ALMATY, Kazakhstan ó Human Rights Watch called Wednesday for U.S. Secretary of State Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to oppose military assistance to the authoritarian government of Uzbekistan.
The rights group said in a statement that a bill approved last week in the Senate Appropriations Committee will allow the U.S. to lift restrictions on aid to Uzbekistan imposed since 2004 because of the country’s abysmal human rights record.
While critical of Uzbekistan’s rights record, Washington has tried to rekindle relations as part of efforts to support operations to stabilize Afghanistan, which lies south of the former Soviet nation.
HRW said Clinton should be consistent with her previous criticisms of the Uzbek government.
“We call on you to stand behind your strong past statements regarding human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, including those made on the eve of your visit to Tashkent last December to meet with President Islam Karimov,” the group said in a letter to Clinton also signed by several Uzbek and international rights organizations.
U.S. reliance on Central Asian nations like Uzbekistan for transportation of goods to troops in Afghanistan has increased as the security situation has steadily deteriorated along transportation routes in Pakistan’s unruly tribal regions.
Uzbekistan’s involvement in the Northern Distribution Network, which originates in Eastern Europe and passes through Russia and Kazakhstan into Afghanistan via Uzbekistan, has generated significant revenue for local businesses, which activists say gives the United States leverage to adopt a more robust diplomatic position.
“The U.S. government need not — and should not — provide more concessions and rewards until the Uzbek government meaningfully addresses long-standing U.S. concerns about its human rights record,” HRW said.
The State Department’s 2010 rights report on Uzbekistan cited limited democratic freedoms, instances of torture by security forces, and arbitrary arrests and detention as key areas of concern.
HRW says that more than a dozen rights defenders, as well as several reporters and political activists, are serving jail sentences in Uzbekistan because of their work.
“Torture and ill-treatment are systematic and widespread in pretrial detention and prisons, and the Uzbek government persistently refuses to allow domestic and international non-governmental organizations to operate in the country,” the group said.