Cotton Heresy

by Nathan Hamm on 10/23/2011 · 29 comments

Joanna Lillis highlights some important facts about sales of Uzbekistan’s cotton on the world market.

Russian buyers purchased 40 percent of the cotton available at the Tashkent trade fair and the rest went to buyers from China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Japan, UAE, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, South Korea and Singapore. Companies in most of these countries are evidently not subject to the type of consumer pressure that persuaded Western retailers to sign the boycott.

Then how effective is the campaign? According to data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), even before the boycott Uzbek cotton was mainly exported to non-Western destinations, with 60 percent going to developing countries, 17 percent to countries in transition and 23 percent to the developed world.

Doesn’t she know that asking questions about effectiveness is the quickest way to get labeled as… Hold on… Let me check old emails… There we go. Some examples include “on Karimov’s payroll;” “on the payroll of [insert name of various western companies doing business in Central Asia];” “a spokesman for Bush/Cheney/the Pentagon/etc.” One practically has to disclose one’s bank records to dare suggest a human rights campaign might not be worth the time.

Across the political spectrum, one can easily find bad prescriptions for dealing with Uzbekistan based on gross over-simplifications and mischaracterizations of Uzbekistan’s problems and the prospects for improving them. To paraphrase someone for whom I once had the misfortune of working, we need to embrace the whole damned complicated mess of facts surrounding Uzbekistan in order to have a serious conversation about how to really deal with the country in a way that might begin to turn it in the right direction.

Joanna’s story on the cotton fair highlights the biggest difficulty in trying to reduce the use of child labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry — the West lacks the leverage to deny income to those who profit from exploiting children. That doesn’t mean the boycott campaign is utterly worthless, but it does mean it is unlikely to have anything more than a very small impact.

We keep seeing this. Protests in New York accomplish nothing. A Western boycott is unlikely to accomplish much. Adversarial bilateral relations appear to actually make things worse. If one actually does care about improving the situation in Uzbekistan, facing the bleak landscape of choices is the only responsible thing to do.

For what it’s worth, Secretary Clinton has a decent explanation for the US relationship with Uzbekistan: engagement achieves at least some influence, which creates opportunities to create at least some good.


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This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on Registan.net.

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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{ 29 comments }

Cornelius October 23, 2011 at 8:23 am

For what it’s worth, Clinton’s case that engagement works to better a really crappy human rights situation is based on really flimsy evidence. It should really be understood as a statement to defend a policy that aims to get the US access to Afghanistan rather than a observation based on solid facts.

Nathan October 23, 2011 at 8:38 am

The status of US relations with Uzbekistan alongside the Uzbek human rights record 2002-2007 illustrate her point well. She does have a leg to stand on here.

The bigger point is though that there is no good way for us to make meaningful improvements. It’s a pretty bleak situation. How would being a scold make it any better?

Cornelius October 23, 2011 at 8:55 am

Ok, I’ll follow up, just because its Sunday and the weather is bad outside. I have never really understood what your guys’ problem is with the campaign to end forced child labor in Uzbekistan is here at Registan. You seem to deeply believe that the activities of a number of human rights organizations that are looking for ways to raise attention to a dismal situation of a regime exploiting its own young population – and depriving it not only of education, but of access to decent nutrition, shelter and healthcare – is not only useless, but it’s also wrong and in fact even hurts those very kids it aims to protect. At the same time, you also seem to deeply believe that engagement really works and that for many of the human rights issues in Uzbekistan – an earlier post referred to torture in prison – can be sufficiently addressed through technical approaches. Ok sorry, but to me that just doesn’t add up, I simply don’t understand how you can arrive at these conclusions.

First, I am really surprised that you actually seem believe that human rights and democratization are way up on the DOS’s agenda when it comes to Uzbekistan, which would mean that you are basically drinking the cool-aid of Clinton’s script writers. Everybody that I know and talk to – and that includes DOS and DOD people as well as reps from HR organizations, research institutions, European diplomats, and last but not least Uzbeks themselves – are pretty clear in their assessment that this has nothing to do with human rights, it is more an issue of holding your nose until somebody figures out a way to deal with the mess in Afghanistan. So actually nobody on my radar but Registan writers seriously argues that the US engagement has anything to do with advancing liberalization and democratization in Uzbekistan.

I don’t think that is because DOS policy makers are bad, cynical people, but because they wage their options. Seasoned policy makers and observers know that the chances of actually being able to change something in Uzbekistan from the outside are almost zero. If you look into the pertinent body of knowledge that deals with how to get authoritarian regimes to transition to something better from the outside – among them the early Rustow, Linz, O’Donell, and a couple of others from the 80s, then Tom Carothers, Schedler, Zuercher, a couple of folks at CDDRL Stanford, Lucan Way, Steven Levitsky and many others – you notice pretty quick that there is not even a consensus on how that can be done from the outside even in less severe cases than Uzbekistan. The exception to the rule here are a couple of outlier cases that happened due to extraordinary circumstances that cannot be reproduced easily, like the end of WW2, the end of the Cold War, etc. And if you look at examples of engagement that actually worked – I suggest taking a deeper look at the concepts underlying Brandt’s Ostpolitik – you see that serious cases of engagement, the ones that were not only window-dressing exercises, actually went much deeper than occasional political contacts, development aid and military and security cooperation.

Well, and then – if you want to go from a comparative to a case study level – take a look at Uzbekistan itself and check where the leg is that Clinton is standing on according to you. Ok, the US is a case of interrupted engagement, but Germany for example has pretty much an uninterrupted history of a policy of deep engagement with Uzbekistan since 2001 and even before. And what do they have to show for it in terms of systematic change? Not really anything. IRC access to Uzbek prisons? Nice, at least somebody now knows under what conditions people rot in these places, but they don’t make it public. Abolition of the death penalty? I’m pretty sure Alisher Saipov and a number of outspoken relatives of Andijan victims found dead in ditches wouldn’t care too much about that. Introduction of Habeas Corpus? Yeah right, since the Uzbek judicial system is so independent and sophisticated that this would make any difference. Instead, whenever the Auswaertiges Amt feels really good because it just managed to get a HR defender out of jail the Uzbeks are pretty quick with making sure that there is plenty supply of other HR activists that can be released from jail as a publicity stunt for everybody involved.

So, engagement a success? Not so much.

Let’s stay for a bit with progress on human rights issues in Uzbekistan itself. I am well aware of the contents of cables that were wikileaked and in the DOS HR report 2010 that made that claim, but it seems as if there are a couple of contradictions within the DOS’s assessment on this itself. We know from SCA AS Blake’s letter that was recently featured in an EurasiaNet story that at least if he doesn’t speak to the press in Tashkent he doesn’t really see any progress. And if even if that letter didn’t exist I’d be pretty careful as a serious policy analyst to base an assessment only on information that the DOS publishes. Unless the progress that they are talking about is verified as not only superficial and on paper, but as real and tangible by independent sources I’d be very careful with sweeping statements about even babysteps that Uzbekistan is making.

Regarding your assumption that human rights issues can be sufficiently addressed through technical aid – well, I’d suggest talking to practitioners about that and not only to policy wonks. I can hook you up with plenty of people who have tried to work in much less politically sensitive areas than for example prisons or rule of law – say public health, education, or even culture – that can give you an idea of how hard the Uzbek authorities resist even the smallest things that would amount to something like better governance in these areas. And regarding torture in prison, one of the topics of another post here at Registan touched upon, I’d be happy to share a couple of stories about the difficulties of addressing that issue through working together with the authorities in neighboring states that are much less authoritarian.

So, summing up:

a) it’s pretty much obvious that the US is much more interested in access to Afghanistan and other military/security cooperation matters in its policy towards Uzbekistan

b) bringing change through engagement as a concept rests hasn’t worked even in cases of less entrenched authoritarianism than Uzbekistan

c) there is no conclusive evidence whatsoever that would allow one to draw the conclusion that things are getting better in Uzbekistan

= even if the US was seriously interested advancing human rights and democracy in Uzbekistan it wouldn’t be able to do it. And yes, the cotton campaign also has a problem with its effectiveness, but at least they don’t have a problem with their credibility. There is no double-talk from the folks at the cotton campaign.

At the same time you guys here at Registan seem content to be tagging along with the DOS line, saying both implict- and explicitly that engagement with Uzbekistan works to better the human rights situation and that this is the only way to go forward. And not only that, at the same time you deride people that believe otherwise in your posts, claiming that their arguments aren’t fact-based or pulling some rather low punches (the series of posts on the Gulnara fashion show episode that got way personal may serve as an example). In addition you keep referring to people that might favor other approaches as members of the “human rights industry”, as if it was Save the Children collecting donations on a child-starvation-porn campaign. Do you actually think that the staff of HRW, Crisis Group, Amnesty International, the Cotton Campaign and a number of Uzbek human rights organizations are in it only for the money?

So, apart from fundamentally disagreeing with your analysis of the cotton campaign, the general situation in Uzbekistan and what works and what doesn’t in that country – all of which are based on a rather weak body of empirical evidence – I also find the style in which you present your argument here at Registan lacking in terms of tact and respect. My hunch is that the conspiracy theories about whose payroll you are on and the sources of funding of Registan – which btw I personally find totally ridiculous – are less due to the fact that you disagree and more due to how you structure your argument and how you present it.

Nathan Hamm October 23, 2011 at 11:42 am

Cornelius, you’ve got a lot there. Let me try to bang it out as best I can.

At the core of this entire discussion for me is the cold, hard fact that there is almost nothing that can be done from the outside to improve the situation. That means that I do not think that the US will accomplish much in engaging with Uzbekistan. The best that can be hoped for are some activists to be released or getting the Uzbek government to do more to combat sex trafficking. Only the latter might be characterized a systematic improvement. But, I believe, as I recall believing in 2006-2007, that the cost to achieve these two things may not, in fact be worth it. Since we’ve tended since 1991 to utterly lack strategic vision in our foreign policy, I lean toward Uzbekistan not being worth engaging very heavily. If there were some fairly low-cost ways to achieve more people-to-people contact or economic openness in the hopes of far-off improvements, that’d be worth achieving.

So, that’s my high-level take on this. Improvements are unlikely in any approach and that this and the comparative merits of the approaches are rarely discussed.

I’ll try to more or less go in order on the rest.

-I did believe technical aid could be effective at one point. I no longer do. I think Josh quoted an old post in which I said this at one point. I don’t agree with it.

-My feeling on the human rights campaigns is that, in regard to Uzbekistan, they are ineffective, and that events like the Gulnora protests are often not serious about questions of effectiveness or utility. That said, HRW especially has done invaluable reporting on abuses in Uzbekistan. The cotton campaigns tend to do a superb job as well in their reporting and publicity. I’m glad they’re doing this. (On the other hand, as you point out, external pressures won’t accomplish anything, so what’s the point?)

-I don’t think human rights are a very high priority for the US in engaging Uzbekistan. I don’t know how I created the impression that I did think this. It’s an issue that has to be addressed, much to the consternation of a number of people. I know for a fact that the engagement with Uzbekistan has entirely to do with Afghanistan.

-I disagree that our tone has entirely to do with the conspiracy theories and attacks. I’ve made these arguments “professionally” and been attacked as well because, as you put it above, someone just can’t see how a different conclusion could be reached without financial inducement or early childhood consumption of massive quantities of leaded paint.

So, do we actually disagree?

-I think the cotton campaign is not going to achieve much, but I do think it’s the best of the human rights efforts in regard to Uzbekistan.

-I do not think that US-Uzbekistan engagement is likely to achieve much more than some token releases of prisoners and maybe increased people-to-people contacts (which I think do have long-term impact). But that is more, even if not much more, than non-engagement, confrontation, or activism spearheaded by outsiders achieves. I agree that the value of this shouldn’t be overstated though.

-I think that the situation in Uzbekistan is far worse than most people realize. In addition to its normal abusiveness, there have been a number of things that seem worse lately. This year’s cotton harvest may have set a new record for abuses; there seem to be many more reports of adults, not just children, being pressed into working the fields than there have been in the past. There have been lots of arrests of young, educated, upwardly mobile men. The destruction of bazaars and closure of borders to trade has been terrible too.

I dearly wish something could be done about all this, but it seems like it can’t. I think that is often missing from the discussion.

Cornelius October 23, 2011 at 9:02 am

Ok, I’ll follow up, just because its Sunday and the weather is bad outside. I have never really understood what your guys’ problem is with the campaign to end forced child labor in Uzbekistan is here at Registan. You seem to deeply believe that the activities of a number of human rights organizations that are looking for ways to raise attention to a dismal situation of a regime exploiting its own young population – and depriving it not only of education, but of access to decent nutrition, shelter and healthcare – is not only useless, but it’s also wrong and in fact even hurts those very kids it aims to protect. At the same time, you also seem to deeply believe that engagement really works and that for many of the human rights issues in Uzbekistan – an earlier post referred to torture in prison – can be sufficiently addressed through technical approaches. Ok sorry, but to me that just doesn’t add up, I simply don’t understand how you can arrive at these conclusions.

First, I am really surprised that you actually seem believe that human rights and democratization are way up on the DOS’s agenda when it comes to Uzbekistan, which would mean that you are basically drinking the cool-aid of Clinton’s script writers. Everybody that I know and talk to – and that includes DOS and DOD people as well as reps from HR organizations, research institutions, European diplomats, and last but not least Uzbeks themselves – are pretty clear in their assessment that this has nothing to do with human rights, it is more an issue of holding your nose until somebody figures out a way to deal with the mess in Afghanistan. So actually nobody on my radar but Registan writers seriously argues that the US engagement has anything to do with advancing liberalization and democratization in Uzbekistan.

I don’t think that is because DOS policy makers are bad, cynical people, but because they wage their options. Seasoned policy makers and observers know that the chances of actually being able to change something in Uzbekistan from the outside are almost zero. If you look into the pertinent body of knowledge that deals with how to get authoritarian regimes to transition to something better from the outside – among them the early Rustow, Linz, O’Donell, and a couple of others from the 80s, then Tom Carothers, Schedler, Zuercher, a couple of folks at CDDRL Stanford, Lucan Way, Steven Levitsky and many others – you notice pretty quick that there is not even a consensus on how that can be done from the outside even in less severe cases than Uzbekistan. The exception to the rule here are a couple of outlier cases that happened due to extraordinary circumstances that cannot be reproduced easily, like the end of WW2, the end of the Cold War, etc. And if you look at examples of engagement that actually worked – I suggest taking a deeper look at the concepts underlying Brandt’s Ostpolitik – you see that serious cases of engagement, the ones that were not only window-dressing exercises, actually went much deeper than occasional political contacts, development aid and military and security cooperation.

Well, and then – if you want to go from a comparative to a case study level – take a look at Uzbekistan itself to see where the leg is that Clinton stand on according to you. Ok, the US is a case of interrupted engagement, but Germany for example has pretty much an uninterrupted history of a policy of deep engagement with Uzbekistan since 2001 and even before. Their trade, military and other links are also at least as developed as those of the US, and as a democratic country their foreign policy rests on a normative basis. So to look for support of your argument that might be a better place to look. What do they have to show for it in terms of systematic change? Not really anything. IRC access to Uzbek prisons? Nice, at least somebody now knows under what conditions people rot in these places, but they don’t make it public. Abolition of the death penalty? I’m pretty sure Alisher Saipov and a number of outspoken relatives of Andijan victims found dead in ditches wouldn’t care too much about that. Introduction of Habeas Corpus? Yeah right, since the Uzbek judicial system is so independent and sophisticated that this would make any difference. Instead, whenever the Auswaertiges Amt feels really good because it just managed to get a HR defender out of jail the Uzbeks are pretty quick with making sure that there is plenty supply of other HR activists that can be released from jail as a publicity stunt for everybody involved.

Cornelius October 23, 2011 at 9:03 am

(rather long reply, so I had to split it in two parts)

So, engagement a success? Not so much.

Let’s stay for a bit with progress on human rights issues in Uzbekistan itself. I am well aware of the contents of cables that were wikileaked and in the DOS HR report 2010 that made that claim, but it seems as if there are a couple of contradictions within the DOS’s assessment on this itself. We know from SCA AS Blake’s letter that was recently featured in an EurasiaNet story that at least if he doesn’t speak to the press in Tashkent he doesn’t really see any progress. And if even if that letter didn’t exist I’d be pretty careful as a serious policy analyst to base an assessment only on information that the DOS publishes. Unless the progress that they are talking about is verified as not only superficial and on paper, but as real and tangible by independent sources I’d be very careful with sweeping statements about even babysteps that Uzbekistan is making.

Regarding your assumption that human rights issues can be sufficiently addressed through technical aid – well, I’d suggest talking to practitioners about that and not only to policy wonks. I can hook you up with plenty of people who have tried to work in much less politically sensitive areas than for example prisons or rule of law – say public health, education, or even culture – that can give you an idea of how hard the Uzbek authorities resist even the smallest things that would amount to something like better governance in these areas. And regarding torture in prison, one of the topics of another post here at Registan touched upon, I’d be happy to share a couple of stories about the difficulties of addressing that issue through working together with the authorities in neighboring states that are much less authoritarian.

So, summing up:

a) it’s pretty much obvious that the US is much more interested in access to Afghanistan and other military/security cooperation matters in its policy towards Uzbekistan

b) bringing change through engagement as a concept rests hasn’t worked even in cases of less entrenched authoritarianism than Uzbekistan

c) there is no conclusive evidence whatsoever that would allow one to draw the conclusion that things are getting better in Uzbekistan

= even if the US was seriously interested advancing human rights and democracy in Uzbekistan it wouldn’t be able to do it. And yes, the cotton campaign also has a problem with its effectiveness, but at least they don’t have a problem with their credibility. There is no double-talk from the folks at the cotton campaign.

At the same time you guys here at Registan seem content to be tagging along with the DOS line, saying both implict- and explicitly that engagement with Uzbekistan works to better the human rights situation and that this is the only way to go forward. And not only that, at the same time you deride people that believe otherwise in your posts, claiming that their arguments aren’t fact-based or pulling some rather low punches (the series of posts on the Gulnara fashion show episode that got way personal may serve as an example). In addition you keep referring to people that might favor other approaches as members of the “human rights industry”, as if it was Save the Children collecting donations on a child-starvation-porn campaign. Is that just some rhetoric that you picked up somewhere or do you actually think that the staff of HRW, Crisis Group, Amnesty International, the Cotton Campaign and a number of Uzbek human rights organizations are in it only for the money?

So, apart from fundamentally disagreeing with your analysis of the cotton campaign, the general situation in Uzbekistan and what works and what doesn’t in that country – all of which are based on a rather weak body of empirical evidence – I also find the style in which you present your argument here at Registan lacking in terms of tact and respect. My hunch is that the conspiracy theories about whose payroll you are on and the sources of funding for Registan – which btw I personally find totally ridiculous – are less due to the fact that you disagree and more due to how you structure your argument and how you present it.

Metin October 23, 2011 at 3:42 pm

a very pessimistic approach with regards to engagement. Why should engagement not produce results? if done right, it will work for sure. It will work best through economic cooperation – that’s what New Silk project seems to be about.
When you’re barely meeting your ends, you think about survival, not about child labor or democracy. With rising incomes, people are likely to start caring about rights and freedoms – there are lots of empirical evidence for that.
Campaigning for the sake of campaigning is not useful. Engagement is an opportunity for human rights organizations to advance their cause; they should support, not oppose it.

Julqunboy October 28, 2011 at 12:05 pm

“When you’re barely meeting your ends, you think about survival, not about child labor or democracy.”
– Not sure what you refer to. Gov’t budget does not primarily depend on cotton. It is a big chunk of it, but not to the extent of needing it to meet the ends. Population forced to pick cotton also have other ways to meet their ends. Very little percentage of the population really goes to the cottonfields to make some money. Stay assured that kids and prevailing majority of their parents wants them to be in school and not in the cottonfields. So there is really no pick-or-we-perish-alltogether situation.

Metin October 29, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Julqunboy (I like this nick – think famous uzbek writer used it once),
I am not sure how well you are informed about Uzbek economy. In fact, more than 50 of workforce in Uzbekistan is employed in agriculture. Cotton is the main agricultural crop in the country, so lots of families incomes are dependent on cotton.
I would question your assertion that parents would like to see their kids earning money. This is in fact poverty problem, which can be seen in all developing world.
Child labor is not something unique to Uzbekistan. All countries, including the USA, had this phenomenon at certain stage of their development.

Justin October 23, 2011 at 8:41 am

Mr Hamm, perhaps only 23% of Uzbek cotton reaches the West. However the outcry against child labour has served to highlight the many other human rights abuses in that beknighted country. These may have otherwise been obscured by Western political obfuscation.
Mrs Clinton visited Uzbekistan some years ago and should now be very aware of the real situation prevailing and that matters are deteriorating as Karimov and family wield more and more power. Whilst understanding America’s wish to secure safe corridors to Afghanistan enabling it to proscribe their futile war this does not justify turning a blind eye to what is going on and how the people’s liberties are being heavily curtailed. I am sure that the SNB would love to know who I am as they now appear to be operating in other countries.

Nathan Hamm October 23, 2011 at 9:04 am

Obscured? Get real. It’s easy enough to find this stuff out. Hell, the State Department publishes nice summaries every year. And maybe I’m showing my age, but I remember a time when those other human rights abuses were far more well known and child labor was given second billing.

I disagree that this relationship involves the US turning a blind eye to abuses in the country. Maybe you meant they’re not fixing them. Again, “what is to be done?” is the question I’m asking. Awareness campaigns and criticism are all well and good, but how can we actually begin to remedy the abuses there?

Justin October 23, 2011 at 11:06 am

Thanks for that. But the State Department is definitely not getting or publishing the full details of what is really going on. Yes I agree when the Brit Ambo was making a great deal of noise about boiled bodies and other atrocities it did hit the headlines. However after the Andijan slaughter little has been heard so bringing back the situation through cotton is no bad thing. The only way that anything will be remedied is possibly by a Central asia Spring.

Nathan Hamm October 23, 2011 at 11:32 am

Little has been heard in the Western press at least. There has been reporting throughout. The DoS reporting is OK for high-level overview stuff, not for the details. That has been harder to find all in one place since 2005, you’re right.

Metin October 23, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Boycotting cotton is not economically sound approach – if you do not buy others will do. Western companies know this well. They do gladly participate in such PR campaign, as they did not source cotton from Uzbekistan in the past and are unlikely to do so in the future. Moreover, making such pledges means very little – monitoring boycott is almost impossible.

Julqunboy October 28, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Disagree. It is a sound approach. I worked for a biggest textile Co. in Uzb. One of our clients was Fruit of the Loom, a major provider of textile products for Walmart. After Walmart issued a statement saying it is not buying products produces in Uzb, the Co. had substantial losses. H&R was buying textile products that used Uzbek cotton too. As you can see, both companies had sth to lose. But the bigger losers were Uzbek Co’s.
Monitoring is possible. Nearly all major companies that sell textile merchandise like H&M, Banana Republic, GAP have transparent records on the cotton’s country of origin. It might get difficult sometimes, but surely not at the level of impossibility.

Nathan October 28, 2011 at 12:19 pm

I agree that it’s possible. It seems like it’s just something not worked out yet. It’s been done for precious stones and wood products, so it has to be possible for cotton.

Metin October 29, 2011 at 4:36 pm

boycotting is not economically sound – it adds up costs and reduces competitiveness. In order boycott to be effective it needs to applied by all countries, which is practically impossible.
The case you referred, if it is true, demonstrates that boycott campaign lead to inefficiencies and losses for both exporters and importers. Though I would not agree with you on who was ‘bigger’ loser. Textiles are rather liquid products and H&M and Fruit of the loom aren’t irreplaceable.

Dilshod October 23, 2011 at 9:43 pm

That’s a good discussion, I like it. Cornelius ofers quite a cynical interpretion, yet done by heart, Nath retracts – and this is usually what may happen when no heart stands behind arguments.
Let me tell few words, I am not n outsider, nor am I government affiliated person. Am an average Uzbek with some skills in English. Believe me or not, but the situation with human rights IS improving. And I put my credibility behind this totally and unreservedly. People have become more active in using remedies provided by laws. When they feel officials are violating their rights, they are fast in submitting complaints to law enforcement nd/or executive agencies. From the other hand , the gov’t is vigorously controlling civil servants, as a result , many now prefer to quit their jobs voluntarily once they reach pension age and to refrain from career promotions, as higher you get, the shakier is your chair. The main problem currently as seen personally is about the legal area, laws are way too technical and complicated, especially because bylaws of the executive agencies tend to ease their own job and compicate life of citizens. These days things change too fast and the gov’t needs to understand it and make laws simple , convenient and let courts to have some some say in interpreting them. They are way complicating things. Ladies and gentlemen, please do not fall down form chairs – I am writing these not to win over better US poilicies, (in fact, I couldn’t care less about it, as eventually I think we could have been better off with getting closer with Russia 🙂 And yes, engagement helped littlem but that was exactly that “little” that was missing and needed to make a step forward. It didn’t change lives of people immediately and instantly but it laid the foundations for better future of the people. Main issue (and here is the source of our disagreement over policies and strategies) is how soon we may expect big changes, but big changes are no guarantee of freer and more democratic society, KG are lately too much pre-occuppied with big changes and keep practices of ethnic cleansing – and no one is making a big fuss out of it – we all re looking at cotton harvest. Anyway, it’s always a pleasure to have discussions like this.

Julqunboy October 28, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Dilshod, you seem to have good connections in the prosecutor’s office if you do believe that “When they feel officials are violating their rights, they are fast in submitting complaints to law enforcement nd/or executive agencies.” Do you really think those who do not want to be a part of slavework in the cottonfields complain to the court of law or to the prosecutor’s office arguing that their fundamental freedoms are being blatantly violated? There is not single normative act that even indirectly hints to the school director’s power to force schoolboys to live in the cottonfields. What law and remedies are you talking about?!
No one is pushing for big changes. Stopping child labor is not all-or-nothing question for Uzb’s existence. Pay what is due for such work and that’s it.

Kzblog October 24, 2011 at 7:54 am

I don’t know if the Uzbekistan government and people are wired the same as Kazakhstan, but I do know that if the Gap were buying Kazakhstan cotton, for example, it would be headline news and further proof that the President is a god among men. But if Russia Cotton Factory #3 were the buyer, not so much. So a boycott can take away the prestige factor. And it can also raise awareness. Maybe the boycotters can start shaming Russian companies to stop buying Uzbek cotton.

That being said, no boycott is going to lead to revolution and in general there’s never been a good mechanism for stopping human rights violations in another country. I suppose bolstering the UN would be the only long term solution.

Dilshod October 28, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Julquboy, in re to your “analytical” comment (which btw I like, it’s a typical ad hominem), no it’s not prosecutor office, it’s my experience told me. Secundo, I was talking about general picture, cotton issue is a fraction. I wholeheartedly support they must be duly paid. But it is not “all-powerful-bloody-dictator” Mr Karimov who can do it. Local actors have strog interest in status quo. And as their busisses are not in and with the West, you can do nothig about it. As soon as we find ways to work with the local actors we may seriously address the problem.

Julqunboy October 31, 2011 at 3:23 pm

I would ignore AH comment. Please revise your knowledge. But… If your experience tells that people are more knowledge about legal remedies and thus “[w]hen they feel officials are violating their rights, they are fast in submitting complaints to law enforcement,” where are the results of those legal proceedings?! There are no results. No one in fact appeals to legal mechanisms because it is not private businesses, but bloody officials who stand behind all violations in the cottonfields. And let this be a reminder to your “experience” that private businesses are involved in cotton’s post-harvest production, whereas government deals with the harvesting as such. That’s where the childlabor is involved.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick November 7, 2011 at 10:45 pm

This was all well known long before Joanna Lillis’ piece, and there’d be no reason to label her anything merely for writing about the actual state of affairs: that Russia has always bought most of Uzbekistan’s cotton, and that this year, Tashkent only increased its sales — and to non-Western companies. So, nu? The purpose of boycotts is not merely to erode Uzbekistan’s sales but first of all to avoid complicity in its use of forced labour. If eventually, this leads to companies even in South Asia refraining from purchases, great, but that’s not likely to happen soon.

For that, the human rights movements of the world would have to get over their reticence and inexperience in lobbying Russia and other post-Soviet countries — and also not be trying to maintain offices in those countries simultaneously. These things take time — and require patience given the regimes you are dealing with. If companies are persuaded not to use Uzbek cotton — or at least to try (we realize it’s hard to check), that’s all part of building “the wall of shame” around Uzbekistan on this issue. Child labour is a disgrace and it’s a feature of state-controlled Soviet-style agriculture that Uzbekistan supposedly “reformed.” Adults are forced to work, too, and can’t sell outside state controls. Taken purely on its own terms, without the Western indignation, the forced child labour isn’t productive and only leads to corruption as numerous people try to buy their way out of the work.

No bank records need to be disclosed — but I think all of you need to do a better job of explaining what on earth motivates you in these hate campaigns lately. Why so protective of Tashkent? Tashkent ignores protests — but they are also at some level sensitive to them, which is why they go through the motions of signing ILO conventions, making commissions and committees and working with UNICEF supposedly to make it just a little bit better. And that’s all worth pushing up the hill.

The West doesn’t need to have leverage on the cotton issue to accomplish something more important: refraining from legitimizing what is bad, and not giving Tashkent that lustre of somehow being in civilized community on this score when it isn’t. That matters to them — again, at some level, as they go overboard to feign they are doing something rather than just ignoring everybody.

The real issue on this campaign now is the European companies that trade with Uzbekistan (but who interestingly didn’t seem to show up at the Tashkent Cotton Fair) that were petitioned recently in the process by the OECD. They said that IF credible information is provided and validated about forced child labour THEN they would refrain from purchasing cotton. For them, only the ILO (not UNICEF) was the validating institution. But this is a vicious circle, because Uzbekistan won’t let the ILO in to inspect (no accident). So again, it’s a matter of trying to persuade UNICEF to do more and companies to look at UNICEF’s reports made to the ILO which are public (and some are now WikiLeaked that weren’t before), and similar exercises. In short boring NGO work which doesn’t have an immediate payoff — and that’s ok.

What’s more troubling is the claim that “Adversarial bilateral relations appear to actually make things worse.” And that’s why I challenge you guys to come clean with your real beef here. Are you saying that human rights protests harm our national security?! I’m not claiming you ARE saying that; I’m claiming that *it’s the logic of your arguments and you need to own that*. Because I’m not seeing any evidence whatsoever that protests of Uzbekistan’s bad behaviour, by governments or NGOs, has the “worsening” effect that you claim. Was claiming that human rights activists are violating the Hippocratic oath the only way you thought you could persuade them on this issue?

Activists there are arrested for what they do on their own, not because they deal with Russia or the US — it can be a factor in their harassment but not the chief reason. And US intervention occasionally mitigates or resolves cases. Engagement didn’t get the influence you claimed — Tashkent didn’t even come to the talks in Istanbul about Afghanistan.

I agree with Cornelius that there really is only evidence that mounting vocal concerns about forced child labor if anything have only forced Uzbekistan to curb some of it, to even claim they are directing it to stop (and go through some motions on this) and to work with UNICEF to mitigate it. So it’s all good. I believe if it hadn’t been for NGO public pressure on this issue, we might have seen UNICEF go on making surveys that yielded pro-government propagand, not real information. But they stopped that.

As for recipes for how these countries change, I don’t know why people behave as if this is such a mystery or such diverse complexity. There is only one thing that ever worked with the Soviet Union (and these countries are all definitely suffering from a hangover of Soviet institutionalized practices): publicity (glasnost) of bad behaviour, refraining from legitimizing repressive regimes, reducing the number of fellow-travellers, and “pressure from below with change from above.” It’s a pretty basic system, like online bullying, something some of you seem to know a lot about it. Relentless pressure, pushing back, exposing, finding sympathizers in the regime, providing moral support to dissidents and victims — that’s all there ever is with this sort of totalitarianism — and yes, it’s powerful, and yes it takes awhile, but that’s how it is.

And Nathan, you are wrong about your cold, hard facts. There are a 100 more things that could be done to show 180 percent more solidarity with the activists of Uzbekistan and even with ordinary people caught in the grindstone. You simply never say why it is we cannot show simple human solidarity with our professional colleagues in this country. Even those of us who do this professionally could be doing this 100 percent more, and of course many others could. Every Sting that you prevent from going to sing for the dictator is a moral victory and one that counts for a lot in trying to create the moral fabric of not only foreign policy but the future of the country involved, Uzbekistan.

Dilshod, even in the Soviet era, people got the courts to work, imagine that. Imagine, my children’s great grandfather, arrested in the fateful year 1937 actually got a circuit-riding prosecutor to spring him because the charges were false (to be sure, he was re-arrested in 1939 and died in the GULAG). So sure, little things can be done in little places in authoritarian countries. They’re all worth doing. But the Kremlin is not your friend on this, although individual Russian NGOs or parliamentarians might be.

Nathan Hamm November 8, 2011 at 8:34 am

Catherine, please write shorter comments. I have a character limit for a reason.

Also, please refrain from strawmen. I said that there is almost nothing to be done from the outside to remedy the situation. I applaud those who stand in solidarity with the oppressed, but in the case of Uzbekistan, it doesn’t seem to be doing much. Please correct me (with empirical evidence even!) if I’m wrong, but the track record of human rights activism in Uzbekistan is about as strong as the track record of technical assistance to the judiciary and police. At least the activism is cheaper.

That’s not to say that I think activism is categorically a waste of time. It has, does, and can work in other cases. Uzbekistan is perniciously different.

I agree with what you say about achieving change in the system, but want to underline that it is mostly a process internal to the society ruled by these systems. You can assert that outsiders are instrumental in these processes, but let’s be honest, there’s as much of an empirical, comparative case for that as there is for the assertion that western technical assistance to security services helps. There’s some evidence for both being at least partially worthwhile, but reasonable people’s mileage will vary.

Catherine, this isn’t a hate campaign and it’s not carrying water for Tashkent. I’d rather we didn’t have to deal with Uzbekistan’s government. On top of the terrible and daily violations of civil and political rights, the Uzbek state routinely violates economic and property rights. It is a government that has shown it would rather not have friends than be told to give at least as much as it gets from its partners.

So, what this is is a talk about policies and policy options. It’s been a theme for the past eight years here that discussions of Central Asia in the west routinely deny reality in various ways. We’ve nailed western governments, especially the US, for denying realities in Central Asia and Afghanistan. And we’ve routinely criticized elements of the human rights community for engaging in policy debates without actually considering political and policy realities.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick November 8, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Nathan,

No, I won’t be doing that because you’re being childish just to annoy. If you have a character limit — and it shows as 5,000 characters available through technological exigency! — then….it should have cut off my comment. It didn’t. Because it wasn’t 5,000 characters. So I will go on writing. If you then ban me for “comments that are too long” (*rolls eyes*), I will merely answer you on my own blog and Twitter and your controlling behaviour only gets more exposure that way, so stop it.

There aren’t any strawmen here, so please stop it with the Boys’ Latin School stuff, too. That, too, is really juvenile. Pro-tip: if you think you see an ad hominem, a slippery slope, a double half Nelson, just answer it anyway, and either it will then evaporate in self-discredit or in fact enable you to see through the scrim of your church-lady rhetorical rules perhaps to some hard truths.

Who cares if you say there is “almost nothing to be done” from the outside? Some of us don’t agree; I don’t agree. There are important signals to send — for example, if Amb. Rupert Joy didn’t go to Gulnara’s gala this year for a reason, to signal displeasure with some of the bad things that have happened, or just to avoid having NGOs bash him and align his government with the good better, that’s all to the good, and it cost him nothing. If Merkel snubs the Uzbeks and leaves him to other ministers — great, Clinton should have done that. As Cornelius just pointed out, it didn’t lead to the Germans being kicked from Termez.

I’m not the one arguing technical assistance to paper over really bad human rights problems that are a problem of the failure to share power and failure to separate powers, not a problem of lack of education and competence. The only reason it’s worth doing is to keep a line open to the security forces to see what their thinking is and try to change it at that level, but police states don’t change from police training, they change from powerful social movements that overthrow them, or force the fathers in the police units to take the sides of their sons and not shoot them. Sanjar’s theorizing about this is a calculated move to try to win favour with certain reform elements in the regime, a project he does out of his own notions and needs, but we don’t need to be bound by it. Torture doesn’t happen merely because discipline is lax at the mid-level; it happens because it isn’t prosecuted and is sanctioned from the highest quarter. We should know that as Americans given our own cases of torture abroad, and we have a system with far more remedies than Uzbekistan.

What I don’t get about you guys here is your high dudgeon about activism as “a waste of time”. What are you, the time budget elves? If somebody “wastes their time,” why don’t you ignore them? Why all the agida? It only leads one to think (the horror!) that in fact you’re up to something else — bullying into silence, shaming into silence, ridiculing into silence because you can’t stand to hear the arguments. /fail.

Societies with this bad a problem of authoritarianism and even totalitarianism in some elements don’t change only from internal movements. They need help from outside, sometimes badly. It’s a balance and it has to reach an equilibrium. There is nothing wrong, politically or pragmatically, with showing solidarity to people who ask for it in the right cause, and even giving them money. The huge allergy to colour revolutions now is misplaced. The problem was never that outside funders spent money; the problem was always that they spent it poorly, inadequately, and didn’t take into account the long-term backlash from really fierce Kremlin-backed siloviki all over the region. That’s all.

Um, yeah, I get it now for the 10th time that you are not on the payroll of Tashkent, or carrying water for Tashkent, but — to borrow another Soviet propaganda trope — you may be pouring water on the mills of Tashkent. And it’s ok to question that. We get it that you care, but you’re cynical. Well, it’s ok to care and not be cynical and try to take action. I don’t get the homily about economic and property rights. Yes, they torture AND they interfere with legitimate business — it’s all of a piece.

I totally genuflect to the royal “we” and the “eight years of discussions” cataloguing denials of reality. Truly I do. But the human rights community hasn’t exactly just been pasting up flyers all those years. It opens offices in the same countries you travel in and lives the life, too. And also considers political and policy realities but don’t take them for the givens you do. The Soviet Union changed; Chile changed; Poland changed; South Africa changed; Uzbekistan, too, can change. Maybe you didn’t live through those changes so they don’t seem real to you. Maybe you think they were Western-backed in some cases and therefore suspect or illusory. But the point is, regimes change all the time, and the allergy to invoking the need to change them as being a horrid thing that only relates you to Bush or Thatcher is ridiculous in the Arab Spring era.

Regimes change! That’s what regimes do, these days. The question is whether you can help that process, and help it be better. And you can, or you can try and then at least assure that your own integrity is kept better intact for the next round with the next bunch.

BTW, I mainly don’t bother with Registan and haven’t for years because you’re so sectarian and snotty here. I don’t mind if you decide to be that way, but being that way *and* trying to squash resistance to it through silly methods of hectoring, lecturing with the Boys’ Latin School stuff and blocking and banning just makes you even *more* sectarian and irrelevant.

Nathan Hamm November 8, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Catherine, the character limit pushes things into moderation. I manually approve the comments. If I didn’t want them here, I’d not approve them.

The long comments kill comments threads. Most everyone seems to be able to make a point within 5,000 characters. If you don’t want to do that, answer me wherever you want. No sweat off my back. Only is here on my little bit of digital private property.

As for the rest of it, no thanks. I don’t have unlimited time. I enjoy engaging on these issues, but even if it’s acrimonious, I would like to feel like I’m getting somewhere. My short experience with you and your well-documented history (of which, yes, we know you are very proud) indicate it’s a waste of time.

But thanks for suggesting you’re one of the folks who’s been slandering me. It’s cute backpedaling to calling me objectively pro-Karimov, but at least it’s some proof.

John Walker November 8, 2011 at 11:53 pm

Yeah Nathan you stuck it to that Second Life Troll!

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick November 9, 2011 at 3:29 am

Nathan,

Let me suggest you change your blogging software to one like many other groups have that counts the character as the person is typing their comment, and simply blocks further typing when they reach the limit — i.e. NYT and RFE/RL have that. Or, alternatively, get over your fears of people posting on the Internet and don’t pre-clear posts but let them go and moderate them after the fact if you see obvious spam or hate speech. Truly, you make work for yourself and annoy others.

Yes, I’m indeed very, very proud of standing up to really nasty, awful hackers in Second Life and prevailing over them. They are mainly permabanned for crashing servers, stealing content, harassing people. I’m not banned. I’ve won many important battles there. I have no idea what your level of knowledge is of Second Life or me, but I imagine some Anonymous type has somehow put a bug in your ear, or you’ve got one of the EFF crowd somehow agitating about me — I have no idea.

I never even heard of you until just a few days ago when I answered the posts here. I don’t recall reading you here even on this blog. So I can’t possibly have “slandered” you and I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. Are you paranoid? And I haven’t called you “objectively pro-Karimov,” either and I can’t imagine what this is “proof” of. In fact, I haven’t called you anything, in fact. (Are all of you guys here prone to hysteria about ad hominem attacks in this fashion?!). Is this some kind of weird game you play here? Are there levels?

I’ve characterized your remarks as cynical and the site as sectarian. They are. Free your mind. The rest will follow.

Nathan November 9, 2011 at 5:10 am

Your capacity for self-parody and hypocrisy is impressive. On dishonesty I’m undecided.

Rest easy. Nobody in the SL or EFF community cares enough about this irrelevant, sectarian blog of which you’ve only just heard but have had enough knowledge over the years to dismiss and now accurately characterize to come tell me anything about you.

I have no hysteria about ad hominem, but I do have problems with people harming my professional reputation and attacking my integrity. My balances on both of these accounts are quite good. Some of the things you’ve said here are nearly identical to attacks on me recently. I’d be an asshole to someone whom I at least owe some human decency to divulge more details. So, if you’re not At all involved, let’s just go back to thinking one another irrelevant

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