Uzbekistan Alliance Highlights

US Human Rights Hypocrisy

by Matthew Riemer

Dissident Voice

January 7, 2003



The United States often cites human rights as its primary motive for action and policy, while always being sure to pay great lip service to the concept whenever it can be used as a secondary justification. After all, human rights are the cornerstone of democratic society, which the U.S. and U.K. claim to be the apotheosis, so its rhetorical inclusion is virtually obligatory in the vacuous canons of the Ari Fleischers of the world.


When the bombing of Afghanistan began, U.S. officials tugged at the heart strings by mentioning the horrible human rights abuses of the Taliban: women forced to live horribly as second class citizens, a destitute to non-existent education system, weekly public executions, and the list went on.


Now, similar songs are being sung of one time ally Saudi Arabia as the merits of "open societies" are expounded upon at great length by editorialists and public officials alike. Amidst the noise, human rights are always conveniently employed as the icing on any argument for "regime change" or "pre-emption." ("Saddam gassed his own people" or "They don't even let women drive.")


However, when a given regime is needed by the U.S. as a dutiful client, human rights are the last thing on the mind of anyone in Washington. Such is the case with Uzbekistan following September 11, 2001.


Almost one year ago, soon after the U.S. opportunistically embraced Uzbek President Islam Karimov for the purpose of securing military facilities in his country, Karimov held a highly suspect referendum installing himself as president for six more years. It should be noted that he had already been the autocratic leader for the previous ten.


Human Rights Watch reported that "On January 27, President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan will hold a referendum to amend the constitution to extend his term of office to 2007. Conditions for the vote fall below basic international standards. The Karimov government allows no free press or independent political opposition to operate in the country. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United States government have declined to send observers to Uzbekistan for the referendum."


This means that, unless the power structure shifts suddenly in Uzbekistan, Karimov will reign for at least 16 years.


Author Ahmed Rashid in his book Jihad: Militant Islam in Central Asia describes the situation in Uzbekistan: "In a series of crackdowns in 1992, 1993, and after 1997, Karimov arrested hundreds of ordinary pious Muslims for alleged links with Islamic fundamentalists, accusing them of being Wahabis, closing down mosques and madrassahs, and forcing mullahs into jail or exile. In 1998, the government passed the infamous Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organization, which established new modes of repression against Muslims. (Other religious organizations were unaffected by the law.) The Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan has published the most authoritative figures for political prisoners, which shows that there were 7,600 political prisoners in the summer 2001."


Rashid then includes several extended quotes from testimonials to a U.S. congressional panel from September 2000 in which witnesses expand upon the various methods of repression employed by Karimov's secret services: indiscriminate arrest, beatings, and torture; denial of medical treatment and legal counsel; extended incarceration in inhospitable conditions; and coerced confessions followed by extrajudicial executions.


Much of this is reflected in a recent United Nations inquiry into the matter. U.N. Special Rapporteur Theo van Boven traveled to Uzbekistan in early December to investigate incidences of torture carried out by the Karimov regime, following a visit by Kofi Annan several weeks previous. His conclusion after two weeks of fairly fettered investigations and interviews was that the Karimov regime is engaging in systematic torture that is resulting in considerable death.


Yet, despite all this, while visiting Uzbekistan in July of 2002, U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill praised Karimov: "I expressed to the President [Karimov] our admiration for the leadership that he has provided during the economic transition giving a very high priority to education and the important human needs of the people of Uzbekistan. It's a great pleasure to have an opportunity to spend time with someone with both a very keen intellect and a deep passion about the improvement of the life of the people of this country."


One might wonder if O'Neill was speaking of the same Karimov. However, should we really be surprised?


To understand why the U.S. chooses whom it does as allies, one must consider the actual intentions of Washington's foreign policy. If intentions are preventing the deaths of innocents, respecting human rights for all no matter what race or religion, and working towards a sustainable global community where peace is more than an expression of one's naiveté, then an alliance with Uzbekistan is hypocritical and regressive. If slowly exerting a savage global dominance both militarily and economically is one's goal, then the repressive Karimov regime makes one of the coziest bedfellows around.


Matthew Riemer has written for years about a myriad of topics, such as: philosophy, religion, psychology, culture, and politics. He studied Russian language and culture for five years and traveled in the former Soviet Union in 1990. He is a columnist and editor with Yellow, where this article first appeared. Matthew lives in the United States, and he encourages your comments: