Do They Or Don’t They?

by Nathan Hamm on 3/12/2008 · 3 comments reported yesterday in a nice, bold, straightforward headline that Uzbekistan’s opposition welcomes closer between the Uzbek government and the West. Of course, news like this is never so straightforward. Birlik in Kokand is the only organization mentioned in the report as supporting rapprochement.

Meanwhile, IWPR reports, in an equally straightforward headline, that Uzbek human rights activists fear NATO’s return to Uzbekistan. Unnamed activists say that they fear closer relations will cause human rights to recede into the background as Western governments become too excited about closer security ties. (Though this is not the aim of this post, this sounds not only implausible to me, but it appears to be demonstrably false. Human rights issues seem to be of increasing importance as ties between the West and Uzbekistan wax. Not that I give the West credit necessarily — Uzbekistan’s government knows what the West wants.) Others say that they anticipate closer ties will eventually result in the end of EU sanctions. In my estimation, that’s almost guaranteed, but I don’t really think the sanctions accomplish much anymore. The statement’s been made.

IWPR rolls out one lone voice in favor of closer ties between the West and the Uzbek government.

Unlike some local activists, Nadezhda Ataeva, head of the Human Rights in Central Asia Association based in France, is not opposed to NATO returning to Uzbekistan. She views this as a matter of global security that affects the interests of Uzbekistan and the West alike, not least because of the resurgence of Taleban activity in Afghanistan.

But Ataeva insists any western engagement in Uzbekistan must be used as leverage to talk about human rights, so that what happened in Andijan is not forgotten.

All of the above is just an overly long lead-up to an important point about these kinds of stories that may be obvious to those who read them over and over again. It’s all but impossible to find any one report that provides a representative sample of the opinions of human rights activists. The community does not speak with one voice, and more importantly, the community is pretty fractured — different factions don’t speak with one another. It’s hard to say with certainty anything more than that some activists support closer ties with the West and some oppose them.

This is important to keep in mind as relations between the Uzbek government and Western governments warm. I fully expect that various organizations and interests will find voices in Uzbekistan only to eager to speak for the entire community of activists for or against closer ties.

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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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brian March 12, 2008 at 11:01 pm

I wonder if the decision for the US to add Uzbekistan to the list of the world worst human rights violators will have any consequences, or if it was anticipated by Uzbekistan. It seems strange, given the recent rapprochement of relations. Uzbekistan may deserve to be on the list, but lets face it, the list itself is an intellectually dishonest political tool. Come on, Cuba is on the list but Saudi Arabia is not? My guess is that the Pentagon isn’t happy with State for this.

uzbek01 April 28, 2008 at 3:08 pm

Brian, if Uzbekistan is added to the list of worst human rights violators it will have consequences only if people inside Uzbekistan know about it. Uzbekistan has already has the “honor” of being on top of such lists but this is not publicized in Uzbekistan and ordinary Uzbeks don’t know anything about their government being classified oppressive. In turn, good-old regime continue sucking teh lives its own people.

Michael Hancock April 28, 2008 at 7:41 pm

Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is safe so long as the oil pumps function. But there will come a day, and that day probably won’t be pretty, when they discover their ‘friendship’ with the West is only skin deep.

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