I’m getting kind of tired of hearing this kind of attempt to equate Iraq and Uzbekistan repression. This of course, is a round-about way of trying to pull the rug out from under any kind of humanitarian justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. I’ve heard a lot of people repeat, mantra-like, that Karimov boils his opponents alive. I don’t doubt this happens at all, but the only reference I could find was this report from Britain.
They’re right to list Uzbekistan as one of the most troubling human rights cases in the world, but two cases of boiling people is not Anfal. I don’t want for a second to downplay the human rights situation in Uzbekistan for a second. It definitely is one of those places where you get a twinge of fear when a police officer begins to address you. I was lucky in that for me, the biggest fear would basically amount to a major inconvenience that would involve bringing the full wrath of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs down on the head of the hapless officer who was being annoying. For the average Uzbek, it’s much much much worse. At the same time, Uzbekistan is not Iraq. If it were, something like Anfal or the destruction of the Marsh Arabs’ home would have taken place. It’s not as if Uzbeks aren’t above beating the tar out of other ethnic groups. For some of Iraq’s record on this kind of thing, check this report out or this one.
And then, there’s this:
In October 2000, dozens of women accused of prostitution were beheaded without any judicial process in Baghdad and other cities. Men suspected of procurement were also beheaded. The killings were reportedly carried out, in the presence of representatives of the Ba’ath Party and the Iraqi Women’s General Union. Members of Feda’iyye Saddam, a militia created in 1994 by ‘Uday Saddam Hussain, the eldest son of the President, used swords to execute the victims in front of their homes.
This kind of thing doesn’t happen in Uzbekistan. Extrajudicial killings do happen in Uzbekistan, but as far as I know, the last public beheading in Uzbekistan was when the Islamists killed a handful of police officers in 1991 when trying to establish a new caliphate.
Not only is Uzbekistan not nearly on the same plane as Hussein’s Iraq in the human rights realm, it is also the type of country that is receptive to engagement. I often hear the complaint that the US is not as critical of Uzbekistan as it needs to be. Karimov does not respond well to criticism at all, and I think that the State Department is well aware of and sensitive to. Uzbekistan is the kind of country that engagement can work in, Iraq was not. If you’ve been reading me for a while, you’ve heard me say a few times that we can see a handful of results of behind the scenes pressure from the US. Now I have this (via Oxblog) for you:
The proliferating Uzbek-American relations, especially in the areas of military assistance in the war in Afghanistan but also in terms of significant economic cooperation, now bind Karimov’s administration more tightly to its commitments to enhance the country’s human rights record. This includes commitments to reduce censorship over the activity of the mass media and other civic organizations, as well as providing the grounds for political pluralism. Nevertheless, until recently, the situation in the country with regard to liberalization of politics and economy saw little progress.
I think this is probably the best of a bad situation for Uzbekistan. You’ve got some progress with US involvement. The alternative would be Russia
strong concern for human rights commitment to flexing its muscles in the near abroad.
Another important difference with Iraq of course is the security angle. The base in Uzbekistan serves a crucial role to US security in Central Asia not just in regards to its role in supporting operations in Afghanistan, but in its ability to serve as a place to maintain a Central and South Asia presence should we leave Afghanistan (I wanted to link to the story on US troops leaving Afghanistan if the Taliban agrees to lay down their arms, but I can’t find it now).
UPDATE: In the past few days, the US has publicly chastized Uzbekistan on its human rights record. See this post for the links. I would think that those who make the Iraq/Uzbekistan comparison would applaud Bush for not being bellicose and pursuing engagement with the regime (and I can tell you that the new America haters being raised there would have become America haters anyway).