2004 Human Rights Report

by Nathan Hamm on 2/28/2005 · 7 comments

The State Department’s 2004 Human Rights Report is available. Go visit Zed to get the link to it.

I briefly scanned the report for Uzbekistan and noticed a couple surprising findings–the kinds of things you wouldn’t expect if all you knew about the country came from newspaper stories. It appears that there has been a net-reduction in political and religious prisoners. Not a monumental reduction, but a reductions nonetheless. Also, there were no arrests of journalists in 2004. Some journalists and editors were harassed by the government though.

It’s pretty much a perfect picture of how Martha Brill Olcott has described progress in Uzbekistan–slow and uneven.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

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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Zed February 28, 2005 at 9:09 pm

Thanks for the link, I read your interview at Thinking-East, I know very little of central Asia, ( thats why I read you ) but I can image your fustration with western reporting of the area, reports on Burma are the same way – every other report comes with the same briefing to give those who have no idea what is going on a basic outline – which ends up taking up much of the report. Though Burma is no where near as obscure to the general public as Kyrgyzstan.

I can only image what gets left out.

student February 28, 2005 at 9:15 pm

Nathan, thanks. I have made a copy ot the full report about my country from the website of the State Department. Now I am gonna read it.

Ari March 5, 2005 at 1:27 am

Not sure how that could be interpreted as ‘progress’ at all. Journalists in Uzbekistan have been silenced and and supressed. This is certainly not a reflection of a freer press – criticism is still not seen in the Uzbekistan press. Rather, it is more indication that journalists in Uzbekistan – as with others – have learned to censor themselves. Same with political and religious prisoners. After a good decade of opression, the population is very scared. People know not to speak up about their grievances, and to keep their religious thoughts to themselves.

Nathan March 5, 2005 at 12:00 pm

Because I use denotative definitions, not ‘definitions’ ‘of’ ‘words.’

I said it wasn’t much and that it isn’t very noticeable and doesn’t change people’s lives much. But, progress is progress. And, it’s worth mentioning what’s actually happening there to dispel the over-the-top picture painted by the press. If we want Uzbekistan to make improvements, it would probably be worth taking the time to recognize improvements even if they are tiny. The “we will recognize nothing less than perfection” approach has excelled only in its ability to backfire.

Ari March 9, 2005 at 4:59 am

But why is that any improvement at all? A completely submissive press as the result of state-directed and -implemented terror? A population that fears any public expression of their faith?

Uzbekistan’s government – as the others in the region – jump at any opportunity they find to trumpet their ‘progress’ when lauded by foreign organizations, as in ‘Look, Freedom House said we are making improvements in democracy!’

You may have a point, if we are discussing working with progressive, constructive governments that are genuinely attempting to improve life for their citizens. When talking about unapologetically autocratic and corrupt governments, I can’t see how noting ‘improvements’ does anything more than gives these despots encouragement for their propaganda.

Nathan March 9, 2005 at 10:21 am

One of my overriding concerns is to provide an accurate picture so smart policy decisions can be made. Caricatures don’t allow this to happen.

I certainly see where you’re coming from and you appear to be writing from within Uzbekistan. I also know you’re an American and an expat, so we might have to admit we have a draw on our experiences in the country. My personal take is that most expats have a tendency to overstate (if from the NGO community) or understate (if from the business community) the situation in Uzbekistan, but I’ll take you at your word.

I’ve seen time and time again how counterproductive and purely onanistic non-stop criticism of the Uzbek government is. It’s a tricky situation to find the right balance, but it’s also fairly easy–much easier than you seem to be willing to admit–to be gray in the reporting of the human rights situation in Uzbekistan. Martha Brill Olcott, for example, hardly provides fodder for Uzbek propaganda, but she’s noted that there’s real and noticeable progress.

The Uzbek government you’re talking about–the one that exists in the world HRW reports and the media–is something of a straw man. It sucks. Bad. It’s also oriented towards development. Not sufficiently to my tastes, but I’m not going to lie about it. Economic reforms are progress. Fewer political and religious prisoners is progress. No journalists arrested is progress. There are plenty of reasons to still be concerned and they are well-documented in the report. The point I’m trying to make is that there is progress, it is mixed and uneven, and that the straw man fantasy picture of the Uzbek government does not exist.

You want expressions of religious faith? Go look for them. They are there, but beyond Tashkent and many of the regional capitals. I saw them almost every day–probably more often than I see them in the United States. It’s not Saudi Arabia, but Central Asia never was. I still think religious freedom would be prefereable, but again, the situation you are talking about isn’t one I was witness to.

Why is it improtant to note improvements? Leverage, Ari. There is something to be said for being diplomatic and not taking a self-satisfyingly heroic posture. The wages of that course are being entirely shut out and having all of our supported NGOs shut down. I’m a big enough fan of things like IREX’s school connectivity program (which, one could argue, provides despots with tangibles for their propaganda) to not want to sweep under the rug points of progress, even if they are small and uneven.

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