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.