the Disillusioned kid: Where's Peter Tatchell When You Need Him?
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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Where's Peter Tatchell When You Need Him?

Uzbekistan watchers will recall that the EU announced plans to impose sanctions on Uzbekistan at the start of October. Included in these plans was a visa ban on all those officials implicated in the Andijan massacre, preventing them from entering the EU. At the time I suggested that the parallels with the sanctions targetted against Robert Mugabe's regime didn't exactly fill me with confidence. These too included visa bans, most notably a ban on Mugabe himself, although this doesn't seem to have done much to prevent Robert from visiting Europe on a number of occasions. (Pursued on many of these occasions by human rights activist Peter Tatchell.) Now I hate to say I told you so, but guess what?

According to Reuters and MosNews (via), Uzbekistan’s Interior Minister Zakirjon Almatov - who doesn't just get onto the list of Uzbek officials banned from entry into the EU, but manages to make it all the way to number one - has received a visa for entry into Germany. Although the Uzbek Embassy and International Neuroscience Institute in Hanover have both apparently declined to comment, it appears that Almatov made the journey for treatment on spinal cancer. The visa was issued in October, prior to the ban coming into effect yesterday (November 14), but a German spokesman explained that it had been run past the EU's executive Commission and Britain who hold's the EU's rotating presidency.

Germany claims that the visa was issued on "humanitarian grounds," and indeed the sanctions do allow for exemptions on such grounds. A number of questions still arise though. Firstly what does it say about the state of Uzbekistan's health system if one of its senior ministers feels the need to rush off to Europe for treatment? More worryingly, what interest does the country's elite have in improving that system if they can just fuck off abroad when they feel unwell? (This is hardly a uniquely Uzbek problem; if MPs have private health care and send their little brats to public schools why should we expect them to do anything positive about the NHS or education?) There is also a suggestion that Germany's motivations may not have been as high-minded as their rhetoric. MosNews suggests that the German government had initially refused Almatov a visa, but had relented in the face of threats from Tashkent that they would close down the German military base at Termez near the Uzbek-Afghan border.

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