Rights Groups Blast UNESCO for Awarding Uzbek President

From Mosnews.com

UNESCO’s decision to award Uzbek President Islam Karimov the “Borobudur” gold medal has caused criticism of several international rights organizations who consider Karimov a gross violator of human rights, Radio Free Europe reports.

UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura personally gave Karimov the award in Tashkent on September 8 for the Uzbek president’s contribution to “strengthening friendship and cooperation between the nations, development of cultural and religious dialogue, and supporting cultural diversity.” Rights organizations have long branded Karimov a gross violator of human rights. They say that any international award to the Uzbek leader is inappropriate and that the UNESCO decision was not only wrong but runs contrary to stated UN policies.

Freedom House and Human Rights Watch are leading the campaign against the UNESCO decision.

Veronika Szente-Goldston, Human Rights Watch’s advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia, expressed her organization’s shock at news of the award in comments to RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service. “We think that this is absolutely scandalous,” she said. “When we first saw the announcement we thought that it must be a bad joke.”

Freedom House joined Human Rights Watch in criticizing UNESCO and the UN agency’s awarding of Karimov.

Alexander Gupman, the senior program manager at Freedom House, said his group was similarly amazed at the UNESCO decision. “Freedom House strongly condemns this decision to reward the dictator Karimov in Uzbekistan who has been part of a massacre of civilians; his regime has been accused of torture as well as other human rights abuses,” he said.

UNESCO introduced this medal in 1983, naming it after the famous Buddhist temple in central Java, Indonesia, that dates from the 8th-9th centuries and was restored with UNESCO help in the 1970s. The Borobudur medals ?- gold, silver, and bronze ?- are given mainly for contributions in preserving cultural heritage sites.