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The government of Uzbekistan used intimidation and threats to close down hundreds of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the past six months, according to NGO representatives, prompting some members of Congress to call for sanctions.

Since January, the Justice Ministry in Tashkent has ousted American NGOs including Freedom House, the Eurasia Foundation, the American Bar Association, and most recently, American Councils for Collaboration in Education and Language Study.

The crackdown was not limited to foreign groups. Uzbek beekeepers' associations and karate clubs met the same fate.

"Basically the government is scared," Lisa Davis of Freedom House said in a telephone interview. "They just don't want people to be assembling at all."

In response to these developments and other human rights violations like the May 2005 massacre at Andijan in which government forces killed hundreds of demonstrators, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Rep. Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey, both Republicans, introduced legislation last month that includes sanctions against Uzbekistan.

Last month, Mr. Smith introduced the Central Asian Democracy and Human Rights Promotion Act, which would freeze assets, ban arms sales and refuse visas to members of President Islam Karimov's government and anyone involved in the Andijan shootings.

Mr. Smith said in a May 12 press release: "Sanctions will cause Karimov to rethink his policy of isolation while also sending a message from the international community that this behavior is unacceptable."

Mr. McCain introduced the Andijan Accountability Act of 2006, which imposes similar targeted sanctions, in the Senate around the same time.

Both bills, Mr. Smith's with 10 co-sponsors and Mr. McCain's with seven, are being marked up in the early legislative stages.

H. Knox Thames, counsel for the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, said in a telephone interview: "We are pretty confident that [the legislation] will move on. It's just a matter of getting our ducks in a row now, which sometimes can take a while."

Although the legislation is a long way from becoming law, it has provoked debate about the effectiveness of sanctions against Uzbekistan.

Undecided on sanctions

Jahangir Mamatov, chairman of the Congress of Democratic Uzbekistan, said: "People in Uzbekistan think that Karimov looks strong now because he has the support of Russia. But U.S. sanctions will help, because people will see that the democratic world does not support Karimov. It will give them heart and power, and they will struggle against him."

Abdumannob Polat, an Uzbek dissident who moved to the United States in 1993 and now works as an independent analyst, disagrees that sanctions will work and suggested a different approach.

"U.S. sanctions are a bad idea because Karimov will still have the support of Russia and China. U.S. interests are the most important thing, and if we could work on our shared concerns of terrorism, the rise of China, and the Afghan drug trade, we could gain leverage back in the region," he said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Polat said that increased funding and economic assistance, not sanctions, could eventually soften the regime.

Aaron Rose, president of Rose Consulting, which advises companies interested in expanding abroad, said that although it is not paramount at the moment, American investors have shown interest in doing business in Uzbekistan, rather than shutting it out.

"From the private sector," Mr. Rose said, "many companies recognize that because of energy, resources and geographical location between European and Asian trade routes, Uzbekistan is a place that they need to be thinking about in the future for investment.

"The interest is there," he said, but because of current political tension, investors are "just sitting on [their] hands and waiting to see how things develop. …

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