NGO Shutdowns & Uzbek Rapprochement With The West

by Nathan Hamm on 2/28/2007 · 12 comments

Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Justice has recently put a handful of US health NGOs on notice that there are problems with their paperwork, that they are not sticking to their mission, etc. This is what has become the standard prelude to an ouster for NGOs working in Uzbekistan. Project HOPE and World Vision International were both accused of violations in recent days, and Population Services International (PSI) is the latest to draw the attention of the justice ministry. PSI is special though. It has upset the ministry not just for its paperwork violations, but also for a handful of other interesting reasons.

“PSI is especially famous for its projects universally asserting interests of persons with unorthodox sexual orientation,” the statement on the Internet said, adding that homosexuality is punishable by up to three years in prison in Uzbekistan.

The statement also alleges that PSI, founded in 1970, was created by U.S. entrepreneur Philip Harvey to promote the use of contraceptives produced by his sex products company, Adam & Eve.

I cannot find anything one way or the other about whether or not PSI supports homosexuals. But then again, it’s not worth it to spend much time looking into it. PSI’s Central Asia program targets at-risk youth, injecting drug users, and drug using sex workers to fight the spread of HIV. Homosexuality exists in Uzbekistan, and no responsible anti-HIV program should go along with the government in pretending that it does not. That support of homosexuals bothers the Uzbek government more than PSI’s work with prostitutes sure shows where its priorities are.


Phil Harvey, by the way, is a fairly interesting person. He started selling condoms through the mail while it was still illegal to do so in the United States. Before starting this business, he worked for CARE in India, where he concluded that a lack of family planning played a massive role in social problems. He founded Adam & Eve to fund family planning programs in the developing world, starting PSI, and later DKT International. The latter is focused more on family planning and market subsidized condoms in the developing world, but it appears that PSI does market condoms in Central Asia. And one would assume they use a similar model, selling them well below retail cost. According to information found at and via Harvey’s Wikipedia entry, the approach the organizations use is highly effective.

Crackdown a Cry for Rapprochement?

IWPR reported on the accusations against World Vision (who partners with PSI, interestingly enough), including the following interesting claim.

Political scientist Anvar Muminov agreed, adding that the Uzbek authorities were pressuring American NGOs in a bid to gain greater respect. “Tashkent is trying to impose its own rules of engagement on Washington,” he said. “If the US takes the hint and makes some concessions, things could improve for American NGOs.”

That sounds strange, but EurasiaNet reports that Uzbekistan is putting out feelers for rapprochement.

However, the article seemed to suggest that Washington would have to take the first step, and travel the most distance to make a rapprochement possible. It spoke of a need for US experts to “objectively understand the situation, which would allow them to efficiently take part working out short- and long-term political solutions.”

Additional evidence that Uzbekistan wants a rapprochement on its own terms came on February 23, when Pravda Vostoka resumed its attacks on the United States. A commentary posted on the newspaper’s website attacked US policy toward Central Asia. It claimed that the “primary objective” of two democratization-related institutes affiliated with major US political parties – the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute – was to “gather strategic information and organize controlled conflicts outside of the United States in the interests of the White House.”

It is a strange argument, but perhaps only because one is hard-pressed to see how it could be effective. Uzbekistan’s government does want some degree of renewal of Western ties. And I think that it very obviously wants the relationship to be founded on its terms this time around. (It did last time too. This explains the constant attempts to convince Western officials and media from 2001-2005 that it faced a greater Islamist threat than it really did and that it was making more progress with reforms than it really was.) What it fails to grasp is that it does not have too much to offer to the West that it cannot find elsewhere in the region. The West has no compelling reason to do things solely on Uzbekistan’s terms, and in fact has indicated that it wants to see improvements in Uzbekistan before reengaging. If cracking down on NGOs is indeed supposed to lead to warmer ties with the West, the government would be advised to reconsider the message it sends.

Photo used courtesy of night_eulen.


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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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{ 12 comments }

Laurence February 28, 2007 at 4:06 pm

Neither the PSI project or WorldVision project appear to be designed to build goodwill among Uzbekistan’s general population. I doubt that WorldVision’s Christian evangelist private donors realize the organization is reportedly collaborating with PSI to give out condoms to homosexuals and prostitutes in Uzbekistan, somehow… If these reports are true, USAID may have some more questions to answer from concerned members of Congress. There has already been a scandal on Capitol Hill about a USAID-funded project involving “sex workers” in India, btw… I’ll look for the links on that investigation… What a waste of US taxpayer dollars…

Laurence February 28, 2007 at 4:12 pm

Here’s the link to the Hindustan Times article, “US Accuses NGO of ‘Traffiking'”, http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_1504660,00050001.htm:

US government is getting tough on the issue of trafficking of human beings. Indicating its seriousness on the issue, the US government funding agency USAID terminated funding to the NGO Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha (SANGRAM) for reportedly supporting brothel owners and obstructing the rescue of minor girls from red light areas.

SANGRAM is said to be the first NGO to be cut off from funding for trying to thwart rescue efforts. “It is for the first time in India and perhaps internationally, as far as I know. I want to believe this is an exception, an anomaly. But we are reviewing other programmes and if there is any specific information that an organisation is trying to keep people from being rescued from any kind of trafficking we will be looking into it,” said Ambassador John R Miller, director, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking In Persons.

In a letter dated September 9, the office of AVERT, a joint project of USAID and the Indian government, informed SANGRAM of the termination of funding. The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons of the US State Department had received reports about SANGRAM’s role in “thwarting rescue efforts”.

Nathan February 28, 2007 at 4:37 pm

“Goodwill” is not the mission. HIV prevention is. Click through to the description of the project, Laurence. They don’t give out condoms.

PSI/Central Asia uses commercial marketing techniques to build informed demand among high-risk groups for high quality condoms. Favorite condoms have been marketed to vulnerable groups since 2002. In addition to working with commercial distribution and wholesale partners to provide those most at risk of HIV with access to high quality, affordable condoms, PSI builds knowledge of those groups so they may distinguish high-quality condoms such as Favorite from alternatives in Central Asian markets that fail to provide the highest rates of protection. High risk groups are trained for correct and consistent condom use are also trained to evaluate the packaging, expiration date, and product for flaws.

You can read up on World Vision’s HIV/AIDS initiatives here. They work with prostitutes also. It may come as a surprise to you, but many evangelical Christians are proponents of the reduction of human suffering without regard to who or what the human in question is. It is further worth noting that in Uzbekistan, PSI also partners with Komsomol Kamolot. So, it’s not as if they are too terribly out there.

I’m not sure that USAID has much to answer for. DKT sued them for denying funding over the organization’s refusal to sign a statement explicitly opposing prostitution. The courts found the requirement unconstitutional when applied to US organization, though I think that USAID can still apply the stipulation to foreign organizations.

I don’t know if you ever discussed STDs with anyone in Uzbekistan. It’s obviously a heated subject bound to inflame sensitivities. But it should not be ignored or danced around. Prostitution is common in Uzbekistan. Homosexuality exists. People sleep around. And unless they receive better education about sexual health, they will get sick. I don’t think trying to prevent Central Asia from exploding HIV infection rates is at all a waste of our money, especially when it’s fairly cheap.

Since you seem so steamed about PSI working with homosexuals and prostitutes, do you think the Uzbek justice ministry is right to use this as an argument for its expulsion? Do you agree with the criminalization of homosexuality? Do you think that at the very least they should be excluded from assistance from health NGOs?

At least in my book, what really sets this case apart from others is that the government is using its anti-homosexual laws and attitudes to justify expulsion of a health organization.

Bertrand February 28, 2007 at 9:24 pm

Laurence –

How is it you came to hate NGOs so much? Were you bitten by one as a child?

P.S.: Nathan’s post above is spot on.

Brian March 1, 2007 at 2:25 pm

What’s with the constant knee-jerk reactions for the Uzbek govt. position Laurence? I understand that things are more complicated than some human rights groups claim, but still, come on.

Nathan, I understand that Project Hope is being investigated because they treated alleged Akromiya members in a camp in Kyrgyzstan…. nearly 2 years ago. Even if you give the Uzbek govt. the benefit of the doubt on many many things, the timing just sounds so political.

Laurence March 2, 2007 at 7:11 am

Nathan, I think that USAID programs that increase hostility to the US are counter-productive and work against America’s national interest as well as the interests of the people they are intended to serve. If a program is shut down, it obviously can’t continue–so maybe it wasn’t a good idea in the first place? Better to work in areas where there is agreement between governments, for all concerned. AIDS policy is contentious and politicized enough in the US, so foolish to assume there would be a consensus abroad. I’m no expert on AIDS prevention program, but somehow doubt there is much hard data to demonstrate that this condom distribution effort did much to reduce HIV infection rates. And if there is no empirical data to show that it worked–why pay for it?

Bertrand, I don’t hate NGOs. I’ve worked for several, volunteered with others, and continue to donate time and money. However, I don’t believe that makes NGOs immune from criticism–especially when they may be harming American interests.

Brian, I don’t care about the Uzbek government position one way or the other. It’s not my country. However, I do care about the American government position, and improving America’s relationships with countries around the world. If a USAID program is hurting American interests, leading to greater anti-Americanism, it shouldn’t be funded, IMHO.

Indeed, if Project Hope was working with Akromiya in Kyrgyzstan, it strikes me that USAID may be more out of touch with the threat posed by Islamist extremists to American interests to an even greater extent than I had thought possible…

Laurence March 2, 2007 at 7:33 am

Brian, Here’s the link to the RFE/RL story on Project Hope:

Uzbek Authorities Probe Branch Of U.S. NGO (RFE/RL)
February 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) — The Uzbek Justice Ministry is investigating U.S. nongovernmental group Project HOPE to determine whether the group’s activities in the country comply with its declared goals and Uzbek law.

The organization has been running health projects in Central Asia.

“Project HOPE delivers humanitarian aid all over the region, throughout countries,” Tom Mohr, who oversees Project HOPE’s tuberculosis-control project in Almaty, told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service today. “To Uzbekistan, Project HOPE has delivered a huge amount of humanitarian aid over the last six years. And where aid is delivered in those countries, that’s always decided together, jointly with the government and with the agreement of the government that we’re working with.”

As reports of the investigation emerged, Aktam Jalilov, an official of the Uzbek think tank Regional Policy Foundation, said Project HOPE helped deliver humanitarian aid to a camp of Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan in May 2005.

Jalilov told journalists that the camp accommodated members of the banned Islamic group Akromiya following a government crackdown in the Uzbek eastern city of Andijon.

Tashkent has forced a number of Western-funded organizations to stop operating in the country in the past months.

I went to the Project Hope website (http://www.projecthope.org/wherewehelp/russiacentralasia/kyrgyzstan.asp), and saw descriptions of health-related programs such as TB prevention, “healthy family,” and infant mortality–all non-political. There was no mention of work with Akromiya refugees.

Interestingly, Aktam Jalilov, the Uzbek spokesperson mentioned in the RFE/RL story, has the same name as the head of the International Journalism department when I taught at UWED as a Fulbright in 2002-2003. He later came to the US–Harvard’s Davis Center and Indiana University–as a Soros-sponsored fellow, I believe. We were on a panel at Harvard for a CESS conference. If it is the same person, he’s been a beneficiary of American NGO programs, himself…

Laurence March 2, 2007 at 8:35 am

Just got this from Rand Walton at Project HOPE:

Project HOPE Statement Regarding Uzbekistan

In response to a humanitarian need in Kyrgyzstan in May 2005, Project
HOPE helped assess the health of refugees who had entered the country
from Andijon, Uzbekistan. As a result of the assessment, and as part of
Project HOPE’s mission to provide humanitarian assistance to people in
need, antibiotics were distributed to the refugees, primarily to women
and children.

The Uzbekistan government recently completed a standard audit of Project
HOPE’s programs in its country. The audit followed a typical process
that the Uzbekistan government regularly requests of NGOs operating in
its country. The Uzbekistan government has not contacted Project HOPE
about any other special audits or investigations.

Project HOPE operates only in countries where it is invited. Project
HOPE actively coordinates all activities of health education and
humanitarian assistance with local governments in both Kyrgyzstan and
Uzbekistan.

Laurence March 2, 2007 at 8:44 am

MORE from Rand Walton at Project HOPE:

Work is continuing as normal. Project HOPE is training health care workers in Uzbekistan on how to prevent the spread of tuberculosis and treat patients already infected with the illness. In addition, Project HOPE is operating maternal and child health programs in the country. The programs provide health care workers with knowledge and medical resources needed to improve health and decrease maternal and child mortality rates.

Nick March 2, 2007 at 10:19 am

‘Nathan, I think that USAID programs that increase hostility to the US are counter-productive and work against America’s national interest as well as the interests of the people they are intended to serve.’

‘However, I don’t believe that makes NGOs immune from criticism–especially when they may be harming American interests.’

‘If a USAID program is hurting American interests, leading to greater anti-Americanism, it shouldn’t be funded, IMHO.’

Laurence, I have to agree with Nathan: this is supposed to be about preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS – not promoting American interests abroad.

‘I’m no expert on AIDS prevention program, but somehow doubt there is much hard data to demonstrate that this condom distribution effort did much to reduce HIV infection rates.’

Myabe there isn’t hard data on the effectiveness of prophylactics … yet (but you’d have to work very hard to persuade me that rubbers should be dispensed with entirely). However, there is plenty of data for a worrying increase in HIV/AIDS in Central Asia, as neweurasia‘s own group-post on the issue last year demonstrated.

It’s not just about sex either – intravenous drug-use is a major cause, too; and where are those drugs coming from? Afghanistan …

Laurence March 2, 2007 at 3:09 pm

Nick, I don’t think french letters protect against IV drug use transmission of HIV–and I believe there are studies that show that giving out free condoms does not mean that people actually use them when push comes to shove… But please, show me the data if it is there for Uzbekistan. If not, it’s just another “faith-based initiative” — not science. In any case, USAID’s mission is to advance American interests. The WHO and other international organizations have responsibility for general health issues. So, I’ll stand by my claim that if a program doesn’t advance American interests, I think you’d find most members of Congress and the American public would agree that USAID should not pay for it. I don’t think you’d even find too many USAID officials willing to debate the other side of that argument…

Nick March 3, 2007 at 2:51 am

‘Nick, I don’t think french letters protect against IV drug use transmission of HIV …’

Well, like, Duh! what I was implying was that it’s about a bit more than just just plain old in delicto flagrante. And as I said, I don’t think data is available .. yet. PSI’s website explicitly states that it works with intravenous drug-users, so having a flap about free condon distribition overlooks other aspects of their work. As their own pdf report explains: ‘HIV infection rate in these countries [Central Asia] has increased noticeably over the past few years, particularly among IDUs, who make up at least 64% of all HIV cases.’ And if you’re still worried about the condom distribution any case, as far as I can tell from PSI’s website, there is a strong element of sex education involved:

PSI targets a variety of groups in multiple country settings with marketing, communications and service delivery promoting the ABC strategy of prevention: Abstinence for youth, mutual fidelity (or Be faithful) for couples and correct and consistent Condom use.

PSI’s evidence-based behavior change communications (BCC) programs identify appropriate intervention areas, respond to target group needs and work with target groups to address barriers to safer behaviors.

•PSI provides targeted BCC through:
Outreach to reach sex workers to reduce sexual risk behavior for HIV and sexually transmitted infections while motivating sex workers to utilize HIV prevention services.
•Peer Educators to reach youth at-risk of sexual or injecting drug-use behavior with HIV prevention education.
•Youth Centers to provide at-risk youth access to HIV prevention services and healthy alternatives to drug use.
PSI’s behavior change modules have been adopted as the standard by the Ministry of Health in Kazakhstan and many national governmental and non-governmental organizations have been trained on the PSI model.

But I think that’s enough of the PSI infomercial, already.

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