In the Eye of the Beholder; Why Human-Rights Abuses Justify War on Iraq, but Are Rewarded in Uzbekistan

By Lee, Jan | New Internationalist, September 30, 2003 | Go to article overview

In the Eye of the Beholder; Why Human-Rights Abuses Justify War on Iraq, but Are Rewarded in Uzbekistan


Lee, Jan, New Internationalist


SHOCKWAVES are reverberating around the Republic of Uzbekistan following the recent arrest of human-rights activist Ruslan Sharipov, one of the last independent critics of the repressive government of this former Soviet Central Asian state. While Sharipov has been charged with homosexuality - which is illegal in Uzbekistan - few doubt that the real reason for the arrest was that he had dared to call for reform of the human-rights policies of the regime of President Islam Karimov.

And reform is urgently needed. The human-rights record of Karimov - the former hard-line communist boss who has ruled the republic since independence in 1991 - is appalling. According to the UN, torture of political opponents and religious dissenters is `systematic', with arbitrary arrests, intimidation, extortion and extra-judicial killings by police commonplace. In January 2003 Human Rights Watch reported 7,000 prisoners of conscience in Uzbek jails. These include secular and Islamist political opponents of the regime, human-rights activists, journalists and environmental campaigners: indeed, anyone who has dared to voice criticism of the President (who, ironically, drafted the constitution declaring that `censorship is impermissible'). Furthermore, courts have detained large numbers of otherwise apolitical pious Muslims because Karimov fears they might pose a threat at some point in the future.

The response of the `Western' world to these abuses is confused. This May Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent hosted the AGM of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Headquartered in London, the EBRD was established following the collapse of the Soviet Union to support former communist countries in making the `transition' to capitalist democracy. …

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