The OSCE’s Double Standards

by Nathan Hamm on 11/15/2004

Ferghana.ru says that the OSCE chairman’s personal envoy to Central Asia, es-Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, has different standards for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan when it comes to free and fair elections.

On a visit to Uzbekistan in early October Ahtisaari criticized official Tashkent for the fact that not a single party of the opposition was going to run for the parliament. “I’m sorry that a broad representation of various political forces in the election is impossible at this point,” Ahtisaari said at a meeting with the Central Election Commission of Uzbekistan. “Several parties of the opposition applied for registration but were denied it.”

Ahtisaari’s behavior on a visit to Turkmenistan in October was quite different. President Saparmurat Niyazov announced that he did not intend to put up with international scrutiny of the election because, he said, “leaders of Turkmenistan are not promoting democratic processes while being told what to do by others.” In short, the Turkmenbashi made it clear that he did not want any outsiders at all. Commenting on this decision, Ahtisaari said that the situation being what it was, the OSCE should not be “insistent because transformation of society requires time and patience, particularly when establishment of a national state is at stake. Flexibility is needed.”

In a bit of uncharacteristic fairness to Ahtisaari, one could argue that there’s not a whole lot of difference here, but this report gives the impression the Ahtisaari is not all that troubled by events in Turkmenistan. Why the difference? Well, if Ferghana.ru is to be believed, Ahtisaari has a thing for Akhal-Teke horses and the cost of such horses.

I will reserve judgment on this particular fact, but it still remains that there are certainly different standards not just in Central Asia, but throughout the world where human rights progress is concerned. Turkmenistan, while not getting a pass, certainly escapes the volume of criticism that its more populous, US-allied neighbor on the north shore of the Amu Daryo. If this was out of desperation that nothing will change in this “black hole of human rights,” I might be able to understand the reticence. If I had to place a wager though, I would guess the difference in criticism has more to do with which of the two has developed a close relationship with the United States. I certainly don’t recall Uzbekistan receiving such criticism when Madeleine Albright or Bill Clinton were spending time with Karimov.

While we’re on the topic of Turkmenistan, IRIN News recently interviewed the US ambassador to Turkmenistan.


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Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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