the Disillusioned kid: Aiding Uzbekistan
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Thursday, July 15, 2004

Aiding Uzbekistan

The possibility that the US might cut off it's aid to Islam Karimov's Uzbek government, responsible for a panoply of human rights abuses, has been floating around since February. Reading today's Times leader one might think that this is exactly what has happened. It states that "America is to freeze its aid to Uzbekistan because of the country's abysmal human rights record." This, it argues, is a good thing because it represents "a clear example of Western willingness to take a tough line, even against a strategic power." All of which would be quite right, were it the case.

In fact, as the paper's article on the story makes clear the US is in fact only cutting the aid by $18 million dollars (£9.7 million). In 2003, according to the State Department website, the US provided the country with $86.1 million. If we assume that the projected aid for 2004 was the same (it may very well have been higher), then even if this is cut is taken entirely from the money provided for "Security & Law Enforcement" (it is the agencies responsible for these areas who stand accused of most of the human rights abuses in the country) that would still leave $12.2 million, quite apart from money going to other areas.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that rather then demonstrating "Western willingness to take a tough line, even against a strategic power", what this shows is that in the face of an increasingly embarrassing alliance with a brutal, dictatorial government a cosmetic alteration in policy will allow the guardians of the truth in the corporate media to declare that we have turned over a new leaf and that all is now well, while the underlying policy continues unchanged. I say embarrassing because the country has increasingly come under the spotlight of human rights organisations (notably Human Rights Watch who are an invaluable source of information on the country) and because of outspoken comments made by renegade British Ambassador Craig Murray.

Interestingly Human Rights Watch come to a different conclusion from me. Rachel Denber, Acting Executive Director Europe and Central Asia Division, noted,
This decision has been long in coming. It shows that the United States takes human rights records seriously and means what it says. Now the United States needs to continue its engagement with the Uzbek government and press for human rights improvements.
It is possible that even a fairly limited cut in aid will have an impact, and it is to be hoped that this is the case, but we will only be able to tell over the long-term. More pressingly they challenge
the European Union to become more vocal on human rights in Uzbekistan, noting that even though the European Union is a majority shareholder of the EBRD [European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which earlier this year decided to limit its investment in the country because of its human rights abuses], there have to date been no known consequences of the EBRD?s April decision on EU-Uzbek relations. The European Union has also proven reluctant to push for concrete progress in human rights by leveraging its Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Uzbekistan, the framework regulating its relationship with the country. Its voice overall in the face of Uzbek government abuses has been disappointingly weak.
Focusing on the role of the US should not let us forget the culpability of our own governments. Britain is a key player in the EU and also has extensive links with Uzbekistan (at the start of 2003, for instance, Uzbekistan was granted an open licence to import weapons from the UK). It remains to be seen what, if any, steps the UK will take following the US lead.

In other news from Uzbekistan, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting reveal that "Uzbek farmers have found themselves an indirect target of the war against terrorism, after a widely-used fertiliser was found to be among the ingredients of explosives used in bombing attacks in Tashkent and Bukhara this spring." As a result of this the government has imposed various restrictions on the sale, transport and supply of the fertiliser. For instance, to transport the fertiliser from warehouses back to their farms farmers must have a police escort. Unfortunately Uzbekistan is 605 agrarian and there are more farmers than policeman. The story would seem to confirm the government's disconnection from reality. Rewriting the whole thing here seems superfluous, but you can read the full report here.

Update 1/8/04: See Mea Culpa

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