Happy Birthday To Me 166

I am 54 today! That sounds really old, but I can honestly say that I feel as young and hopeful, and my mind feels as open and agile, as when I was twenty. I undoubtedly know a lot more, but I don’t confuse that with wisdom.

I am in a hotel in Ghana and sad to be apart from family today. I have been taking stock a little this morning and my greatest disappointment is that I have not been able to change things in Uzbekistan, or in Western government’s attitude to Uzbekistan.

1.4 million Uzbek children are today working in regime forced labour in the Uzbek cotton fields. They work at physically very tough labour for twelve hours a day in conditions identical to those in which black slave workers suffered in the Southern United States 200 years ago – indeed several US slaveowners would have scrupled at the wholesale use of children as young as eight in the fields, as is done by the Uzbek government. They sleep in barracks on concrete floors, live on weak vegetable soup and drink dirty water from the irrigation ditches.

Of course it is not only children who are forced into the fields, and the system requires extreme compulsion. On October 6 in Kashkadarya 18 year old Navruz Islamov was beaten to death by police for attempting to leave a cotton field when suffering from sunstroke. There are scores more such instances we do not hear about.

I have never felt so outraged as I did two years ago, when a European Commission official told me that the EU would not act on child labour in Uzbekistan as there was “no official evidence” of the preactice, only “rumour”. This year – with the active connivance of EU nation state diplomats in Tashkent, particularly the German Ambassador -the Uzbek Government for the third successive year refused a request from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to visit Uzbekistan to monitor child labour in the cotton harvest. At the same time, the EU says it will not act without this report from the ILO.

This is also the position of the British Government, which has never made a single comment or statement on child labour in Uzbekistan (except by me while Ambassdaor). Indeed the coalition government has never made any statement on human rights in Uzbekistan at all, having no interest in the fate of its 8,000 political prisoners and ever-lengthening list of tortured and killed by the British “ally”, President Karimov.

Cuba has just announced the abolition of exit visas. Uzbekistan is now one of a tiny number of extreme regimes which still locks its people in, retaining the old Soviet exit visa system. The Cameron/Clegg government refuses to raise this with the Uzbek regime.

Britain and the EU are again selling weapons and providing military and secret service training to the Karimov regime, and the UK, US and other NATO countries are negotiating to “Gift” huge amounts of arms and military materiel to Karimov as they withdraw from Afghanistan. Nobody in the West, and particularly in the Western media, appears to have any interest at all in our collusion with the most repressive and corrupr regime in the world.

I won’t have a really happy birthday until Uzbekistan is free. The good news is that I am confident I will have a lot of happy birthdays in a free Uzbekistan in the future.

166 thoughts on “Happy Birthday To Me

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  • Duncan McFarlane

    Mary – and more from Suzanne Nozzel as head of Amnesty USA in March this year, on US arms shipments to Egypt.

    The United States came under fire by rights group Amnesty International on Thursday as a shipment of U.S. weapons and explosives headed towards Egypt’s shoreline….
    The organization also sent a letter to Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, asking her to prevent Egypt from receiving U.S. military aid. …“The United States should not place more weapons in the hands of the Egyptian security forces that have shown ongoing disregard for the rights of the Egyptian people,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director, Amnesty International USA. “It would be flat-out wrong and shameful for the United States to falsely certify that the Egyptian government is protecting human rights – and would send a dangerous signal to waive that certification requirement.”

  • kashmiri

    Two years ago UNICEF estimated only 0.5 million children worked in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields. Yes, the number is high, but there are ongoing efforts of Uzbek authorities to reduce it. Some districts have introduced labour mapping which allowed them to place unemployed workers where demand for labour was highest. See, Craig, it is extremely easy to criticise the country as a whole when being a bystander: if you had to really engage in change process, you will see that managing a country is not like managing an office or even a corporation.

    I am not suggesting Uzbekistan is well managed – it isn’t. But what you promote as “liberating of Uzbekistan” means actually giving it away to international corporate interests: you are very well aware that “democracy” is inherently prone to “hijacking” by those who have more money than ethics.

    Enjoy Ghana, nothing spectacular is going on in UK – David Cameron is haggling with Brussels like a Turkish bazaar trader, just for the mere fun of haggling and with little concept over what can realistically be gained. Else, boredom. Enjoy sunny Ghana!

  • Ben Franklin (Anti-intellectual Colonial American Savage version)


    Expediency is the measure of most Nations. It is easier to critique others when the bar has been set for decades in your own culture. There is barb-wire around most factories in china, but is it to keep people in or prevent others who seek low-wages in the face of starvation?

  • thatcrab

    Hi Ben, relating to the recent discussion of autism i just wonder if this newish link to mercury contamination in corn syrup is of intrest. The reddit comments are typicaly cynical but support the research.

  • Ben Franklin (Anti-intellectual Colonial American Savage version)

    Howdy, Crab.

    Genetically modified produce is creating an even greater threat to us all. As they keep making (ADM) pesticide-resistant strains, they must ramp-up. Now they are using a form of ‘Agent Orange’ to protect the patented strains from pests.

    As for mercury, yes. I believe autism is a marker. The Authoritarian, concerned about liability for government and business in the effort to vaccinate babies against disease, has insisted the form of mercury in Thimerosal is inert. I say bunk. Just as ‘depleted uranium is an oxymoron, the safety of this substance is verklempt.

    It’s primary purpose was economic. It allowed pharms to increase profit by using multiple-dose ampules, which need a preservative, namely Thimerosal. They removed it, putatively, from chilhood immunizations, but still use it in flu shots. I’ll take my chances with the flu.

  • Ben Franklin (Anti-intellectual Colonial American Savage version)

    This guy is on it.

    Gary Hirshberg is the Chairman of Stonyfield Farm, founder of the “Just Label It” campaign, and author of Label It Now: What You Need to Know About Genetically Engineered Foods. Last month, Foodconsumer.org profiled Hirshberg’s support of California Proposition 37. The ballot initiative would require the labeling of genetically engineered food and counts Bill Maher among its supporters.

    Twitter: @Gary_Hirshberg

  • thatcrab

    Hi Ben, at least iirc there has been ~some impact of alarms for the safety of vacines. Heavy metal pollution and even deliberate exposure is a disgrace. And that situation in America where dangerously novel genetic manipulations and accompanying toxic tricks in foodstuffs – do not even need to be labelled, it illustrates blatant disrespect for population health and individual choice and awareness. Yet at the same time it is a far cry from the starvation and poverty maintained for the ever suffering second and third worlds. So i can feel indignant, lucky and very guilty of neglect all at once. phew.

  • thatcrab

    Im miffed at myself for not going to the protests about cuts to public services today. It was nice and sunny too. hmphf.

  • Ben Franklin (Anti-intellectual Colonial American Savage version)

    Don’t be so hard on yourself, Crab. After all, we’re just human beans.

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  • Gaia Hepburn

    Dear Craig, I hope you had a happy birthday. Thanks for this wonderful blog and for all its caring contributors and supporters. Reading this blog makes me feel optimistic. There are still many honest, fearless and compassionate people in this world.

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