Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, two of the world's most repressive dictatorships, came under harsh criticism from Western democracies during the latest Universal Periodic Review hearings at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva this week. But likeminded authoritarian regimes came to their defense, praising the two for "progress" at improving their records in recent years.
The Human Rights Council, made up of 47 UN member states, is examining the progress the two Central Asian countries have achieved since their first review in December 2008. Ahead of the hearings, Human Rights Watch called on the council "to expose and denounce the ongoing repression" in both countries and to exert pressure on them to "end abuses."
“The extraordinarily high levels of repression in both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, coupled with their governments’ refusal to acknowledge problems, let alone to address them, underscores the need for a strong, unified message,” said Veronika Szente Goldston, Europe and Central Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch (HRW). “Ashgabat and Tashkent need to hear, loud and clear, just how unacceptable their abusive records are, and what specific changes they need to make.”
An update on the story we brought you earlier regarding a possible bicycle ban in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Authorities, it turns out, are introducing an array of new traffic rules in the city – and not just for bicyclists.
The new regulations extend to cart drivers and those riding livestock.
Lenta.ru reports only those older than 14 will now be allowed to “control bicycles, carrier carts, or drive equine animals and livestock.” In addition, those vehicles must stagger themselves in a way that allows faster transport to pass them; and they may use the sidewalk, so long as pedestrian traffic is not impeded.
Finally, bicyclists may not ride with only one hand on the steering or carry passengers.
(Rest assured: we'll keep you posted on any developing news on bike and livestock-driving rules as they arise.)
I was born in Uzbekistan and emigrated to the United States in 2001, when I was 14. I never expected to return to Central Asia. But after graduating law school, Freedom House offered me an opportunity to work in a country where I could use my Russian-language skills and interest in human rights: Kyrgyzstan.
I jumped at the opportunity, thinking Kyrgyzstan was progressive relative to its neighbors and that my work could serve a purpose. But the Kyrgyz authorities disagreed. Soon after arriving in Kyrgyzstan in October 2011, I was denied a visa extension on the grounds that my stay “lacked purpose.”
Determined, I discovered that I could simply exit and re-enter Kyrgyzstan every 90 days – a perfectly legal, albeit cumbersome process.
My work with Freedom House led me to the south of the country in February 2012. I travelled alongside the Freedom House deputy director and a USAID employee to assess women’s legal rights and to distribute toys to families suffering in the aftermath of ethnic violence in 2010, when over 400 people, mostly minority Uzbeks, died.
These were tense times, when many Kyrgyz bristled at international calls for transparent investigations into the violence, and subsequent trials, which continue to disproportionately target Uzbeks.
I later learned that soon after my trip the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) contacted the US Embassy (I am a US citizen) to inquire. That was disturbing, but the Embassy did not pass details about the MFA’s concerns to me.
Karimov and Putin meet in Moscow (photo: Kremlin.ru)
When Uzbekistan's president, Islam Karimov, visited Moscow earlier this month, was he trying to shore up his relations with the Kremlin at the expense of Washington? That seems to be the expert consensus that is emerging in the wake of the meeting between Karimov and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
Russia's reaction to Karimov's growing ties with the U.S. generally oscillates between two poles: alarmism that Uzbekistan is falling into the Western geopolitical camp, and confidence that Karimov -- who has repeatedly and dramatically shifted his superpower allegiances -- will eventually return to Moscow's fold. On the eve of Karimov's visit, a report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant quoted an alarmist:
The Uzbekistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment on the situation. But Kommersant's sources in the Russian government admit that the situation worries Moscow. "The Uzbek authorities confirm their interest in strengthening military-technical cooperation with Russia, reassuring [Moscow] that there will not be any American military infrastructure on their territory," said Kommersant's source. "But with deliveries of Western weapons and equipment to Uzbekistan will come Western instructors and technicians, and then the establishment of a base is not far away."
And some commentators say that Karimov's goal in coming to Moscow was to assuage such fears. Russian analyst Andrei Grozin told CA-News that "the Uzbek side decided to dispel Russian concern regarding his excessively pro-American position":
A band of crooks in Kazakhstan seems to think that a mine is a terrible thing to waste - but authorities see things differently.
Officials in Kazakhstan have announced they charged “several” people involved in a case of illegal gold mining in the western village of Bestyube in Akmol Province, Russia’s Lenta.ru, is reporting. Another suspect, who appears to have been a co-organizer of the illegal operation, remains on the lam and faces an Interpol warrant. The illegal mining operation is believed to have started in 2012, Lenta.ru reported.
In the course of the investigation, police discovered “at least seven” units of drilling and sifting equipment at several addresses, as well as more than six kilos of ore containing gold materials worth about $265,000, according to Lenta.ru. A separate report distributed by the newskaz.ru website stated that several units of processing equipment were discovered at seven addresses. Neither outlet named the suspects. The ore came from mines belonging to the Kazakh nationalized mining agency, Kazakhaltyn.
Several news outlets also reported a sinister-sounding development: one of the suspects is said to be one of the leaders of Bestobe Jaamat, a Salafi Islamist group. While not illegal in Kazakhstan, the movement, which advocates adherence to a pure form of Islam, is considered radical and “non-traditional.” The newskaz.ru report throws in a mention of unregistered weapons being discovered alongside the ore.
Two Kazakhstani students in the United States are still being held in Boston as American investigators probe their possible connection to Djokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old charged with carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings.
The Boston Globe reported that the two students were taken into custody on April 20 in the city of New Bedford, about 60 miles southwest of Boston, ostensibly on suspicion of violating the terms of their student visas. According an April 23 report distributed by the Kazakhstani news website KTK, one of the student visa violations being cited by US authorities is the two students reportedly skipped “several classes at [their] university.”
A statement issued by Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry said a US-based diplomat from the Central Asian state was in Boston “to work with the US authorities and liaise with the detained students and their families. There are no complaints from our citizens about their physical condition and the treatment by the US law enforcement bodies.”
US investigators have declined to identify the two students. Authorities carried out an extensive search of the students’ apartment on April 20, seeking clues that could shed light on their possible ties to Tsarnaev, who was a student at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, located just a few miles from New Bedford, a coastal city that was a center of the whaling industry in the 19th century.
It's not often that a prime minister of one country announces his citizenship in another country to justify addressing an international body in a language other than his own.
But when the prime minister is Georgia's Bidzina Ivanishvili and the venue is in Europe, what matters is showing you can fit in.
And so, at his April 23 début before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Ivanishvili, "as a citizen of France . . . ," spoke to the European parliamentarians in French before switching into his native Georgian.
If the PACE deputies, who politely applauded his French intro, found his citizenship odd, it did not register.
After a long and bitter fight to regain his Georgian citizenship, Ivanishvili announced in February that he still is not a Georgian citizen. For that reason, he says, he has not, as previously expected, renounced his French citizenship, which, he claims, under Georgian law, allows him to remain prime minister.
Now it could, conceivably, also provide him with a useful PR tool.
Throwing in a little French, heavily accented as it was, may well have been meant to help make a good first impression at the gathering, and add, along with his profession of French citizenship, a slight punch to the pledges that he will keep Georgia on the track to European and trans-Atlantic integration.
Compared to previous years, this April 24 -- the day that commemorates the 1915 destruction of the Ottoman Armenians -- has arrived with few diplomatic problems for Turkey. There were no resolutions in other countries' legislative bodies recognizing the 1915 events as a genocide to fight off and no foreign governments to spar with over the issue.
But could this merely be the calm before the storm? In two years, which will mark the centennial of the 1915 events, Ankara will likely be facing a very different picture, with preparations already being made to use the occasion to, as one Armenian website put it, "take Genocide recognition to a new dimension."
Turkey's policymakers are not unaware of the preparations being made for 2015. In fact, as the Hurriyet Daily News's Barcin Yinanc suggests, they have a careful plan for how to deal with what's coming. From her report:
No one, of course, should expect the Turkish government to remain idle regarding these activities.
U.S. officials have long expressed the hope that its web of military transport lines through Central Asia to Afghanistan, the Northern Distribution Network, would eventually spur non-military trade as well. But what they probably didn't have in mind was that it would help in the transit of Afghanistan's most profitable export: opium. Nevertheless, that's what's happening on the newly built, CENTCOM-brokered railroad between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, according to the United Nations. In a report (pdf), "Misuse of Licit Trade for Opiate Trafficking in Western and Central Asia: A Threat Assessment" by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, one of the key findings is that:
The rail network links a number of dry ports in Central Asia and plays a vital role in the region. In recent years, the Central Asian rail network has been extended to Afghanistan. Since this extension, several important heroin seizures have reportedly taken place along the network, suggesting that traffickers are abusing the lack of efficient law enforcement control along it.
(Yes, the report is from October 2012, but I only just came across it.)
That rail extension to Afghanistan, recall, has been a key project of U.S. military logisticians seeking to make the cargo route through Central Asia in and out of Afghanistan much smoother. As the report notes, "The road and railway link from Termez to Hairatan runs along the northern trade route and is part of the Northern Distribution Network." However, most of the recent drug seizures made on Uzbekistan's rail network have been on trains that originated in Tajikistan, rather than in Afghanistan, the report says:
Brandy means big business in Armenia -- it was the country's second-largest export last year, after the less drinkable copper concentrate -- so recent negotiations with the European Union over what to call the libation could have profound implications.
Yerevan and Brussels are currently negotiating the terms of a Free and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), part of a larger agreement that would help bring Armenia and the EU closer together. As part of the negotiations, Yerevan is asking that the EU allow it to continue marketing its brandy as "cognac," which is the name used to sell the stuff in many parts of the former Soviet Union, which remains the largest market for Armenian brandy. According to European law, the name "cognac" can only be used for brandies that come from the French region of, well, Cognac. Reports the Armenpress website:
“There have certainly been discussions and they still continue. If there is an agreement, we will let you know”, - said the Deputy Minister of Economy [Garegin Melkonya]. Melkonyan stated that all the parts of the negotiations on the Armenia-European Union Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, which had not been finally agreed, would be passed to the next stage.
The Deputy Minister of Economy of the Republic of Armenia Garegin Melkonyan earlier informed that the word “Cognac” was protected by the European Legislation and was registered as a geographical indication. The Armenian side presented the European partners that cognac in Armenia was perceived as a kind of a product.