Ambassador George A. Krol, a long-time diplomat specializing in Central Asia,has been confirmed as the American ambassador in Tashkent, the Senate Office of the Majority Leader reported. Unlike similar hearings for other envoys and officials, such as for Ambassador Robert E. Patterson, Jr., no video or transcript was made available for the nominations hearing May 17, chaired by Senator John Kerry, held for Ambassador Krol as well as Ambassador Daniel Benjamin Shapiro, later confirmed as ambassador to Israel, and other officials. Although the prepared speech is available, such transcripts are important to see how the candidate answers questions from the Senate on policies regarding security, energy, and human rights, and it is strange that it is missing. Human Rights Watch submitted some concerns in advance of the hearing, and was able to learn the question Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) was able to ask, regarding Uzbekistan’s lack of credibility on human rights, and the need to ensure that “US policy in Uzbekistan is consistent with its public support for the aspirations of democracy activists and peaceful protesters across the Middle East and North Africa.”
Ambassador Krol responded that the US has "severely limited our assistance and cooperation with the Government of Uzbekistan since the 2005 Andijan events and subsequent severe crackdown.” “But concern is not a policy,” he elaborated, vowing that the US will "relentlessly raise individual cases of repression both privately and publicly at all levels of the Uzbekistani government and will seek to identify opportunities to support and expand space for civil society and human rights activists.”
Krol described as a "lesson learned" from the Arab Spring that "a robust and unfettered civil society and free media can provide greater stability and security for Uzbekistan lest popular resentments grow as choices become even more limited for the hugely growing youth sector of Uzbekistan." He added that the US would continue to support "embattled civil society and independent media."
One way in which the US could demonstrate some determination to back up Ambassador Krol’s notion of going beyond just concern is to follow up with the sanctions that should ensue from the annual inclusion of Uzbekistan as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC). The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bi-partisan federal commission, has called on the State Department to include Uzbekistan and avoid the waiver of sanctions that have been issued each year. The US State Department has not yet made the announcement about the CPCs but it is expected soon.
Uzbekistan has fallen into another unenviable list of the “Worst of the Worst” issued by the non-governmental watchdog Freedom House at the UN Council on Human Rights.
"Uzbekistan’s government continued to suppress all political opposition and restrict independent business activity in 2010, and the few remaining civic activists and critical journalists in the country faced prosecution, fines, and lengthy prison terms. Nevertheless, the regime maintained relatively good relations with the United States and Europe as it provided logistical support for NATO operations in Afghanistan," said the report.
On the eve of some critical scrutiny of Uzbekistan’s failure to end the practice of forced child labor at the International Labor Organization’s annual conference, several Uzbek government-organized non-governmental bodies and state ministries issued a statement claiming that large-scale reforms since independence had obviated the need for child labor, that only children age 15 or older were employed in agricultural work and only after school. The Uzbek agencies claimed that reports in the West to the contrary were motivated by the desire to ruin Uzbekistan’s supposedly sterling reputation for the sake of commercial competition. The statement was contradicted by extensive independent reporting in the last harvest season, and recent reports from the fields about child labor used in weeding the fields.
True to form, Uzbekistan began to backslide on a case that has been widely indicated as a “success” for Western intervention, the journalist Abdumalik Boboyev, who was spared jail time for supposedly “defaming the Uzbek people” and handed an $8,000 fine instead. But when Boboyev attempted to get permission to travel to Germany, where he had been invited for a year’s scholarship program, he was denied an exit visa, still required as in the Soviet era. Officials cited his criminal record as the reason.
A controversy surrounding the famous Uzbek singer Ozoda Nursaidova has brought to light the ways in which the Uzbek government apparently controls performers and enlists them in propaganda campaigns, the BBC's Uzbek Service reports. Earlier this month, Nursaidova published a statement on her Internet site claiming that "anti-Karimov officials" had pressured her to get involved in narcotics traffic and to cooperate with religious extremists. The curious story of these unnamed "officials" gained more attention when in an interview with the BBC, she said a sensational film titled “The Spiderweb of Power” would come out exposing these intrigues. BBC listeners who commented on the expose were divided on how to understand her curious claims. Even those who found her statements sincere were still troubled by some aspects of the story. Others felt she was obviously being set up in a propaganda stunt by the regime. A former producer who requested anonymity said that high officials often gain a hold over famous performers, who perform at their weddings, by demanding sexual or other favors from them for the lucrative gigs.
Catherine A. Fitzpatrick compiles the Uzbekistan weekly roundup for EurasiaNet. She is also editor of EurasiaNet's Choihona blog. To subscribe to Uzbekistan News Briefs, a weekly digest of international and regional press, write firstname.lastname@example.org