Speech To Scottish Independence Convention

THE United Kingdom is not an entity that deserves to exist because it has lost any moral authority it had.

With these words Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador who exposed torture and murder in Uzbekistan, made his case for the break-up the United Kingdom at the Convention’s February plenary.

Tony Blair’s failure to consider the human cost of war has brought us to where we are today, he said, and the only way to right the situation is to split up the UK.

Someone kindly made note of my speech to the Scottish Independence Convention, which is helpful as I don’t use a text. You can find the gist of what I said here.


View with comments

Address to Scottish Independence Convention

I am addressing the plenary of the Scottish Independence Convention at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood on Thursday 4 February at 6.30pm. The subject of my address is

Might is Right: Torture and the Moral Void of UK Foreign Policy Since Robin Cook.

As ever, I won’t have a text, but I expect to cover extraordinary rendition, Iraq and Afghanistan – and why an independent Scotland ought not to maintain a common defence policy and armed forces with the rump United Kingdom.

The meeting is open (and free, I think) but you have to book in with the Scottish Independence Convention. Contact details are here:


View with comments

Speeches and Q & A: Audio online

The London Sound Posse have compiled a series of interviews and speeches by Craig that are available on the A-Infos Radio Project site. Click on the links below to listen or visit their site to download.

A speech at Campacc civil liberties conference

The Q & A from the launch of “Murder in Samarkand” in paperback at Bookmarks

A short speech at the Stop The War People’s Assembly

View with comments

Live in Bologna

As part of the The Premio Alta Qualit’ delle Citta? human rights awards, an event called Lessons of Value (pdf) is taking place at the University of Bologna, in collaboration with the Municipality of Bologna and the Centro San Domenico. The three finalists, David Grossman, Craig Murray, and Laura Perna will be addressing students and citizens on Wednesday 29th November 2006 at 10.30 a.m., University of Bologna, Aula Magna Santa Lucia.

The ceremony for the award will take place on the same day at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna, live on Raisat Extra at 8.30 p.m.

View with comments

Against Islamophobia

A video of Craig’s speech at the recent conference on

‘Islamophobia and the war on terror’ can be viewed here

Over 650 delegates from across Britain, representing dozens of organisations, filled the People’s Assembly on 18 November 2006. The Assembly brought together peace and anti-war groups, trade unions, faith groups, community groups, political parties and other representative organisations. They came to discuss how attacks on Muslims are linked to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how the anti-war movement can counter those attacks.

Further details on the event are available from Stop the War

View with comments

Aznar is gone, Berlusconi is gone, Blair has gone and now Bush must go!

On Monday, October 2nd, more than six hundred people packed into Cooper Union’s Great Hall, New York, for a meeting held by World Can’t Wait [worldcantwait.org], to respond to Bush’s new torture legislation and to mobilize for nation-wide protest on October 5th to Drive Out the Bush Regime.

Craig was one one of several speakers that also included Alice Walker, Mark Ruffalo, Olympia Dukakis, Daniel Ellsberg, Boots Riley, Malachy McCourt, Bill Goodman, Reno, Elmaz Abinader, and a special message from Sean Penn.

An extract from Craig’s speech:

“They revoke our civil rights and patronize Muslims as non-humans so that when they arrest and torture humans we accept this, so that when they tell us habeas corpus is gone we will accept this, so that when they invade Muslim countries to get their oil and gas we will accept this’we are not accepting it anymore! It is the anti-war movement in the United Kingdom that has caused Tony Blair to have to leave office. The architects of this crusade are being driven out. Aznar is gone, Berlusconi is gone, Blair has gone and now Bush must go!”

Click here to hear Craig’s speech (mp3) and go here for full details of the meeting and the other speakers.

View with comments

Craig Murray in Liverpool

A recording of Craig Murray’s talk, organised by Merseyside Stop the War Coalition in Liverpool on the 13th Sept, can be heard here.

“Speaking to a crowd of about 100 Craig held the room for about half an hour, talking about his time as ambassador to Uzbekistan, the use and misuse of intelligence, and the implications of that in the war on terror including WMD, the Ricin free Ricin plot, Forrest Gate and bombs made out of babymilk. All reasons why you should make the effort to get to Manchester for the ‘Time to Go‘ protest at Labour’s conference on Saturday 23rd September.

He also reveals a fondness for Angelina Jollie, that he isn’t a 911 Conspiracy Theorist, MI6’s love of good coffee, and demonstrates what he describes as Scotsmans genetic abilities to go for a pee at just the right moment.”

With thanks to Blairwatch

View with comments

Craig Murray on receiving the Samuel Adams Award

The Samuel Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence is awarded by a panel of former CIA operatives and analysts. Before the award was given Ray McGovern’s read the following citation:

As U.K. Ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2004 Mr. Murray learned that the intelligence authorities of the U.S. and U.K. were receiving and using information extracted by the most sadistic forms of torture. An aside, yesterday evening Jeremy Skahill referred to Thomas Murtant [phonetic], no stranger to this upper West side of New York, and Murtant said that we must identify with those being burned. This was during Vietnam. Mr. Murray decided that as a matter of conscience he had to speak for those being boiled boiled alive in Uzbekistan. This is no exaggeration, there are photos, there are coronary reports, there are documentary pieces of evidence showing this.

Continuing with the citation. Mr. Murray protested strongly to London, to no avail. Mr. Murray stands out as one who did not forfeit his moral compass to his government or to his career, he recognized that civilized society have long since recognized torture

as an intolerable affront to the inherent human right to physical integrity and personal dignity. His strong moral stance got him forced out of the British foreign office, but he has no regrets for there are more important things than career.

We look forward to early publication of his book “Murder in Sumarkund” now banned in Britain. Mr. Murray’s light has pierced a thick cloud of denial and deception. Now hear this, now hear this U.S. government workers and U.K. as well. You who can see a moral imperative in putting truth and justice above government regulations used to hide truth and to promote injustice. Mr. Murray has set a courageous example for those officials of the coalition of the

willing who have first hand knowledge of the inhuman practices involved in the so-called war on terror, but who have not yet been able to find their voice.

Now unlike the Nobel Prize we regret that no monetary award is connected with the Sam Adams award. I’m tempted to say that the rewards for such courage are out of this world literally, but I’ll let that go by. Mr. Murray has been ostracized in the U.K. and he has

no job, but we have something for him that is tangible and the symbolism will not be lost on you. I’m going to ask Ann Wright one of our Sam Adams Associates for integrity and intelligence to present to Craig Murray what we call the Sam Adams Associates corner brightener candlestick for he has certainly shined light in the darkest dungeons of torture in this world.

Craig Murray replies:

“Thank you Ann, and thank you to the associates of Samuel Adams. I’m deeply grateful and deeply touched. I am especially grateful for the candlestick because since I lost my job I can’t afford to pay the electricity bill. I will only say a very few brief words because I am testifying in an hour or so’s time so you will see quite enough of me. But I’m absolutely delighted to receive the award which celebrates a great man, Sam Adams, and which has been received by so many people who in many cases were much braver and more honorable than I.

I would like to say something about the advance of evil and how easily it advances. I genuinely at no stage felt I was doing anything either heroic or exceptional. When I came across cases of people being boiled alive, cases of daughters being raped in front of their fathers, cases of torture of children, and the fact that we were receiving intelligence from those torture sessions, it seemed to me axiomatic that anyone brought up in the United States or the United Kingdom would believe their overriding and only duty was to stop it. And, perhaps naively, when I started trying to stop it internally, I actually believed that this must be the work of renegade people at lower levels and that once senior politicians in the UK and US knew what was happening, they would stop it. I was quickly disillusioned. I

discovered this part of a wider international policy of the use of torture in the pursuit of the war on terror. It was a terrible moment for me. I discovered that the system and the country I’d served my whole life didn’t stand for what I believed it did. And I went to meetings with colleagues of mine. People I had known for over 20 years. Ordinary nice people who were setting down on paper strategies by which what we were doing could be said not to circumvent the UN convention against torture. And I was looking at them thinking, “I know you. I know you. We’ve drunk together. We’ve played golf together. You are setting up justification for torture. How did this

come about?”

This may sound exaggerated. But it isn’t. At that moment I understood how some civil servant ended up writing out the orders for cattle trucks to go to Aushwitz, and felt they were only “doing their job.” And ladies and gentlemen, that is what we face now: the flight toward fascism.

I am delighted to receive the award. Delighted to make the acquaintance of such good people. I find it’s a shame that we have now reached a stage where people like Ray, and Ann, and Scott Ritter, the real patriots who stand for the values that were supposed to underpin the states we live in, the real patriots, are those who are condemned as traitors, and people who dress themselves in flag of patriotism are the real traitors to Western values. Thank you very much indeed.”

View with comments

Craig Murray gives talk to RFE/RL in Washington

On his recent speaking tour of the US Craig Muray spoke to an audience at Radio Free Europe. Their press release is given below.

Uzbekistan’s Human Rights Violations Lead to Increased Isolationism

(Washington, DC–September 29, 2005) Uzbekistan’s increasingly isolated totalitarian government keeps itself in power through massive human rights violations and a system of slave labor, according to an expert on Uzbekistan. Former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray told a recent RFE/RL audience in Washington that “the Uzbek government is not a model of Southeast Asian development; rather, it is much closer to North Korea.”

“Torture,” said Murray “is the tip of totalitarian state control in Uzbekistan.” According to Murray, there are at least 10,000 political prisoners in Uzbekistan and 99 percent of all trials in Uzbekistan result in confessions. Murray, who “fell out” with his government” over policies in Uzbekistan,” claimed that much of the information passed to the British MI-5 and other intelligence agencies is unreliable, because prisoners are tortured and their children and relatives are threatened with torture. “The intelligence is rubbish,” he said, “people who have been tortured will sign up for anything.”

“The Uzbek economy is not reforming,” according to Murray. With “60 percent of the Uzbek population tied to the rural kolkhoz system,” Murray said these “serfs or bonded labor,” particularly on the state cotton farms, assure a cheap labor force for the government while dampening political dissent. An average wage for farm workers is two dollars per month, Murray said, while an Uzbek factory worker earns on average 28 dollars per month and even those are “paid months in arrears, or often in-kind.” According to Murray, “one-third of the population, including children as young as six or seven, are dragooned” to help with the cotton harvest.

Murray also described the Karimov government’s economic stranglehold in Uzbekistan. Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Uzbekistan has “dried up,” Murray said, because foreign investors are treated poorly. Murray said that he thinks Uzbekistan is “looking to Gazprom and the Russian government” as a model of economic development. According to Murray, President Karimov fears that “a little liberalization would lead to independent thought” in Uzbekistan, so the Russian business model is the one most helpful to Karimov. Murray is “not surprised” by the trial of 23 businessmen in Andijon earlier this year, because “the [Uzbek] government can’t stand any private sector to exist outside the control of the [government] party.”

Murray concluded that, until recently, Western governments were “complicit” in the actions of the Uzbek government by permitting “certification [for continued foreign aid].” He urged the international community to apply more pressure on the Uzbek government over its violations of human rights.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

View with comments

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? – Lies, Damn Lies, and the Vengeful Dieting of Eric Cartman.

By Mohammad Ziauddin

This article was written in response to Craig Murray’s speech at SOAS on 20 June 2005

The word ‘tidemark’ now makes my skin crawl. I will not be able to go to the seaside again or clean a bathtub without thinking of boiled human flesh. And, indeed, why should I enjoy that privileged immunity? Bohemian Rhapsody spreads its wings from the jukebox of the Friend at Hand off London’s Russell Square where I am sitting trying to make sense of my notes after the short walk from the Khallili Lecture Theater at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

Craig Murray’s atypically reserved discussion of the situation in Uzbekistan still rings in my ears. Two pretty girls wearing peasant dresses and ethnic accessories sing along in a careless salute to tragedy. What would they make of boiled human flesh this early in the evening?

No. There is no good way of dealing with the realization that the West has sold its soul to a geriatric gimp with a powerful lust for red corpuscles and a face like a tired bar of soap. I am confronted by the reality of it like a singularly depressing body blow. Perhaps a tune by Bryan Adams would better suit this moment of awful clarity? If you listen hard enough you can hear it singing down the wire from some marble palace in Tashkent:

‘Everysing I do, I do eet for zhou”

Islam Karimov loves to bring it on for the greater good. The President of Uzbekistan is not just another ally in the War-on-Terror. Karimov enjoys, if not a practical monopoly, then certainly a cartel position over the information that drives America’s feverish hunt for Osama bin Laden and his network of terrorists.

Like his counterparts in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and other morally-dead autocracies, Karimov dresses up his own repression in the ragged flag of the War-on-Terror. There is no opposition, there are no protestors, there are no dissenters, there are only terrorists by the boatload. The intelligence extracted from these hardcore extremists captured by their security services is the stuff the threat matrices and terror alerts that grab our attention on the six o’clock news are made of. Craig Murray was removed by the Foreign Office as British Ambassador to Uzbekistan in 2004 for simply pointing out that this game is a dangerous scam.

When Murray began his job of defending British interests in Uzbekistan in 2002 one of his first experiences of that country was the witnessing of a trial. An old man was denouncing his nephews for their involvement in al-Qaeda. They had traveled to Afghanistan several times for training, he said. They had met personally with Osama bin Laden. Murray, who recalled that he was sitting only a few feet away from the accuser, could see the man shaking as he read aloud from the statement in his hands. Eventually the man paused in his testimony and then said with a passion that none of what he was reading was true, that the Uzbek security services had tortured his children in front of him until he agreed to read their lies.

Some time after this Murray began receiving suspiciously similar intelligence briefings from MI6, via the CIA and ultimately the Uzbeks. Uzbekistan was, apparently, riddled with al-Qaeda terrorists that had traveled to Afghanistan for training and met personally with Osama bin Laden. Murray’s exact response to this escapes me but I recall it was close to ee cummings’ declaration that, ‘There is some shit I will not eat.’

And so began the saga that led to a six-week stay at St. Thomas’s Psychiatric Hospital and Murray’s ejection from polite society. But polite society is overrated. Standing behind the lectern wearing a blue T-shirt and tan Bermuda shorts Murray seemed more like a man itching to buy an ice-cream from the nearest Mr. Whippie than a former ambassador privy to filthy secrets. But it was a hot day and the facts have a loathsome gravity of their own.

There are 10,000 political prisoners in Uzbekistan according to Murray’s estimate. Human Rights Watch puts the number between 6,000 and 7,000 but their methodology only counts those jailed on ostensibly political charges and not those put away on bogus murder raps and drug charges. But neither of these figures are particularly difficult targets for a legal system that enjoys a ninety-nine percent conviction rate.

In a bid to promote legal transparency the British Department for International Development installed tamperproof electronic court recording systems in Uzbek courtrooms. The American Bar Association was responsible for the implementation of the program and Murray recalled a conversation that went along the lines of:

Craig Murray: So how many trials have you monitored?

American Bar Association: Four thousand.

CM: How many acquittals have you seen?

ABA: None.

CM: Then why are you recording the trials?

ABA: So the information can be used in appeal.

CM: How many appeals have been won?

ABA: None, but’

One might expect their next stop would have been selling the footage to some late night World’s Best Political Show Trials program. There is, after all, an almost limitless supply of footage. People are accused of committing murders that a dozen Uzbeks have already been convicted for. Mass trials throw groups of defendants into buckets of pick and mix crimes, and so on. These are good strategies for a regime with too many dissidents and too little time.

In one case Murray related, a jeweler was identifying the three men who had assaulted him out of a pool of six total defendants. After pointing out the three men with total certainty and some satisfaction he was informed by the judge that he had selected the wrong three men. It was an achievement of such staggering mathematical improbability that just reading about it is liable to bring a person a severe run of bad luck.

But this was of little concern to the judge who ordered the three men he wanted to fit the bill to stand up and then ordered the witness to identify them as his attackers. Craig Murray said that he would have been laughing out loud at the absurdity of the whole thing were the accused not being summarily executed.

‘Uzbekistan is an unreconstructed Soviet State,’ as Murray puts it. And there is much to this statement. Islam Karimov is less post-Soviet President than just the thug who was sitting in the chair when the Soviet Union collapsed. He was appointed Communist Party Secretary of the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan in 1989 and like all officials who had a bone of power grabbed what he could when everything came apart two years later.

In Karimov’s case this happened to be the Republic of Uzbekistan. To celebrate he gave himself 86 percent of the vote in the 1991 election. He was still celebrating in 1995 when he gave himself 91.9 percent of the vote in an election the United States described as, ‘neither free nor fair and offer[ing] Uzbekistan’s voters no real choice.’

But the times they don’t change much, and America’s feeble tap on the wrist of a problem too distant to care about was never going to have any effect. Karimov is, quite literally, in charge of the entire country.

There is no reason why Uzbekistan is so poor, Murray says. It has the world’s eighth largest natural gas reserves. It is the world’s sixth largest producer of gold, the world’s third largest uranium producer and the world’s second largest producer of cotton.

As Martin Raiser, the Head of the World Bank mission to Uzbekistan has optimistically pointed out, ‘With a large population, cheap and educated labor, significant natural resources and a strategic geographic position, Uzbekistan would be a natural centre of gravity for investments and for production in Central Asia.’ Indeed, it would be, but it is not.

The Uzbek economy is controlled by state monopolies that pay the state farms, mines, mills and factories fixed allocations to cover costs. In the case of Khlopkoprom, the state cotton monopoly, this allocation is just three percent of the world price of cotton at which Khlopkoprom sells the cotton.

Sixty percent of the Uzbek population live on state farms and their salary, according to Murray, is two American Dollars per month. This works out to an annual wage of $24. This figure is almost twenty times less than the World Bank estimate of $420 for annual per capita income.

But the World Bank figure is simply total Uzbek national income averaged over the total number of Uzbeks. It cannot account for the kind of skewed distribution that occurs when state monopolies walk off with 97 percent of revenues and call them profit margin. To put the scale of this theft into perspective, agriculture accounted for 35.2 percent of the $9.9 billion Uzbek gross domestic product (GDP) in 2003.

For the multilateral financial institutions such as the World Bank, IMF and the European Reconstruction Bank Uzbekistan’s rosy future hinges on privatization and market liberalization and some vague steps to ‘ensure greater political openness.’ The EBRD, where Martin Raiser was previously Chief Economist, lays down the general direction like a strip of super-generic tarmac:

‘Opening of the economy to effective competition, including through the elimination of discriminatory barriers against foreign trade, improving conditions for entry of domestic businesses and protecting their property rights, acceleration of privatization through the sale of at least a few large enterprises and determined efforts to attract more FDI.’

Murray would not agree with this prescription. For him the cause of Uzbekistan’s arrested development is entirely political and comes in the shape of Islam Karimov. The woefully inefficient and kleptocratic state of the Uzbek economy is not the result of failed attempts to find the best road to the End of History. Instead it is a perfect reflection of Karimov’s rotten and perpetual quest for absolute power and total control.

In this light, Murray argued, the strategies of the multilateral financial institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the EBRD are not only pointless but dangerous. The former ambassador accuses these institutions of failing to confront the Uzbek regime’s serial deception and thus of complicity with Karimov’s brutality.

Murray recalled a conversation with the Uzbek Finance Minister during which the minister told him that the growth rates in every sector of the economy exceeded 10 percent. He concluded with great pride that national economic growth bowled along at an annual rate of 6 percent. The acceptance of such totally bogus Uzbek growth figures by the banks, Murray says, has deflected criticism from Karimov and reduced pressure for change.

This claim prompted a choking guffaw from a well-manicured boy in the second row. By the end of Murray’s talk this cheap snicker had evolved into a full-blown conniption fit that threatened to consume the kid’s very existence:

‘Who are you to say the banks are wrong, they have the statistics and all you are saying is that you’re always right and they’re always wrong. I mean, how can the banks be wrong, they’re the banks and they know how to measure growth, you don’t know how to measure growth”

His petulant whine climbed to such a pitch I was struck by the distinct possibility that a swarm of over-indulged mosquitoes had temporarily come together in human form.

‘I mean, you throw out these figures, percent this, percent that, but you don’t know, you don’t know, how do you know? Did you go out and measure these figures, did you? No, I don’t think you did. I think the banks and the development people know more than you.’

Which is an interesting assertion that demands closer inspection. A UNDP website for Uzbek statistics claims that the private sector grew by 14 percent in 2004 alone to a 35.6 percent share of the economy. Murray had claimed that privatization efforts are a third-rate whitewash. State farms, for example, are ‘privatized’ by leasing part of the farm to a subdivision of the same state farm.

The few farmers who ostensibly do own their own land are told what they must grow, what price they must sell the state at, and what price they must buy their inputs at. This is not exactly free enterprise. Other smallholding farmers without legal title to marginal land halfway up a mountain have been designated the vanguard of the new privatized economy. There are stories of artisans with 12,000 employees. These captains of industry can evidently not get enough of all that cheaper than dirt-cheap labor.

The fact of the matter is that despite a presidential decree to privatize the economy and the na’ve optimism of the banks almost all land is still owned by the state. A fact borne out quite simply by a US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service report on Uzbekistan agricultural production which says exactly that. Owned by the state.

According to the UNDP source the Uzbek economy grew at 7.7 percent in 2004, a slight increase from previous years. An economy that grows at 7 percent a year will double its money in ten years. But despite this stupendously impressive growth figure Uzbek GDP is falling as are salaries and living conditions. But the banks statistics seem to exist independently from any kind of objective reality.

The World Bank, IMF and EBRD figures are more conservative, reporting growth rates between 3.2 and 4.4 percent. Yet the question remains, if the economy is growing why is the country going backwards? The World Bank economic indicators for Uzbekistan put this issue in its squarest terms. The Bank reported that between 1993 and 2003 the economy grew at 3.2 percent. For the same period the Bank states that GDP fell from $13.1 billion to $9.9 billion. This combination is impossible.

But who needs rising salaries when the state will take care of its citizens? Unemployment in Uzbekistan stands at one half of one percent. This is, of course, the official statistic. Murray estimated that the real figure is closer to 30 percent. In some places such as Andijan, he says, it may be as high as 60 percent.

Ah, Andijan, the name that should have the same resonance for the futility of the War-on-Terror that Guernica has for the vicious bankruptcy of fascism. Precipitated by the trial of 23 local businessmen on terrorism charges, the Andijan Massacre of May 2005 occurred against a background of increasing national unrest with the political and economic situation.

Between May 10 and 12 more than 4,000 protestors in their best clothes lined the streets outside the courthouse to say enough to injustice and enough to repression. For a totalitarian state this gathering was more than unprecedented. It encapsulates Nelson Algren’s sense of bewilderment as to why it is always the weakest in society who seem to have the greatest faith in humanity while it is the powerful who best know fear and possession.

Four hundred to six hundred people were killed by the army between May 13 and 16 after they swept through the town to restore order. Rebels had overrun a garrison and prison and had taken over the regional administration building. The Bush Administration was ‘deeply concerned’ about ‘terrorists’ on the loose.

The situation could have neither persisted nor spread, not in a country where Karimov has total and almost personal control over the media. His daughter owns the country’s one cable television company, which she turned off during the massacre. Murray said that he had called friends in Tashkent when the killings where being reported on British news and they had no idea it was happening.

And yet the stand in Andijan prevented those 23 businessmen being milled and processed into highly consumable reports on the vaguely definite Plans of Osama bin Laden. Something that would have led the War on Terror into even weirder territory.

That trial that never was is, in itself, fascinating and speaks volumes for the gross failure of the international financial institutions to have any impact on Uzbekistan beyond giving the Karimov a helping hand.

The dictator’s loathing of free enterprise and the independent power base this can give to any emerging middle class is revealed by his targeting of businessmen. His position and power would be severely threatened by this development, a possibility a beast with as much blood on his hands as Karimov should rightly fear.

Yet the banks insist that economics and politics are distinct spheres and that privatization and market liberalization is not connected in any way with power. Karimov is expected to pursue economic reform because in their minds presidents are supposed to have the interest of the people at heart. The aim of the weak package of political reforms suggested by the banks is merely the enhancement of economic reform rather than any independent political goal.

The reality that the economy is a product of the power structure, as are all economies, is beyond their technocratic ken. Karimov cannot and will not make serious changes unless he one day wakes up with a severe death wish. So the banks push economic reform, Karimov blows smoke in their faces, the banks walk away in a happy liberalized daze. But this is fast becoming a hopeless Hegelian digression and Andijan is still calling’

Murray, quoting from a Human Rights Watch account of the massacre, said that the wounded were left in the street and denied medical attention. Anyone who went to help them was shot. Anyone who moved was shot. When the soldiers eventually walked down the street they shot everyone who was still alive.

There are also at least two large groups of wounded from the massacre that have simply disappeared, Murray said. Three doctors were also killed when an ambulance was shot up by soldiers.

It is barely on the far edge of reality, Murray said, that Karimov did not order the lethal break up of the demonstration on May 13. But he added that it is wholly inconceivable that in a totalitarian state as efficient as Uzbekistan that Karimov did not order the continuation of violence over the following days.

After the massacre Scott McClellan, the fat and smug White House Press Secretary, called for calm and restraint on both sides. Less than a week before Bush had been in nearby Georgia praising its people’s establishment of democracy. And a few months prior to that he had been championing Ukraine’s so-called Orange Revolution and another victory of democracy over tyranny.

But Bush offered no support to the democratic rebels in Andijan. It is unclear whether the situation in Uzbekistan stuck in his craw or whether his mind was simply incapable of registering his own grotesque hypocrisy. The protestors were misbehaving, Bush said, and had to follow The Due Course of Law. Yes, follow the law that leads straight to the gallows via a 99 percent conviction rate. It is a fair bet, though, that Karimov improved his average after Andijan.

But what does Karimov care about any of this? After September 11 he signed up for a bumper order of Alliance: the new White House fragrance for the murderous dictator who has everything but the love of his own people.

Uzbekistan’s jails are deep, dark holes for all those terror suspects we would rather not dirty our hands with. When Murray first brought up his reservations over the quality of the intelligence being produced by the Uzbek security services and used in our War on Terror he was summoned back to London for a pep talk by Michael Wood, the Foreign Office legal adviser.

Wood told him that by his reading of the Convention on Human Rights it was not illegal for Britain to use intelligence extracted through torture if Britain had no knowledge of that torture and no part in that same torture. That rationalization will be cold comfort to Mrs. Avazov.

Her son’s body was delivered to her in a sealed coffin by the Security Services after he had been pulled in for a chat. The goons delivering the casket muttered about falling down the stairs or running with scissors before driving away in their truck. Mrs. Avazov secretly opened the coffin ‘ a crime punishable by hard-labor ‘ to discover how her son had been killed. She took photographs and sent them to Craig Murray who was by that time developing a troublesome reputation as a champion of human rights.

Murray didn’t know what to make of the photographs so he sent them on to a pathologist in Glasgow. The pathologist’s report concluded that all Mr. Avazov’s fingernails had been ripped out. That he had been heavily beaten with special attention given to his head. And finally that he had been boiled to death.

The pathologist could tell that the body had been immersed in boiling liquid and not merely splashed with it because there was a visible tidemark across the top of the chest. So there you have it’

Where does take us? Uzbeks hate Karimov. But because of his monumental repression the only kind of opposition groups that the disaffected are likely to encounter will be radical Islamic ones. As what could pass for a moderate opposition fails to have any impact on the suffering of the people it will lose support as extreme options become more appealing. The notion that there could be pro-Western opposition, Murray says, does not exist.

The former ambassador lamented that he could not hold it against any Uzbek who took up arms. The situation which is forced upon them by Karimov with the material support of the United States and Britain is impossible and inhuman.

But what is the value of intelligence tortured out of farm-boys and small-businessmen? How can the testimony of an old man ruthlessly compelled to denounce his own nephews be useful in the fight against al Qaeda? And where are the thousands of al-Qaeda-in-Europe that Karimov’s security apparatus assures us will begin destroying our civilization at any moment? It is all utterly fraudulent yet the CIA and MI6 describe the material as prime grade stuff and it forms the rotten heart of the War on Terror.

If this mind-bendingly stupid system of ‘intelligence’ gathering were terminated right now our intelligence would be no worse and certainly a damn sight more accurate. The massive downside is, of course, that we would all feel incomplete without the terror alerts and pundits yammering about Imminent Destruction and Total Enemies. So this perverse situation of unreality persists, twisting and simplifying the real nature of the threat. And not just in Uzbekistan but also in Saudi Arabia and Egypt and all tin-pot, third-rate US-allied regimes where suspects have been extraordinarily rendered.

But of course US policy in Uzbekistan isn’t just about the War-on-Terror. Murray had started his talk by reading a letter written by Ken Lay, the former CEO of the former energy trading company Enron, to George W. Bush, then Governor of Texas. Enron, headquartered in Texas, had just opened an office in Tashkent and was looking for George to strike up some good relations between Uzbekistan and Texas for the corporate good.

Enron had made a business out of screwing people before its spectacular implosion in 2002. The company single-handedly caused the California blackouts of 2000 by switching off power stations. It then turned round and claimed the market was too heavily regulated, that the red tape protecting consumers was hopelessly inefficient and had to go.

Never let it be said that there are problem’s like that in Karimov’s Uzbekistan. Long story short the dictator is Bush’s kind-a-guy. He knows how to get things done.

Murray quipped that the letter shows just what Bush’s priorities are when he thinks of Uzbekistan. US policy toward the country makes no sense in terms of justice but it does make perfect sense in terms the region’s oil, he says. And it is far easier to deal with a savage and irredeemable dictator than to take a chance on a real democracy.

For good measure the United States has also acquired a massive airbase in Uzbekistan. It is one of the many ‘Lilly-pads’ that sit in a menacing ring around the broader oil-rich Middle East and can be rapidly expanded to project massive force onto any joker. But though ‘American’ oil is safe these policies make a blaring mockery of even a half-hearted attempt to define what the US is hamfistedly doing in the Middle East as spreading freedom.

As I left the auditorium with these thoughts reeling through my mind the kid’s sawing whine started up behind me. Out of sight but in my mind like a splinter, I imagined that if I turned around I would see a morbidly obese two-dimensional eight year old with a red jacket and a baby-blue beanie hat.

‘How does he know Saudi Arabia and Egypt torture people?’ He demanded from his unfortunate friend. ‘I’ll tell you, he doesn’t. He’s saying knows everything. But has he been tortured there? I don’t think so, so how can he tell me that they torture people. He doesn’t know anything”

Just like Eric Cartman. That same victimized ego propped up on the scaffold of its own delusional self-concept. ‘I’m not fat, I’m big-boned.’ Indeed. He followed some distance behind me sounding ever more like something nasty and electric. As he whirred his solipsistic retreat into denial I was reminded of something that the Saudi dissident author Abdelrahman Munif had said when asked why he had given the name Cities of Salt to his novel about oil exploration in the kingdom.

‘Cities of Salt means cities that offer no sustainable existence,’ he had said. ‘When the waters come in, the first waves will dissolve the salt and reduce these great glass cities to dust’ It is possible to foresee the downfall of cities that are inhuman.’

That is wisdom for Bush and Blair just as surely as it spells Karimov’s ultimate end.

View with comments

A Bastard but Our Bastard: British Policy in Central Asia

Transcript of a Speech given by Craig Murray at the Policy Exchange 28.6.05.

Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan

I will take quite a lot of background as read. If I can recommend to you my website, www.craigmurray.co.uk, you can bore yourself rigid with longer speeches of mine if you so desire, and find a lot more background.

But I’ll concentrate this evening on the remit I was given – what the West has done wrong, in my view, what we should be doing to put it right. I’ll start off with just a couple of facts. The first one comes from Human Rights Watch’s report on the Andijan massacre, which I’d recommend to you. They interviewed over fifty eye-witnesses; it’s a very good report. And it wasn’t just that the crowds were fired on, and fired on continually, and chased and fired on as they ran, on the May 13th, but afterwards Babur Square, where the main massacre happened, was sealed and the wounded were left lying, left overnight with no care, no attention, no medical treatment. And the next morning troops walked through the wounded finishing them off with shots to the head.

To anyone who knows Uzbekistan it is conceivable, though extremely unlikely, that troops could have opened fire on the 13th due to some situation that developed and got out of control locally. But it is completely inconceivable that twenty-four hours later troops would be walking through the streets shooting people without having authority right from the top of what is an extremely efficient totalitarian dictatorship.

I’ll give you another interesting fact. One of the Uzbek opposition leaders, a gentleman who’s in exile, Muhammed Salih, fought the only vaguely democratic election that President Karimov has ever faced when he opposed him in the presidential election in, I think, ’92. It wasn’t a very democratic election. The media was 100% government controlled. Salih had no access and no coverage except complete vilifications. His supporters were subject to violence and arrest and the polls were rigged in every conceivable way. He still officially got about 15% of the vote, which was quite extraordinary in the circumstances. He now lives in exile in Germany.

Last August when I was still British Ambassador I suggested that we invited him to the Foreign Office to perhaps meet a junior minister or senior officials. My suggestion was greeted with stunned horror in the Foreign Office, where I was told – Did I not know that he’d been convicted of terrorism? I said, ‘nobody, but nobody, believes Muhammed Salih is a terrorist. It’s a propaganda conviction.’ The Foreign Office checked with its research analysts, who confirmed that absolutely nobody thinks Muhammed Salih is a terrorist. I was then told that OK, he may not be a terrorist but he has been convicted of terrorism and therefore it would be awful insulting to President Karimov, were we to speak to him. And I was also told off for having even suggested it, and Muhammed Salih was not invited to meet anyone in the Foreign Office.

Subsequently last autumn, PEN, the campaign group for imprisoned writers, and the BBC World Service, invited Muhammed Salih to the UK anyway, and the government refused him a visa. They did so on the grounds that he might seek to illegally immigrate here. The facts are that he already has political asylum in Germany, he lives in Germany with his family, he speaks German and he doesn’t speak English – but it was plainly just not on to have anyone from the democratic Uzbek opposition walking around the streets of London, because it might upset our dear friend Mr Karimov. And to my knowledge still to this day, certainly since September 11th 2001, neither ministers nor senior officials in the Foreign Office have met anyone from the Uzbek opposition.

This is not typical of the way the Foreign Office works. The Foreign Office is usually very open to meeting democratic opposition figures from dictatorial states. And I give it to you as an example of the way the Foreign Office’s attitude, the British Government’s attitude to Uzbekistan does not stand up anywhere near official British Government policy on democracy and human rights.

The situation in Uzbekistan is dire. There is, I think, general agreement among academic authorities, that poverty is increasing, that the major drive behind events in Andijan, the major cause of the unrest, the reason taxi drivers are so grumbley, is that people have declining access to household goods and declining diet and yet the West fails to stand up to the reality of the situation. The IMF and the World Bank still now, today, will tell you that the economic growth rate in Uzbekistan this year is 4.4%. The IMF and the World Bank have given a positive growth rate for Uzbekistan every year since 1993 – for most of which time, and certainly for the last ten of those years, the economy has been in headlong decline. Interestingly, if you look another lot of World Bank figures they tell you that in 2003 total Uzbek GDP was $9.9 billion whereas in 1993 it was it was $13.1 billion. Which means that it had declined by 30% in the ten year period during which it had increased every year.

This is absolutely typical of the failure of the West to tackle or even acknowledge what is happening in Uzbekistan. When the Uzbek government say to the IMF delegation ‘our automotive production is up by 12%, our oil and gas production is up by 25%, our agricultural production is up by 17%’, the IMF don’t say ‘you’re lying,’ which would be the honest response. They say ‘oh yes, hmm.’ And they hum and hah and they negotiate a bit, which is much more than the UN do.

The UN this year will give you just the official Uzbek government figure, which is of economic growth of 8.9%. You’ll find that on the UNDP website. The IMF, to be fair to them, don’t agree with that. They just accept a figure, after a little bit of negotiation, that somewhere in between the truth and the Uzbek government figure – but a lot closer to the Uzbek government figure than the truth. So we have this paradise, where people are enjoying much better rates of economic growth then any of the developed world, but where at the same time everyone is getting poorer and the West doesn’t face the fact.

The same is true of our approach to the internal situation. ‘Muhammed Salih is a terrorist, so we don’t meet him.’ ‘He’s not a terrorist.’ ‘Well, OK, maybe.’ In March of 2004 there were – and you’ll find this reported in pretty well every authority including academic authorities – there were a series of suicide bombings in Tashkent. Each one, according to the Procurator General of Uzbekistan – speaking at a press conference to which the diplomatic corps and the media were invited – each one was committed using a suicide belt containing an equivalent of 2 kilos of TNT; and in each about thirty or forty people were killed.

There are some difficulties with this. I got myself to the site of each of the blasts within hours, and in one case within forty minutes, of the blast going off. One of them took place in an enclosed courtyard not that much bigger than this room. It had a tree in the middle, buildings round, and not a pane of glass was shattered, and not a twig was torn from the tree. Apparently six policemen had just died there in a bomb blast.

At one of the other places there was supposed to have been a car bomb. I was there within two hours. No sign of any blast whatsoever.

The facts did not in the least bit relate to the stories. I reported this back to London, who didn’t want to know this. It was much more convenient that it was Al Qaeda and this came, very conveniently actually, one week before Colin Powell had to make his determination on whether Uzbekistan met the Human Rights criteria for continued UN aid.

But much more interestingly we had intelligence material. We had telephone intercepts. Satellite telephone calls from known senior Al Qaeda officers in the Middle East and in Pakistan – and incidentally if anyone thinks I’m revealing a secret and they don’t know their phones are tapped, they must be extremely na?ve people. And they were saying to each other ‘what the hell is happening in Tashkent? Bombs are going off in Tashkent. Does anyone know what’s happening?’ This was Al Queda talking to each other. These were actually NSA American security intercepts.

Despite that, the next day Colin Powell stands up and says ‘Al Qaeda have launched a dastardly attack on our great ally, President Karimov. We must give more support to Uzbekistan.’ And he knew he was lying. That’s what I’m telling you. We knew that intelligence wasn’t true, because we knew Al Qaeda didn’t know what was happening in Tashkent.

The truth is that the West has got itself into bed with an absolutely appalling dictatorship, and a dictatorship which is not going to reform.

I’d only been in Tashkent for a very few weeks when I attended the opening of Freedom House in Uzbekistan. The American Ambassador got up and welcomed the abolition of censorship and welcomed the increase in private ownership of enterprises and welcomed something else, and none of those things had happened at all. They were all entirely fictitious. They were simply untrue; they were lies. I got up and I said Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy, neither is it moving in the direction of a democracy; a fact which was actually self-evidently true but contradicted everything the American Ambassador had just said. And this capacity for delusion on the part of the West has to be tackled.

You’ll see for example claims from Uzbekistan that now 35% of GDP is in the private sector. Completely untrue. Claims about the privatisation of farming. They’re based on the sub-division of state farms into smaller state farm units, which are simply accounting transactions which actually aren’t setting up any kind of market and have no effect whatsoever. The truth is that Uzbekistan is still a country where sixty percent of the population live on state farms, on kolkhozy, where they can’t leave the farm. It’s a country which maintains not just exit visas but internal movement visas. It’s a country where you can’t go five miles on any road in the country without encountering a police road check. If you’re born on the farm you’ll die on the farm in most cases. It’s a country where an enslaved population suffers at the hand of an entirely rapacious government that has no intention of reforming: no intention of reforming.

And so far, because we decided post September 11th that Karimov was our great ally in the region against Islamic fundamentalism, we’ve maintained our support on the basis of deluding ourselves that he is reforming, that he is changing. If you’re going to continue to maintain, as this government does, that its policy is one of constructive engagement – which it calls now ‘critical engagement’ in order to avoid comparison with Mrs. Thatcher’s policy towards South Africa – you have to show progress for your critical engagement, and there isn’t any.

There is no free media in Uzbekistan: None. There is no legal opposition in Uzbekistan: None. On 26th December parliamentary elections were held in Uzbekistan in which the opposition parties were not allowed to compete. There is no religious freedom in Uzbekistan. And the last couple of weeks, it’s worth noting, have seen a renewed clampdown on Protestant churches, with a number of new arrests of Protestant ministers, so it’s not only Islamists who suffer. It’s really a disaster.

How do we make it better? Well I would say first of all we face the facts. We face the facts. We face the facts as I’ve outlined them to you. We stop hiding behind this delusion that reform is happening, Karimov is a secret reformist who’s just hidden it very well for the last fifteen years. We stop accepting the propaganda about all opposition being Islamists.

I agree absolutely about the huge potential for violence because there is no opposition, but that’s because we have done nothing to help the opposition. We’ve put all our eggs in the Karimov basket. Just as I couldn’t get Salih a visa to come and talk to our ministers, I couldn’t get any money at all to help Democratic Forum, an opposition grouping which tried to get going last year, bringing together the various democratic opposition elements in Uzbekistan. Neither the Foreign Office nor the US government was in the least bit interested. The sad thing is that this is actually going to lead to Islamic extremism in a country which has had very little of it in the past, because people have no alternative. They’re not given any kind of Western alternative. And it’s a policy which, in itself, will build a hatred of the West, because we are seen as backing and supporting a dictator who is himself hated by his own people. It’s a self-defeating policy on our side.

Let me put it to you bluntly. If someone took my brother and boiled him to death, I know what I’d do. We are creating terrorism ourselves by our foolish refusal to face up to what kind of man Karimov is, and the fact that this is not a government with which you can do business in the normal way. There are creative ways of helping democratic opposition to flourish. For example, in Bishkek [the capital of Kyrgyzstan], the Americans put in a printing press, in order to help encourage free media. No initiatives of that kind have been undertaken in Uzbekistan.

And we also have to look at what it does to international institutions, to allow in them members who simply do not agree with the basic tenets of the organisation. Uzbekistan is a member of the OSCE for example. Uzbekistan believes in none of the fundamental tents of the OSCE. It doesn’t believe in democracy, has no intention of ever becoming a democracy. It doesn’t believe in economic reform. Why is it in? It’s not in Europe anyway. Why is it in? It’s in because it’s part of the former Soviet Union. But how can the OSCE continue to have a member which actually doesn’t hold to the rules of the club or intend to hold to the rules of the club? It’s not a question of how fast it’s moving in the right direction; it’s the fact that if it’s moving in any direction, it’s the wrong direction.

The only institution that has actually faced this squarely is the EBRD – which was forced to do so because it held its AGM in Tashkent in 2003 and completely uniquely, I believe, in its history, decided to limit lending to Uzbekistan on the basis of its poor record on human rights and democracy, in line with article 1 of its charter. For once, the EBRD actually decided to follow its own charter and insist that members stick to the rules or effectively be suspended. And in effect Uzbekistan was suspended.

NATO similarly. Uzbekistan is in the Partnership for Peace. It absolutely sickens me that British troops were last year – and I don’t just mean training for officers, though we do that in the UK for Uzbek officers – British troops were last year training alongside Uzbek troops in Uzbekistan in company strength, in formation, doing NATO P4P peacekeeping exercises. British troops were quite possibly training alongside some of the soldiers who shot wounded people in the head as they lay oh the ground in Andijan.

What signals have we sent to Karimov since? Well, though Karimov has been killing people for years – he’s had lots of practice – he hasn’t generally killed 700 people at once. Today he’ll be thinking that even if you kill 700 opponents at once, nothing bad happens to you, because nothing has. Why do we treat Lukashenko and Mugabe as pariahs, subject to personal travel restrictions, to a range of targeted sanctions, but not Karimov? The answer to this, of course, is an obsession with the Karshi-Khanabad airbase, as one of the most important of Rumsfeld’s ‘lily-pads’ – bases which can be rapidly expanded, and from which massive military force can be quickly projected into any area of what they call the Wider Middle East in the Pentagon – which means the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia, which is of course the great band of oil and gas reserves.

But is it worth the candle? Are we really getting such a benefit? I can tell you for certain that part of American thinking was that if you are looking at contingencies regarding Iran, it would cause enormous difficulty to use bases out of Afghanistan to attack Iran, enormous difficulty in terms of Afghan public opinion, but public opinion had never been a factor that needed to be considered in Uzbekistan.

But this is war on terrorism thinking, this idea that Karimov is on our side, that he’s an ally, that Uzbekistan is an ally, that Uzbekistan is part of the coalition of the willing. I was under instruction to refer to Uzbekistan as an ally every time I spoke in public, whatever I was saying. It didn’t matter what subject, I had to start off ‘We enormously appreciate Uzbekistan’s contribution to the coalition in Iraq; Uzbekistan our great ally in the War on Terror. Now I’m here to open this nursery school’ or whatever. That ‘you’re with us or against us’ thinking, the idea that it doesn’t matter how nasty you are, that the world is divided into two camps, there’s us, the civilised people of the universe, and there’s all those nasty rather damned Muslim people; that thinking, which dominates American policy, is what has driven Western policy towards Uzbekistan, and unless we get out of it we’re going to bring disaster both on the people of Uzbekistan and upon ourselves.

Thank you.

View with comments

“The pathologist also found that his fingernails had been pulled out. That clearly took me a back.”

The following is a transcript of a speech given by former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray at York University on the 24th February. It has been slightly edited for ease of reading.

I’m going to start with a brief anecdote from my career. I was in the

diplomatic service for twenty years after leaving university in 1984. I worked my way up the ranks until I became Ambassador to Uzbekistan in 2002 until October 2004 when I was sacked. It had been a good career up until then. I’d like to tell you something from a slightly earlier period in my career. It may not seem immediately relevant but later on you’ll hopefully understand its relevance.

I was first secretary at the British Embassy in Warsaw in the mid-90’s. I was in charge of the political and economic section of the British embassy in Warsaw. There was another first secretary in the Embassy who officially did a similar job to me, but in fact he was MI6. I had a friend in Warsaw who was a Polish restaurenteur; he owned and ran the best restaurant in Poland at that time. He also ate at a lot of government functions. He was a kind of society figure, he’d be invited to political dinner parties, he was a great gossip and purveyor of political tittle-tattle. His name was Stephan. One day I met Stephan and he told me a story about the then Polish

Prime Minister- Joseph Alexis and I was able to say to Stephan – that’s not true, it didn’t happen- I was there, that isn’t what he said. ‘Alright’ said Stephan.

The next day I was at a different restaurant in Warsaw – that’s what

diplomats do mostly – they sit in restaurants and eat substantial amounts. I was having lunch in another restaurant and I saw Stephan and this other first secretary Tom ensconced at a table on the far side of the room. Low and behold the very next day I received on my desk in its striking bright red cover a piece of MI6 intelligence material containing this story about the Polish Prime Minister. And I wrote on it ‘This is nonsense, this came from Stephan (and I put his full name) – he told me this too. It’s not true, I was there.’ And I sent it back to MI6. The result of this was that I was formally disciplined for having named the source of the information- which

you’re never allowed to do. The fact that the information wasn’t true at all didn’t seem to trouble MI6 in the least. And the sequel is even more interesting.

Two days later I met Stephan again and I said ‘Stephan you told Tom that story didn’t you?’ And he said ‘Yeah.’ And I said ‘but I’d already told you that it wasn’t true’- why did you do that? Stephan smiled and said ‘well he paid me $8000 for it.’ Absolutely true story. It will give you more of an insight into the actual workings of MI6 than James Bond Films ever will. And the relevance of it will perhaps become obvious to you as I carry on with my tale of what happened to me in Uzbekistan. And what I saw in Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan is a pretty dreadful state. It’s immediately North of

Afghanistan. It’s one of those former Soviet Union States “the stans” that people have difficulty telling apart. It’s the largest of them. Its population at 24 million is effectively half the population of central Asia. And Tashkent the capital was the fourth largest city in the Soviet Union. The government is a post-soviet government and the leadership hasn’t changed. Islam Karimov the President was the resident of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic and had been for many years. Its well to understand what happened and how the country got independence.

Most of you are probably too young to recall it but there was an attempt at a coup against Gorbachev while he was President of the Soviet Union. They had tanks outside the Russian Parliament- the white house. There was a big stand off – the parliament building was being fired at by the tanks. Yeltsin famously clambered up on the tanks and talked to the soldiers out of supporting the coup which subsequently collapsed. It was the start of Yeltsin’s rise to power. Karimov and the other heads of the central Asian states who were politburo members supported the hardliners – supported the hardline communist coup against Gorbachev and were most upset when it failed. Very quickly after the Soviet Union fell apart and the reason they

opted for independence was to maintain the soviet system. Plainly Russia was going its own way – Russia was abandoning communism – moving towards market reform and greater political freedom. They didn’t want that- they could actually only maintain the soviet system by seceding which is slightly counter-intuitive but that’s how it happened.

Now it’s very important to understand that because George Bush doesn’t

understand it. Karimov is now the United States’ great friend and ally in the region. And Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney – they’ve all been to visit Uzbekistan. Karimov has been Bush’s guest in the Whitehouse for tea. When then US treasury secretary O’Neil visited in November 2002 he gave a speech which absolutely sums up the American misconception in that he praised Karimov as one of the people who helped destroy the Soviet Union and bring down the evil empire and said he was a freedom fighter alongside Walleca and Havel. Completely wrong, fundamental

misconception of the kind that only an American Neo-conservative could come up with.

The Soviet system has been maintained in that there’s no private ownership of land – all land is still state owned. There’s been very little privatization of industry – and what has been privatized has been privatized into the hands of members of the regime and their families notably into the hands of the daughter of the president. The economy is still very heavily agriculturally based – 60% of the workforce work in agriculture on state farms and agriculture produces about 60% of GDP. Cotton is the biggest single crop – Uzbekistan is the world second largest exporter of cotton.

The cotton is produced on state farms and sold only to state trading

companies – they are the monopoly purchasers. The price the companies pay for the cotton is about 3% of the price of cotton in neighboring Kazackstan where production is private. So that’s a pretty good guide to the market price- it’s about 3% of the market price. The state trading companies then sell it on to international trading companies at the world price- so as you can imagine their profit margin is absolutely incredible. Not only incredible but totally non-transparent – there are no official statistics – you’re not allowed to know revenue is, what expenditure is, where it goes. This of course leads to a tremendous margin for corruption. It’s important

to understand that western trading companies are involved in that


How do you make cotton farms produce cotton so cheaply? Well I visited one farm for example with 12000 hectares and 16000 workers. And the workers are $2 a month which is 7 US Cents per working day. The point is this is slave labour. They still have not only exit visas to prevent the population from escaping the country – they still have internal visas. If you are born on an Uzbek state farm you are there for life. You are not allowed to leave and go to another town. So effectively the system is serfdom. Not only that but

come the cotton harvest which is harvested by hand in scenes reminiscent of the American south 150 years ago, others are conscripted in for no money at all to harvest and particularly all university students and all school pupils have to, without pay, harvest cotton for two or three months in the autumn. University students having to go three whole months and live and work in the cotton fields. They have to pick 80 kilos a day each of cotton.

Schoolchildren as young as seven have to do this – they sleep in the fields, they are hardly fed. And no one is paid for it. This really is slave labour on a massive scale. And there is almost no realization of this in the west.

Sadly there is not a great deal that can be done about it other than try and put pressure on the trading companies. None of us know whether the shirt we are wearing contains Uzbek cotton because while the labeling will tell you where the shirt was manufactured it won’t tell you where the cotton fibres came from. That’s the cotton industry.

Gold is Uzbekistan’s second biggest industry. Uzbekistan is the 6th or 7th largest Gold producer in the world. Again it’s produced by a state combinat also one of the worlds leading producers of Uranium. It does not operate as a company in the sense that we understand it. The companies revenues bear no relation whatsoever to its sales or the price of gold. The company gets an allocation of funds to meet its costs from the ministry of finance with which it pays its meager wages and for its equipment and other costs.

The gold is shipped off to Switzerland to be sold. How much is produced is a state secret. The price at which it’s sold is a state secret. There’s no means of knowing what the revenue was but it’s a hell of a lot more than the ministry of finance allocation to the company. The huge profits are what finance the state budget but also the secrecy of it gives tremendous opportunity for stealing. The gold industry in particular is where the bulk of the President’s personal fortune comes from. And he takes according to sources I believe who are in a position to know he takes 10% of the revenue of the gold industry.

Socially and political Uzbekistan is an efficient totalitarian state with no freedom of assembly, no freedom of speech, absolutely no freedom of the media, no freedom of religion, no opposition is allowed to contest elections. The system runs on informants and secret police and torture. Tashkent is a city of just over 2 million people; one telling fact is that there isn’t a bookshop in Tashkent, not one in the whole of the city. There are a few stalls that sell old books which occasionally get closed down. But there’s no bookshop. Gives you some idea of the poverty of information.

There’s no independent media at all. All information is strictly state

controlled. When 9/11 happened everywhere in the world within a few hours people were seeing that dreadful event on television screens. In Uzbekistan no news of it was permitted at all for 72 hours after the event and you are talking of a country so remote, so cut off, that that kind of news management can work; people just don’t get information.

When I arrived in this country and I’d been there about a fortnight a chap in my political section came and asked if I wanted to go and attend the trial of a dissident. I agreed to go along. The gentleman on trial was a chap called Hudar Begeinov. He along with five others were charged with a series, a charge sheet of about 20 crimes. Not all of them were charged with each of the crimes. It was a kind of pick and mix thing. Some were charged with some of them. Three charged with this one, two charged with that one and so on. They were kept in an Iron cage they looked emaciated, they looked bruised. They were surrounded by 17 armed guards. Throughout the trial they were harangued regularly by the judge.

The atmosphere was just awful; it called to mind for me old television

pictures of Nazi show trials. Two comments of the judge stick in my mind and they were typical of the general anti-Islamic tone of his comments. He said “I’m surprised they found the time to do all these evil things when they had to stop and pray five times a day.” All the court officials laughed in unison. Similarly he said at one stage “How could you understand each other talking when you all have such long beards”.

A jeweler came in who’d been the victim allegedly of an armed robbery. It was alleged that three of the men had robbed him. He was asked to identify the three who had robbed him. I’m not a statistician but the odds against this are extremely high- he managed to choose three of the six who were not charged with robbing him. The judge got very angry at this, read out the names of the three who should have been identified, they stood up and he said “that was the men wasn’t it” the witness said “oh yes” and the judge said “let the record show that they were correctly identified”. I just find it hard to believe I was there.

And then something happened that put the seal on the nature of the event – what it was designed to show us. An old man came in and he was charged, he had signed a statement saying that two of the accused who were nephews of his were associates of Osama Bin Laden, had been to Afghanistan, and met Bin Laden on a regular basis. He was standing there, and he was an old gentleman, frail and bowed, with a very oriental appearance, a long white beard, and a skull cap. And he was standing there while his sentence was given out, mumbling his answers and suddenly he pulled himself erect looked at the judge in the eye and he said “it’s not true- they tortured my children in front of me until I signed this. We are poor farmers, what do we know of Osama Bin Laden? What have I to do with Bin Laden?” He was quickly hustled out by the military. It felt to me that what he was saying was the


At the end of this trial the defendants were all found guilty and some were given death sentences. One of the charges they were involved in was the murder of two policemen. I discovered from Human Rights Watch that a significant number of people 12 or 20 I forget which, had already been convicted of this murder. There was no suggestion that these policemen had been murdered by a mob or that it was a conspiracy. It’s simply that when a real crime occurs, like a murder, the Uzbek government uses that to get rid of a lot of dissidents and they don’t have any trouble. The other people

convicted were not just people in Tashkent- people all round the country had been convicted for this particular murder.

I’ll tell you another fact- in Uzbekistan the conviction rate in trials is over 99%. I know this because DFID had a project of putting recording equipment into courtrooms so there could be an official record. Because one of the problems of the system was that nothing the defense said was ever recorded. Several thousand trials had been conducted, that had been recorded. So I asked how many verdicts of not-guilty were there among these trials- the answer was nil. No one had ever been found not-guilty in any of the trials recorded. I raised this with the Uzbek foreign minister and he said to me “you see our system is perfect” “You have a very bad system – in your country innocent people get accused. In our country the innocent are

never accused, only the guilty are accused. That’s why they are all

convicted.” This of course left me greatly reassured.

The next day I received from the same member of my political section an envelope. He said you might not want to look at these; this is a case that’s come in. I did in the end take the photos out of the envelope. They were photos of a corpse of a gentleman called Avazov. The photos had been brought in by his mother. He was allegedly a member, he probably was, of the Hiz but Tahrir sect- a rather extreme Muslim sect, though not one that promotes violence. Membership of that sect is itself a crime and he had been put into prison where he had been tortured to sign a recantation of his faith this is something prisoners are very regularly tortured to sign. They have to sign a recantation of faith, an oath of loyalty to the president and then give the names of half a dozen or so of their associates. If you do all that you then have a fair chance of getting out of jail through a presidential amnesty. He had been tortured with a view to signing the recantation along with his colleague Mr Abisov. They had refused and had also refused to cease praying five times a day. As a consequence they had been plunged into a vat of boiling water and had died both of them as a result. I didn’t know that at the time, I just saw the photographs of this body in this appalling state; I couldn’t work out what could account for it.

I sent it to the pathology department of the University of Glasgow; there were a lot of photographs. The chief pathologist of the University of Glasgow who is now chief pathologist of the United Kingdom wrote that the only explanation for this was “immersion in boiling water”. He said it was immersion, not splattering or splashing, because there was a clear tide line around the upper torso and upper limbs. It was also clearly the kind of burning caused by boiling liquid not by flame. The pathologist also found that his fingernails had been pulled out. That clearly took me aback.

Once it became known in Uzbekistan that I was interested in such cases

people started coming to my door- both victims and parents of victims and we started to build up a catalogue of these dreadful cases and I can’t give you a precise statistic but of those 99% of people convicted well over 90% confess very often to things they didn’t do at all. And that extraordinary conviction rate and that extraordinary confession rate is based on these appalling forms of torture and this is in no way isolated- the United Nations special rapporteur on torture came in November 2002 and produced a report in which he said the practice of torture in Uzbekistan was “widespread and systemic” throughout the security services.

When you become an ambassador you pay courtesy calls on your counterparts. I went and I called on the French and the German ambassadors and I said to them ‘this is just appalling, I can’t believe the things I’m finding here. I’m completely struck by it’. The French ambassador said ‘Oh well you shouldn’t meet these people if it upsets you’. The German ambassador said ‘of course we all know human rights abuses here are very bad, but of course we also know President Karimov is a very close ally of the United States and

so we have an agreement that we don’t mention it’. I sent a telegram back to London in which I reported he’s said this and said that I presumed that there wasn’t such an agreement in any formal sense and I had no doubt whatsoever that British ministers wouldn’t agree to such a thing and I proposed to start making some speeches and kicking up a fuss about it, which I then did (before they had time to reply).

The call I made on the American ambassador was the most interesting. I said that Human Rights Watch were saying that there were some 7000 political prisoners in Uzbekistan. Now by this stage I had started going round towns and villages talking to people. I was trying on each occasion to get an idea of how many political/religious prisoners had been taken in, in that town. In one town in the Ferghana valley they had lost over 300 people out of a population of about 1500. I was forming a view that actually there were an

awful lot more than 7000 prisoners. Particularly as the 7000 only included those who were imprisoned on ostensibly political or religious grounds. Whereas many thousands more had narcotics or firearms planted on them. It seems remarkable but almost all political dissidents in Uzbekistan appear to sleep with substantial amounts of narcotics in their bedside cabinet which the police invariably “find”.

If you include these people, whom Human Rights Watch don’t like to adopt because officially they have been charged with some crime, the number is more like ten to twelve thousand people in jail in Uzbekistan effectively for their beliefs. The American ambassador said to me ‘well most of them are Muslims’ as thought that explained everything. I said that I didn’t think that seemed like particularly good reason why they should be locked up. He said ‘But they’re extreme Muslims’. I said ‘from what I can see there is very little history of political or terrorist violence in Uzbekistan and

most of these people are not extreme in the sense that they are advocating violence’. What he said to me was ‘We are next door to Afghanistan; we are next door to the Taliban. The kind of society the Taliban impose is itself a form of violence and for example the subjugation of women is itself a form of violence. So if that’s what we are holding back, then some reduction of civil liberties in the interim is no bad thing. To which I replied that there was virtually no history of Taliban type Islamic extremism in Uzbekistan and certainly the people I had been meeting were not Taliban type extremists in any sense. Furthermore even if some of these people did

propound a Muslim based society, with Sharia law and so on, then as long as they were not advocating violence to achieve it then this was a case of’well I detest what you say but I will defend your right to say it.’ I certainly didn’t think there was any excuse at all for throwing them in jail and pulling their fingernails out.

However the Americans were prepared and are prepared to give Karimov a great deal of latitude. To the extent that several hundred million dollars a year in aid goes to Uzbekistan. Since concern has arisen regarding human rights in Uzbekistan the Americans have become much more reluctant to admit the full extent of aid. There is so much coming from different budgets (some of which are hidden) that it is very hard to pin down exactly how much aid Uzbekistan gets from the United States. In December 2002 the US embassy in Uzbekistan put out a press release saying that US aid to Uzbekistan in 2002 was over 500 million dollars. To put that into perspective that is a great deal more than the total aid given by the US to all of West Africa which

shows I think that development isn’t the criteria. Since then they are much more wary, particularly when it comes to the military and security aid of giving an exact figure. It has probably come down a bit – it is probably now somewhere between 300 and 500 million dollars a year going to prop up the Karimov regime.

Now I said to you before that there’s no room for democracy, there was

something of a tradition of parties dating back to the pre-Soviet period. There were two parties in Uzbekistan both of which include distinguished dissidents amongst their membership. Both were banned from contesting December’s parliamentary elections and I very much doubt anyone here knew this, as there’s no way you would, but Uzbekistan held elections on the 26th of December the same day as the Ukraine- both former Soviet republics. In the Uzbek elections opposition parties were not allowed to stand; only parties who supported the President and his program were allowed to stand.

Now we all saw Colin Powell on TV decrying electoral fraud in the Ukraine,talking about the need to spread democracy. The United States said absolutely bugger all about their friend and his rigged election in Uzbekistan, because democracy is not really the agenda. Just as we allegedly went to war with the United States – I thought at the time it was to do with this dodgy dossier of lies on weapons of mass destruction- but apparently it wasn’t that at all- it was to impose democracy. How can we do that their when we are backing one of the worlds most vicious dictators in Uzbekistan at the same time? The answer is of course that there is no logic because democracy in Iraq is an excuse for a war designed to promote the hydro-carbon oil and gas interests in the United States- which is also their interest in Uzbekistan.

America has an airbase in Uzbekistan at which there are officially two

squadrons of the United States Air force – there is plenty more that they will not tell you about. It is defended by several thousand troops; it was used in operations in Afghanistan. It has now become a permanent installation. It’s a vital component in Donald Rumsfeld’s concept of what he calls “lilleypads” surrounding what he calls “the wider Middle East”. This is a series of airbases which the US has access to – the British bases in Cyprus are at the Western end and Uzbekistan is at the eastern end- a series of “lilleypads” whereby America can project military power quickly in any of the oil-rich regions of the Middle East.

Just in the last couple of days the go-ahead has been given for the

construction of the pipeline to Afghanistan which will bring Central Asia’s massive gas reserves out. Uzbekistan while the dominant country in central Asia it does not have the dominant amount of hydro-carbons but in terms of military strength and population it is the dominant regional player and central Asia has enough gas to supply the Western world at present levels of consumption for at least fifty years. So this is all about power play and hydro-carbons and if that power play is best advanced by backing a dictator that’s fine so long as no-one knows about it because no-one in the West does know about it. The number of people in the West who already know the things

I have told you is extremely small. You’re probably the only people in York who know anything about Uzbekistan. The Uzbek’s play their part and help the American justification for what they are doing by saying that they are an integral part in the war on terror. The main way they do this is by providing intelligence material linking the Uzbek opposition to Al-Qaeda.

In November 2002 I was sitting looking through MI6 intelligence material I saw some of which the markings indicated it was a re-release of CIA material passed on from another security service – from the text it was plain that was Uzbek. There were two intelligence reports; one about a threat to Samarqand – a city in Uzbekistan- from Tajik militants in the hills- Islamic militants who were supposedly going to sweep down and attack the city. We happened to know that this just wasn’t true- the defense attach? had been there, we knew the places, there weren’t training camps where it said there were. The second one was talking of the links between some Uzbek opposition group with Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden – it was just the same formula that I had seen before. And I started thinking now has this been got through torture? How did it get here? Where did it come from? So I said to my deputy ‘I want to go back to London and complain about this but I don’t want to make a fool of myself so could you go and see the Americans because it’s possible that they have a protocol in place to make sure that any information passed on by the Uzbek’s doesn’t come from torture. Perhaps Americans have to be present during Uzbek interrogation if the material is to be used by the Americans.’

This of course is before Abu Ghraib when I rather naively felt that having Americans present at the interrogation would prevent people being tortured as opposed to helping to facilitate it. So She went and saw the CIA head of station in Tashkent and said to him’ my boss has been worried that this intelligence might be obtained by torture’ and he said to her ‘well it probably is obtained by torture – we don’t see that as a problem’ She came back and reported to me so I went back to London saying’ This material is nonsense and probably obtained by torture’ London did not actually reply.

I went back in February saying much the same thing and they called me back to a meeting in March 2003 where the foreign office legal advisor Sir Michael Wood said that it was not illegal to obtain or use intelligence material that had been got under torture. If you read the UN convention against torture it didn’t say you couldn’t do it- it said you couldn’t torture people, it said you couldn’t use material obtained by torture in court- it didn’t say that you couldn’t go to someone else who’d tortured someone, get the torture material off him and use it. I think it didn’t say it because it didn’t need to be said. Also he was ignoring article four of

the convention which talks about complicity in torture. Basically if you are regularly obtaining material from a security service that is routinely practicing torture and you have a system of getting that material again and again then you become complicit. The foreign office argues to this day that it’s ok to get the stuff. The official line is ‘we do not torture and we do not instigate torture but it would be irresponsible to ignore material which is relevant to the war on terror.’

If you really push them they’ll say ‘what if the Uzbek’s suddenly gave us information that an airplane was about to crash into Canary Wharf? Would you really want us to ignore the information?’ This of course discounts the fact the information’s all not true anyway. It’s all nonsense. It would be impossible through all that dross to pick out the true bits. I must admit I was completely flabbergasted, again possibly naively. I thought ‘we’re getting this material from people who have been tortured; obviously people in London don’t realize that. When I point it out to them they will want to stop.’

This of course was not the case. At this stage they got very annoyed, they seemed particularly annoyed that I was saying that the intelligence wasn’t any good. I don’t think I helped myself by pointing out that the dossier on Weapons of Mass Destruction was rubbish too. They seemed very fond of intelligence that was rubbish. So they didn’t find that very conciliatory. But it’s a very important point; you have to ask yourself why do the intelligence services like material?

I told you the story of my mate Tom and Stephan; the dossier on weapons of mass destruction which contained 152 articles all of which turned out to be untrue, every bloody single one of them. Almost all of those had come from paying wadges of cash to dodgy informants. Not only that they were getting the information they wanted to hear. They wanted to hear that Saddam Hussein was a terrible threat; they want to hear that the opposition in Uzbekistan are all linked to Al-Qaeda and all want to blow up Canary Wharf. Why? Well if you’re going to be totally cynical you’d say that whether subconsciously or not the truth is the bigger the threat out there the more we need the

security services, the more they need massive budgets and resources and pay increases and toys to play with. And you have to ask ‘who benefits?’ Well they benefit, they benefit. They also benefit government by providing these excuses for Tony Blair to stand up in the house of commons and say ‘because I am responsible for the safety of all the people in the UK we can abolish freedoms that have existed in this country since Magna Carta. They benefit from this edifice of lies, and lies gained through torture. There are people still today in Belmarsh prison who have been in there for three years without charge, without trial. Without even being told what they are accused

of, on the basis of intelligence material.

Now I only saw it in Uzbekistan. If I’d been the ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ambassador in Egypt or in Syria and a number of other countries I would also have been seeing material obtained through torture. Furthermore there is increasing evidence that the United States is shipping people from country’s that don’t practice torture to those that do in order to get them tortured. A kind of sub-contracting of torture. So this is the kind of rubbish evidence that the government is using to lock people up in this country and it seems to me that we have lost all perspective of legality in

international relations. In November, this country – the United Kingdom – was criticized by the UN committee against torture in Geneva. How did we let that happen? We entered an illegal war against Iraq, expressly against the wishes of the Security Council. We didn’t even bother to go for a second resolution because we had checked and we knew we were going to lose the vote, so we went to war without it. Koffi Annan has subsequently said that that war was illegal. And I don’t think you will find many academics or public international lawyers that will disagree. Legal opinion is very heavily on the side of the view that that war was an illegal war.

We have abandoned morality; we seem to have no shame at the fact that we presented to the Security Council a dossier full of actual lies. What has happened to this country? I used to enjoy my job, I was proud to represent this country, I was proud to represent a country that I thought stood for human rights. And that stood for the rule of law that stood for the United Nations, stood for fairness in nternational relations. And we seem to have thrown that entirely out of the window in favor of a policy that says ‘the United States is the world’s only superpower – they can do what the hell they want and we’ll be ok cos we’ll be their best mate. That’s no basis for foreign policy at all.

I think it’s absolutely necessary for people of good will in this country to really start to kick up a fuss about it. And you’ve got a chance because there’s a general election coming. It’s imperative that when you get back to your homes, to your constituencies that you find candidates who are willing to take these issues on. If they are in the Labour party you ask why the hell they haven’t left the Labour party. They can be liberal democrats, greens whoever, but we have to try to reinvigorate the democratic process and get people interested. I’m actually going to go to Blackburn and stand against Jack Straw as an independent in order to raise public awareness of these issues as far as I can. ‘The Guardian’ are going to publish my campaign diary which will give an opportunity to get some of these issues aired. But it’s no good just saying ‘oh yeah, it’s terrible’ you need to get

out there and do something, because there’s a real danger that in a few years time if we continue this slide towards authoritarianism and this slide towards supporting an international order based on nothing but a single superpower that in a few years time this won’t be a country that any of you will be able to be proud of.

Thank you.

View with comments

Speech to Caf? Diplo, Institut Francais


Social conditions of the majority of workers in Uzbekistan are today considerably worse than they were in the Soviet era. This is not the claim of the left, but a point made by the former UK Ambassador to the Central Asian republic, Craig Murray.

Murray, a career diplomat, has more than 19 years experience in the UK diplomatic service having worked in Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. He was suspended by the Foreign Office as UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan last year in a well-publicised case after he had spoken out against the extensive use of torture in the country and now accuses the British authorities, Foreign Office and security services, of turning a collective blind eye to what with no exaggeration can be described as systemic atrocities being committed by the pro-US regime of Islam Karimov.

Sixty percent of the population live on state farms Workers on the state farms, where some 60 percent of the Uzbek population reside, are unable to move without official permission and such permits are always denied. The people are destined to suffer a life of forced labour and dire poverty in conditions harsher than those existing in many “Third World” countries. Agricultural workers are paid 2,000 Uzbek sums per month, which is equivalent to a meagre two dollars a month. This compares with a national average salary of between 20 and 28 dollars a month, which is, for example, the typical salary of an Uzbek teacher. The living standards of even urban workers in Uzbekistan, however, remain worse than those of average worker in Ghana, Craig Murray points out.

Uzbekistan has two main resources, cotton and minerals Cotton is produced on the state farms largely for export making the country the world’s second largest exporter of cotton. It is important to be aware that this cotton is produced by using what is effectively slave labour, including child slave labour, which is directly controlled and organised by the state.

Conditions in state farms have deteriorated since Soviet times, the former UK ambassador states, saying that present conditions are now far worse than in the Gorbachev and Brezhnev periods and he is even prepared to suggest that it is at least debatable that they are any better today than in the Stalin period. An indication of the scale of the recent decline in working condistions is seen in the fact that all cotton picking is currently performed by hand whereas in the days of the USSR it was all mechanised. What happened to all the machinery, Murray does not explain; perhaps it was sold off by corrupt officials on the black market?

A post-Soviet innovation is the use of child labour which is now extensively used on the farms. Children are brought in by the state during harvest season when schools are ordered to be closed for two months while pupils as young as seven years old are sent to work in the cotton fields. The children work average of 12 hour day shifts during this time. Recently an NGO sponsored by the Soros Foundation did some undercover filming of the appalling working conditions on these state farms, so what is happening there may soon become more widely known.

The Uzbek state budget is secret

A large percentage of state revenues are simply lost through the widespread corruption of unaccountable officials. Since production and sales figures are never made public, it is not so difficult for the ruling elite to cream off vast profits for themselves. Murray says that the Uzbek President takes as much as 10% of the country’s annual gold revenues for his private funds, which must amount to a huge sum given that the country is the world’s fifth largest gold producer.

As for cotton, the trading companies dealing in cotton on the international markets tend to be headed by relatives of members of the government. These trading companies take most of the profits, but it needs to be pointed out that the corruption extends to foreign trading companies, including those in UK, who profit from selling Uzbek cotton on the international markets, Murray says.

Uzbekistan runs a very efficient state controlled system that does not want to reform itself

The Uzbek leadership sought independence in 1991 along with other Central Asian republics as the Soviet Union collapsed in order to escape the control of Yeltsin whom it was feared would have begun imposing market reforms from Moscow. They had no intention of “democratising” the country, they simply wanted to protect their power base. The fact that the same figures are still running the country, but free from the influence of Moscow, and that corruption has become a way of life, has not prevented the US from enlisting Uzbekistan as a key regional ally in its so-called war on terrorism. Donald Rumsfeld and others from the Bush administration have visited the country and praised Karimov as a fighter for his country’s freedom.

Tashkent police

In the capital, Tashkent, there are 40 thousand uniformed police officers “serving” a total city population of 2.5mn. In addition, there are over 40 thousand plain clothed intelligence officers and 28 thousand Ministry of Interior armed forces.

In Uzbek jails there are a minimum of seven thousand political prisoners, Murray estimates (Human Rights Watch estimates 6,000). These figures do not include people accused of insurrectionary or violent activity. Among the political prisoners are most of the country’s writers; the human rights group PEN lists 21 Uzbek writers as being held as political prisoners.

However, these figures do not take account of people held for general criminal offences, when in reality it is a common state technique for people to be detained after having drugs or banned literature “planted” on them by police. The former Ambassador says that he came across scores of such cases during his time in the country. He cites a case of one person who had been dragged from his bed completely naked and was alleged to have been concealing banned literature on his person at the exact time of his arrest.

Show Trials

One trial of alleged members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan that Craig Murray attended during his first week in post as Ambassador was notable for the crude anti-Muslim jokes with which the trial judge interrupted the court proceedings: at one point the judge asked, “how can the accused men hear each other talk through those long beards” and later the judge declared “is it not surprising they have time to carry out so much evil activity when they have to pray so many times a day”.

During this trial, the main witness failed to identify the accused men and was simply corrected by the judge who instructed the witness to identify them.

In Uzbekistan, many people can be charged and executed for the same murder, as in one murder case when 27 people from different parts of the country were convicted and executed all apparently involved in the same incident. This shows how that when a crime occurs, it tends to be seized on opportunistically by state officials as an opportunity to crack down on the opposition.


Muslim people in Uzbekistan are tortured into confessing that they support Bin Laden because the state is seeking to persuade the West that its domestic opposition is connected to Al Qaeda. To fight its war on terrorism, Uzbekistan obtains aid from the US. The fact that it is all largely a sham never gets remarked upon. The reason for this is that Western security services are all too keen to accept Uzbekistan’s assertions that it is fighting the war on terrorism.

Many abuses including torture and rape are being allowed to go on in Uzbekistan because the country has become a reliable ally for the US and Europe. The country boasts a conviction rate of more than 99%, and when asked about this officials explain that they never charge people who are innocent, unlike the UK.

However, convictions are invariably based on confessions, which are extracted through torture.

Abuses of security services extend to sexual abuse The scale of the abuses carried out against the people whether prisoners or civilians is enormous. As an example, the former Ambassador mentions a meeting he had with 17 female students during which five alleged that they had been raped by members of the security forces.

These oppressive conditions for women have many tragic consequences such as the high incidence of suicides and suicide attempts. He cites the work of an NGO in Samarkand dealing with cases of women who have tried to burn themselves in a bid to commit suicide. It deals with around 350 cases a year in the city and it is estimated that the failed attempts represent only 50% of the total self-burning incidents; sadly the other 50% result in death.

MI6 Using Information Obtained from Uzbek Security Sources The circumstances surrounding Craig Murray’s eventually removed as Ambassador remain a grave cause for concern. Despite the smear stories emanating from the Foreign Office that he was incompetent or an alcoholic, the truth appears to be that he broke an unwritten rule by exposing the brutality of the Uzbek regime, when it was becoming an ever more important ally of the West. He stated that British security services were using information received via the CIA from Uzbek security sources and that they knew such information was not true. Also they were aware that this evidence had been obtained through using torture to extract confessions. A particular case involved a story of Islamic groups apparently training in preparation for an attack on Samarkand. Murray raised the credibility of this intelligence with the CIA station in Tashkent and told them that to accept such intelligence was illegal, immoral and wrong. The CIA replied by admitting the information was probably obtained through the use of torture but that this was not a problem. When he raised with London the fact that Uzbekistan was exaggerating the links that its opposition had with Bin Laden in order to justify its receipt of aid from the US, he was immediately recalled back to the UK.

He was told by a leading legal authority in the UK that it was perfectly legal under international law to use such information as long as UK officials or employees were not carrying out torture themselves or diectly instructing the use of torture methods. The MI5 position was that the information received from Uzbekistan was invaluable in the war on terrorism. To Murray, it was absolutely useless.

The reason that torture is permitted so casually shows how far the moral goalposts have changed since 11 September, Murray points out, declaring that it is a proces he wa simply not preapred to go along with.

Importance of Uzbekistan to US

A US airbase in Uzbekistan with 6-7 thousand troops was used extensively in the war on Afghanistan. The US now wants this base to be permanent, it is strategically vital since it is within an hour of Russia and China and within five minutes of Iran.

The use of Uzbekistan fits Donald Rumsfeld’s concept of defending US vital interests in the “wider Middle East”; his concept basicially means protecting US interests in Central Asian oil and gas. It is without doubt that the hydrocarbons interests are the driving force for the US policy regards Uzbekistan, Murray says. This is why there have been no protests from the US about Islam Karimov’s regime; although Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice and others have visited Tashkent and Karimov has visited Washington they have never raised human rights issues either publicly or privately.

Foreign Aid

US aid to Uzbekistan now amounts to between 250 and 500mn dollars a year. European interests in the country are much less extensive than those of the US. Washington is clearly driven by hydrocarbons interests in the region. The EU is not a major player in Central Asia in general compared with the US.

Public Monuments

A golden globe sculpture in the gigantic Independence Square, in the centre of Tashkent, shows an illuminated map of the country on a massively exaggerated scale; the borders of the country seem to stretch right across the planet from the UK to China. The whole grandiose edifice is a vulgar monstrosity exposing the shallowness at the heart of the new regime and indicates a failure of Islam Karimov to find a national ideology to replace Socialism following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Statues of the tyrant Timur have replaced Lenin in the main public spaces; statues of Lenin were melted down and remoulded into images of Timur. The adoption of this ancient despot as a national hero is exceedingly ironic given that the historical Timur was not in fact an Uzbek but came from a Mongol sub-group; more importantly he was responsible for countless bloody massacres of Uzbek people. The revival of a Timur cult is thus a very bizarre choice for the focus of the new nationalist ideology and stands as an ugly commentary on a deeply repressive regime.

Craig Murray was speaking at the Cafe Diplo, Institute Francais, Saturday, 22 January.

Fact Box

Some startling facts about Uzbekistan

Child slave labour is organised and controlled by the state;

Tashkent, which was the fourth largest city in the former USSR, does not possess one single bookshop;

An estimated 99% of court cases end in a conviction;

The state is moving towards the elimination of Russian as an official language, including removing it from the university system. Effectively, this will deny the people access to most technical and philosophical literature since very few books are currently translated into the Uzbek language;

President Islam Karimov takes 10% of the revenues derived from gold sales for his personal use;

The President’s daughter controls the main server for email services to the country and all emails are viewed by the state security services.

View with comments

Speech to Chatham House (Royal Institute of International Affairs)

Chatham House – The trouble with Uzbekistan


Speech by Craig Murray

British Ambassador to the Republic of Uzbekistan, 2002-04

Chatham House, Monday 8 November 2004

This speech is issued on the understanding that if any extract is used, the speaker and Chatham House should be credited, preferably with the date of the speech.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. It is most kind of you to come here on an early November evening to hear me talk about a part of the World that, for reasons I will endeavour to explain, merits greater attention than we are apt to give it.

Let me first apologise for the comparative informality of my dress. I had not anticipated being in London just now, and my suits still hang in a wardrobe in Tashkent, vainly awaiting my return. As I expect may become clear as the evening progresses, part of my heart remains there too.

That may sound a touch romantic, but you would need a serious deficit in the soul department not to be touched by the country. It is the land of the Oxus and the Jaxartes, where Alexander the Great was entranced by and married Roxanne and held court for the longest period of stationary rule anywhere in his short life; where the Greek state of Bactria flourished for many centuries after his passing, producing art of rare beauty.

It is the land of Tamburlaine, the wrack of whose mighty monuments still stand and whose tomb is still there, to bring us face to face with the reality of legend. It is the land of the sweet airs and delicious fruits of the Ferghana valley, for which Babur ever pined as he rode off into exile to conquer India and found the Mughal dynasty.

It was also, of course, the very centre of Islamic culture. I had not realised that the scientific advances which I learnt at school were brought by the Moors into Europe, had in fact originated in a great cultural flourishing in Central Asia. The great medic, Avicenna, and the inventor of Algebra and other mathematical advances, both hailed from Uzbekistan, not to mention the astronomy of the Emperor Ulugbek, the elegant remains of whose observatory are for me the most arresting of all the wonders of Samarkand. This same golden period saw great advances in architecture, which spread, throughout the Islamic world. Sadly centuries of earthquake and the almost equally devastating heavy-handed restoration of the Soviet period, disastrously still continued by UNESCO, have left little of the original. But there is still much to thrill the soul.

Samarkand has long held a place in the British poetic imagination that is difficult to explain. A more recent layer of romance was added by the Great Game, of which Bokhara, Khiva and Samarkand are perhaps most redolent to British minds today. To imagine myself in the footsteps of Alexander Burnes, to wander the outside the Ark of Bokhara speculating where lie the decapitated corpses of Stoddart and Connolly, and how to honour them, these were to me great private joys.

The British Embassy itself has its own romance. It was the Kerensky family home, birthplace of Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky, who led Russia from February to October 1917, in that brief dawn of hope when Russia might have entered mainstream European history and economic development. It was he who proclaimed Russia a Republic in September 1917. I used to hold conversations with Uzbek dissidents in my office and wonder what other whispered words those bricks had heard. Somewhere inside the building Kerensky’s brother Nikolai was shot by the Bolsheviks in 1922.

The Uzbeks today are a hard-working people, greatly hospitable to strangers. Sadly they are living in a period of decline; economic decline, decline in standards of living and population decline. You will find that this short lecture is devoid of statistics; partly this is because I never remember them, and partly because there simply are no reliable statistics on Uzbekistan. Government sees statistics as largely an instrument of propaganda.

Furthermore this remains a command economy driven by production targets. These are virtually always met on paper, which is the important thing. The situation in the real world is quite different.

I may quote from the current US State Department background note on Uzbekistan, from which I will be quoting further during this talk, it states, “The government claims that GDP rose 4.1% in 2003; however the US Government does not think it was greater than 0.3%”. The Uzbek government figure is outrageous; the US government figure is not, but still I believe an overestimate. Based on what we know of industrial production, of the cotton crop and prices and with an estimate of other crops, I would say in 2003 GDP fell by approximately 2 per cent.

Figures are made difficult by the fact that much state production, specifically in the important minerals sector and including gold, is a state secret. I would give my 2 per cent calculation a margin of error of 2.5%. So State Department could be right.

You can extend this dispute over true figures beyond GDP to almost any other economic statistic – inflation, incomes, money supply etc. Uzbekistan is largely a state controlled and non-transparent economy where it is easier to feel than to measure what is happening.

But the dispute over statistics is significant. At numerous meetings I have taken issue with the IMF in particular over their willingness to accept compromise statistics much too close to the Uzbek government’s figures. I think I am right in saying that that in 2003, for example, they accepted a GDP growth figure of 2%. But if the IMF keeps, as they do, year on year publishing a figure that is over-optimistic by three or four per cent, after a very few years the cumulative effect is a figure on GDP per capita for Uzbekistan which is profoundly wrong.

Similarly, a World Bank report on comparative living standards in Uzbekistan between regions and over time was of very limited value because it was based entirely on extensive analysis of Uzbek government provided figures. International institutions have a great deal of difficulty in dealing with a member state that practices a policy of deliberate dishonesty.

The combination of state control and lack of transparency makes possible corruption on a grand scale. I have called the Uzbek government a kleptocracy, and I believe that is the correct term. A look at the massive state mining operation is instructive. Uzbekistan is the World’s seventh largest producer of gold. Gold, uranium and other minerals are produced by the Navoi based state kombinat. The sales of the products of this company have no bearing on its revenues. It receives a budgetary allocation from central government. The gold and uranium produced are sold on the international market; the quantity of output and the revenue from sales are both secret. The revenue goes not to the company but to the Ministry of Finance, into the secret bit of the state budget. I am informed by sources in a position to know, and whom I trust, that ten per cent of the sales revenue is diverted into bank accounts under the personal control of President Karimov. This is the principal source of his own fortune.

The bulk of the nomenklatura are kept happy with wealth from what Uzbekistan calls its “White Gold”, cotton. This is grown by state collective farms and sold to state trading companies through which it comes to the international market. While there is corruption at the trading level in particular, here money is spread to the party cadres through a more institutionalised system of transfer pricing. The collective farm obtains very little indeed, and the managers largely take what it does receive. The state trading companies, for example, were last year paying for cotton at 4% – yes 4% – of the farm gate price in neighbouring Kazakhstan, where production has been privatised.

This of course opens the way for great rewards to the state trading companies, whose headquarters are pictures of opulence compared to the squalor of the farms, and whose staff amongst the most pampered of the elite. This transfer pricing also provides the bulk of revenue to state budgets. This pays for the sheets of blue plate glass that now cloak the exterior of crumbling Soviet offices throughout Tashkent.

Sixty per cant of the population of Uzbekistan is based on the State farms. I visited a farm in Kitab, last year, which had 12,000 hectares and 16,000 employees. They were paid 2,000 sum – that’s two dollars – a month each in salary. They also had a small vegetable patch per family, which they lived on.

I visited that farm because I received an appeal for help from a small farmer. In 1995, when there was a brief start to liberalisation, three brothers had leased eleven hectares from the collective farm. The collective now wanted it back. In consequence one brother had been murdered, another was in jail on a charge of selling his apples privately and not to the collective. The third had come to Tashkent to find me. I went down there and found that the collective had chopped down all the brothers’ apple trees and that their 82 year old mother, who tried to defend the farm, had been knocked to the ground and beaten with sticks. She showed me her terrible bruises.

Let me now say something about private farming. Uzbek government propaganda claims there is a vibrant private farming sector. This is not so. There are no property rights in Uzbekistan. Farmers have been able to lease plots, typically eleven hectares, from the state farms on long leases. But they are told what they must grow, on which bits of their land, down to the last half metre. They are told how much of it they must produce, to whom they must sell it and what price they will get for it. They then face a struggle actually to get paid. I visited a collective of small farmers near Samarkand, with whom DFID had previously done work on marketing, which in the event they were not allowed to put into effect. They had been instructed to grow largely wheat in 2003. They had fulfilled and delivered their quota, but been told they would be paid not in money but in fertiliser.

Furthermore they had to collect the fertiliser from a plant in the Ferghana valley, something they could not possibly afford to do. When I last saw them, the prospects looked bleak for the continuation of this private venture.

British American Tobacco is the largest foreign investor in Uzbekistan. They deserve congratulation on their efforts to improve the lot of the farmers who supplied them and to encourage real private enterprise. But they face continual difficulties. They were allowed to pay only 40 per cent of the price of the tobacco to the farmers; sixty per cent had to go to the local authority and the collective farm in theory in return for services to the farmer, in fact largely for peculation. They were trying hard to increase the farmers’ share to 50%.

Following the measures to restrict economic activity still further last year, they were not allowed to pay the farmers in cash, only be bank transfer. This caused great difficulty for the farmers; with physical access to banks a real obstacle. But even worse, as indeed faced by all Uzbek bank customers on a regular basis, they found they could not get their money from the bank.

Banking in Uzbekistan is a state monopoly. The banking system is used to control the money supply by simply refusing, on a regular basis, to allow people to draw out any cash. This hits foreign companies. Cash shortages have several times this year caused a reverse black market – you have to pay a premium in dollars to get sum.

Officially this is to control inflation, but in fact it is part of a series of draconian measures to exert full control over the economy by the ruling elite, operating sometimes through the state, sometimes as state-enforced commercial monopolists.

This started with the closure of bazaars in November 2002, and their subsequent re-opening on a much smaller scale. The informal trading structures, which were endemic to Uzbekistan for centuries, were wiped out with remarkable thoroughness, and tens of thousands thrown out of employment from the trading sector. At the same time the land borders were effectively sealed to trade. This physical blocking of trade remains in force, with in the Ferghana Valley several bridges destroyed to prevent cross-border movement.

In addition to this extraordinary physical isolationism, tariffs were increased and non-tariff barriers introduced in terms of certification and safety procedures and Uzbek language labelling, inter alia. Next there were measures making most cash transactions illegal necessitating commerce to operate through a State banking structure which itself became deliberately obstructive.

The result of this is economic disaster. What private sector activity there was has withered, living standards are in steep decline. Against the background of these restrictions on economic activity, the introduction of sum convertibility became meaningless. There is much anecdotal evidence of living standards in terms, for example, of ownership of household goods.

In this climate it is not perhaps strange that foreign direct investment in Uzbekistan is virtually insignificant. There has been a small amount of recent activity in the gold sector, but it has been announced no further foreign investment will be sought there. There has been some promise of Russian investment in the energy sector.

But the climate for foreign investors is dreadful. In effect there is no respect by the government of Uzbekistan of private property rights or the sanctity of contract. The civil, just as the criminal, courts entirely lack independence and follow government instruction. I know of one British company which one morning found that its 60 per cent share in a joint enterprise with an Uzbek state entity, had been reduced to 30 per cent by a court case they had not been told was happening. Jahn International, a Danish investor, had approximately $1 million simply removed from its bank account as “excess profits”. Another British businessman this year had his assets awarded to an Uzbek former partner, with the Uzbek court refusing to acknowledge British legalised documents showing the partner had sold out and been fully paid up.

The anti-trade measures, the lack of redress, and the petty and continual interference of corrupt officials thriving on massive over-regulation, make Uzbekistan a very poor investment prospect.

So the population of Uzbekistan are poor, and getting poorer. There is, as you might imagine, widespread disillusionment with the government. But just as economically the reinforced Soviet system crushes the hopes of the aspiring, so the political system crushes all who oppose.

There is no democracy in Uzbekistan. President Karimov’s term in office has been repeatedly extended by rigged elections and referenda. This December will see parliamentary elections, but all five so-called political parties are Karimov supporting. The genuine democratic opposition, Erk, Birlik, the Free Farmers etc – none of these were allowed to contest.

But on an everyday basis, there is also no way to protest. There is no freedom of the media, no freedom of religion, no freedom of speech, no freedom of assembly. A regime so harsh to the many, so luxurious for the few, rules only by the harshest of repression. There are not only exit visas, but still the propusk system of internal movement control. Almost all of those born on state farms are condemned to be, in effect, serf labour for life.

Bill Rammell at the FCO instituted a freedom of expression panel. The FCO and NGO’s together meet quarterly to choose ten imprisoned writers worldwide whose cause the FCO will take up. The first two meetings alone chose three Uzbeks. Not a word of dissent appears in the Uzbek media – indeed not one word of my speeches ever did.

Strangely the US Ambassador’s comments were often carried at some length. In Uzbek schools and Universities, pages are still torn from textbooks before they are issued. The Open Society Institute funded a library at the University of Tashkent, from which all the books on Central Asia were mysteriously “stolen” in the night. The OSI itself was, of course, kicked out of Tashkent earlier this year, while strict restrictions were placed on remaining international NGOs.

I am not going today to produce an exhaustive list of human rights offences. I do not think the appalling human rights record of the Uzbek government is in dispute. There remain many thousands of political and religious prisoners, and torture and brutality remain the instruments by which the regime maintains its fierce grip. I came. personally, very close to incidents and victims. When I had dinner with Professor Mirsaidov and other leading dissidents in Samarkand at the end of March 2002, some four hours after I left the house his grandson’s body was dumped on the doorstep.

The lad was eighteen. His knees and elbows had been smashed by blows with a hammer, or perhaps a spade or rifle butt. One hand had been immersed in boiling liquid until the flesh was peeling away from the bone. He had been killed with a blow that caved in the back of his skull.

The professor was sure that he had been killed as a warning to the dissidents for meeting me. I was unsure until a fellow Ambassador with excellent contacts with the Uzbek intelligence services told me it had indeed been a political warning, and had been ordered by the regional hokkim. That gentleman is now Prime Minister of Uzbekistan.

It was in my first few days in Uzbekistan that I was confronted with the pictures of Avazov, with Azimov boiled to death in Jaslyk prison. The University of Glasgow pathology department studied the detailed photos and concluded that this was immersion in, not spattering with, boiling liquid. There was a clear tidemark. The fingernails had also been pulled.

So how should the West react to this regime? There is no doubt that Uzbekistan occupies a vital geo-strategic position. Immediately north of Afghanistan, it borders every Central Asian state. It has almost half the population of Central Asia and the Region’s largest and most effective military forces. It is less than two hours by military jet to Russia, Iran and China, among others.

Uzbekistan is a member of “The coalition of the willing”. It provides the United States with an airbase, garrisoned by thousands of US troops and airmen, which is useful, if no longer central, to operations in Afghanistan. But it is absolutely essential as the easternmost of the ring of so-called lily pads, US airbases surrounding the “Wider Middle East”. It is also a projection of US military force into the centre of a region which will become increasing essential in the next fifty years in satisfying Western demand for oil and gas. In the eyes of a Pentagon hawk, there is every reason to cosy up to Karimov.

There should be no doubt just how cosy this relationship is. Let me quote more from the current State Department briefing paper:

“US/Uzbek relations have flourished in recent years and were given an additional boost by the March 2002 meeting between President Bush and President Karimov in Washington, DC… High-level visits to Uzbekistan have increased since September 11 2001 ‘including that of the US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of State Colin Powell and numerous congressional delegations?.”

“The US has consulted closely with Uzbekistan on regional security issues, and Uzbekistan has been a close ally of the United States at the United Nations… on foreign policy and security issues ranging from Iraq to Cuba, from nuclear proliferation to drugs trafficking… Uzbekistan is a strong supporter of US military reactions in Afghanistan and Iraq and of the global war on terror?” “The United States, in turn, values Uzbekistan as a stable, moderate force in a turbulent region”.

To be fair, the document goes on to list areas where improvement in human rights is needed, but that has not prevented the US from lubricating the relationship with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, including military and political aid, and all the political support they can give Karimov by joint photo calls and glad-handing.

Nowhere will you find a public mention of human rights by that stream of high level US visitors to Uzbekistan, and I don’t believe they were that firm in private either.

We have I think to look behind the language. How can it advance the war on terror to back a totalitarian dictator who terrorises and impoverishes his own people? If Karimov is part of the “Coalition of the willing”, is on “our” side in the war on terror, then that war cannot be the straightforward clash between good and evil which the politicians are selling.

It is, in fact, about something else. It is about the advancement of American military power in areas central to the control of oil and gas, US oil and gas interests are served by backing an unpleasant dictator in Tashkent, willing to give them a dominant position in Central Asia, just as they are served by toppling one in Baghdad.

This is nothing to do with the advancement of democracy. If it were, why has the US government put so much effort into shielding the Uzbek government from criticism in international for a such as the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva?

We also need to be sceptical about some of the language on threat. One area of cooperation mentioned was narcotic trafficking. There has been a massive increase in opium and heroin smuggling from Afghanistan in the past three years. A large amount of that drug follows the natural trade route through Uzbekistan and up the river valleys to Russia and eventually the Baltic. (Incidentally, I have been much plagued by Customs and Excise analysts who argue that, because much more is seized in Tajikistan, much more must be going that way. If you think about it, that’s a reason for a drug smuggler to avoid Tajikistan).

There is a tremendous taboo surrounding international efforts to counter drug trafficking in Central Asia. No progress is possible until the real problem is acknowledged, so I will break the taboo. The real problem is participation, at very senior levels indeed, of regime members in the trade. It is not just a question of minor corruption by customs officers.

At Termez on the Uzbek/Afghan border the EU, the UK and the US have all put money into customs training and state of the art search areas and equipment, including gizmos that can x-ray whole containers. But while the border is hard to cross, and UN emergency relief supplies are routinely held up for days or weeks, fleets of cars with black windows and of trucks are waved through, shuttling between the Uzbek regime and General Dostum.

Customs never stop the vehicles that have the heroin. We should face the fact. So what of Karimov’s claim to be holding out against terrorism? There has been little or no historical tradition of militant Islam in Uzbekistan. The extremism of teaching by the new mosques and schools introduced in the early 1990s from Saudi Arabia is, from my talks with people directly involved, much exaggerated. No doubt there was a threat from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan as a would-be insurgency in the margins of the Tajik civil war and thereafter supporting the Taliban. But they had no history of terrorist style operations. Certainly in Tashkent it is accepted by virtually everyone that the 1999 bombings were the work of the regime or of warring factions within it. Following the decimation and dispersal of the IMU in Uzbekistan, the remnants appear to have reorganised in a more classical terrorist structure.

However it appears that the March bombings in Tashkent were not co-ordinated or even expected by the surviving IMU leadership. They seem to have been the work of predominantly young Uzbeks with a desperate hatred of the regime. There is however compelling evidence that the groups which carried out these terrible acts had been heavily penetrated by the Uzbek security services, to the extent that it is hard to believe they could not have been pre-empted and their may be reason to suspect an agent-provocateur operation. The July bombings at the Israeli and US Embassies perhaps are more classical terrorist attacks with input from an external leadership. In particular, because there is no news on the subject on the Uzbek state media, awareness of the Palestine issue in Uzbekistan even among activists is almost non-existent.

But the key point must be that the despair caused by the deepening poverty and lack of religious and political freedoms, worsened by the lack of any democratic means to express that despair, is what creates the violence.

If the US believes that backing Karimov is producing stability in the region, which is a remarkably short-term view. Uzbeks know they are miserable and getting poorer, and their government is deeply repressive and, increasingly, hated. They are being offered no liberal, democratic alternative. Indeed Karimov’s propaganda tells them that the system they have now is freedom and democracy, and they don’t think much of it.

The only opposition to Karimov they often encounter is the underground Mosque movement or Hizb-ut-Tehrir. And terrible torture and persecution increasingly radicalise these groups. The system is building up towards inevitable violent confrontation. That could be five or seven years away, but I have no doubt that as things stand at present we are heading for a catastrophic model of regime change. And thanks to US support for Karimov, the result is likely to be anti-Western. The targeting of the US and Israeli Embassies in Uzbekistan shows that we are creating a whole new race of people who hate the West.

Young Uzbeks are attracted to radical Islam because we are giving them no viable alternative to Karimov. Supporting Karimov is creating, not combating, Islamic fundamentalism. I strongly commend to you this Human Rights Watch publication, Creating Enemies of the State, which documents the brutalising of a society.

What can we do? Stop digging. The policy of engagement is plainly not producing results and we should treat the Karimov regimes as pariahs. There is measurably less freedom, and measurably more brutality, under Karimov than under Lukashenko or Mugabe, and we should be looking to sanctions on members of the regime and their ill-gotten assets.

Rather than military aid to Karimov, we should put major resources into assisting the democratic forces in Uzbekistan, notably the parties that have combined to form the Democratic Forum. We should at least fund a newspaper for the expression of a wide range of Uzbek views. We could also put substantive resources into much greater transmission into Uzbekistan by broadcast media.

Finally, we should break off our relationships with the Uzbek intelligence services. I have no doubt that we are receiving information that has been obtained under torture. Where you are receiving such information systematically, under an established procedure, I also believe that you are acting illegally. This is complicity under Article IV of the UN Convention against torture.

It has been argued that it would be irresponsible to ignore useful intelligence in the War Against Terror. I have two responses – firstly I deny this material is useful. It is provided by the Uzbek regime with the object of exaggerating their role in the War on Terror, the strength of the IMU and the linkage of the threat against them to Al-Qaida and Osama Bin Laden.

I was genuinely surprised when I first learnt that this information was taken seriously and regarded as valuable by the British intelligence services. I still find that strange, and fear that it shows a preference for highly coloured material which exaggerates the threat – a tendency which the Butler report shows was much in evidence in our acceptance of a lot of nonsense on Weapons of Mass Destruction.

But what worries me most – what absolutely terrifies me – is the thought that such poor intelligence material, endorsed by someone in the last gasps of agony, given credence by some gung-ho Whitehall Warrior – can be used to keep some poor soul locked up in Belmarsh Prison. Without trial or charge, without any idea what he is accused of, day on day, week upon week, year by weary year.

And what I was seeing was only about Uzbekistan. There is great international concern at the use of torture worldwide in the War on Terror, not just in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay but including the transport of detainees worldwide by the US authorities, delivered to governments which torture, in plain contravention of Article V of the UN Convention.

Many of my colleagues in other countries must also be seeing intelligence obtained under torture.

The US State Department briefing says that torture is used as “A routine investigative technique” by the Uzbek security services. Theo van Boven, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, found it to be “Widespread and systemic”. Nobody in the British government has attempted to argue to me that the information we receive from the Uzbek sources was not obtained under torture. Rather they argue that we did not encourage or instigate the torture, so are not complicit.

That might be a valid argument – and I repeat might – if we stumbled on the material in the street, or got handed some as a one off. But it is not sustainable where we regularly receive such material through an established system. That must make us complicit.

The difficulty is, that to refuse the Uzbek and other torture material would be to create an exception to the UK/US intelligence sharing agreement, which we are anxious to keep whole.

During all of this, I sometimes have to pinch myself to make sure it is not a nightmare. Is the British government really insisting on its right to receive material obtained under torture? Similarly, in the Katherine Gunn case, were we really going along with US plans to bug Security Council members inside the United Nations?

I associate support for human rights, and opposition to torture, with fundamental British values. Surely we have to stand up to the US and say that under George Bush the CIA is involved in things we cannot go along with.

Just as we cannot go along with US policy in Central Asia. This is a throwback to the US policy of support for dictators in Central America in the 1970s. The situation is redolent with ironies. In supporting Karimov, George Bush is helping prop up the remnants of Soviet totalitarianism.

I have talked of how Uzbek state farm labourers are bonded to their farms effectively as serfs. I should add that for months at harvest time workers in all sectors are conscripted into the cotton fields. Schools and educational institutions are closed down. Children from eight years old are dragooned into the fields, working 16 hour days, sometimes sleeping in the open, working sometimes in freezing conditions. Is it not an irony that a US administration of the party of Abraham Lincoln is supporting a regime founded on cotton slavery?

Every crunch of bone at the smash of a limb, every female scream of terror, every second of dreadful, of unimaginable anguish in the torture chambers of the US-backed Karimov regime, just as every block in Sharon’s wall, just as every bomb that falls tonight on a home

in Fallujah, will fuel the fires of hatred across the Islamic world. And while no act of random terrorist violence is ever justified, is in truth evil, we must nonetheless say that myopic US foreign policy under President Bush reinforces hatred across the Muslim World.

That was certainly my daily perception in Tashkent, and my aim there was to distance the UK and articulate a distinctive British policy based on support for human rights and the rule of international law.

It was worth a try.

View with comments

Speech To Freedom House

I am most happy to be here today to join in Freedom House’s Open House. This is a welcome addition to the resources available to the community which is working to improve basic human rights here in Uzbekistan. The organisers are to be congratulated on the initiative, as are the US government for their assistance with finance.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am a Scot, and proud of my race. Our national poet, Robert Burns, notes in his great poem “The De’il’s awa’ wi’ the Exciseman” that “Whisky and Liberty gang the gither”, which for those whose Scots is a wee bit rusty means “Whisky and Liberty go together”. Well we all know how difficult it is to find real whisky in

Tashkent. It does exist, but mostly on diplomatic premises. There is still a lot of wisdom in old Robert.

It is also a great pleasure to see such a gathering of those promoting human rights in Uzbekistan, both from outside and inside the country, and from both governmental and non-governmental sectors. I am also pleased to see representatives of the media here today – I trust I will see these proceedings fully and openly reported.

Let us have no illusions about the size of the challenge we face. We must all agree that independent Uzbekistan had a great handicap to overcome in the very poor legacy on issues of freedom from the Soviet Union. But nonetheless this country has made very disappointing progress in moving away from the dictatorship of the Soviet period.

Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy, nor does it appear to be moving in the direction of democracy. The major political parties are banned; parliament is not subject to democratic election and checks and balances on the authority of the executive are lacking.

There is worse: we believe there to be between seven and ten thousand people in detention whom we would consider as political and/or religious prisoners. In many cases they have been falsely convicted of crimes with which there appears to be no credible evidence they had any connection. Reputable Human Rights groups such as Human

Rights Watch and Amnesty international have brought to our attention specific instances where the same crime is used serially to convict a number of people. There appears to be a belief that such persecution of an individual can be justified by labelling them as an “Islamic extremist”.

Now, with the US and other allies, the British government remains in the very forefront of the commitment to the war against terrorism. And we are most grateful for the invaluable assistance rendered to the coalition by the government of Uzbekistan in respect of operations in Afghanistan. We acknowledge that we face the same global


Nobody should seek to underestimate the genuine security concerns of the government of Uzbekistan and the difficulties it has faced in countering those who seek to use religion and the problems of poverty to promote terror. Uzbekistan’s strategic situation has put it in the forefront of countries struggling to deal with problems such as terrorism and narcotics trafficking.

But let us make this point: no government has the right to use the war against terrorism as an excuse for the persecution of those with a deep personal commitment to the Islamic religion, and who pursue their views by peaceful means. Sadly the large majority of those wrongly imprisoned in Uzbekistan fall into this category.

But it is not only Muslims who suffer; the British Embassy yesterday observed the trial of a Jehovah’s Witness, being prosecuted for pursuing his beliefs. It should not be a crime to practice your religion, nor to tell others about it. And a number of those imprisoned are ethnic Russian human rights defenders, colleagues of some of my audience. I would like to say at this point how deeply I admire you on a personal level. I am very conscious that I stand here in a very privileged position, in the literal sense. You on the other hand daily risk persecution to stand up for the rights of your fellow citizens. You have my deepest respect and one day your countrymen will be in a position to show you their gratitude.

Uzbekistan is to be congratulated on a good record of ratifying key UN Conventions on human rights; unfortunately there appears to be a gap between obligation and practice.

World attention has recently been focussed on the prevalence of torture in Uzbek prisons. The terrible case of Avazoz and Alimov apparently tortured to death by boiling water, has evoked great international concern. But all of us know that this is not an isolated

incident. Brutality is inherent in a system where convictions habitually rely on signed confessions rather than on forensic or material evidence. In the Uzbek criminal justice system the conviction rate is almost 100%. It is difficult not to conclude that once accused by the Prokurator there is no effective possibility of fair trial in the sense we understand it.

Another chilling reminder of the former Soviet Union is the use of commitment to lunatic asylums to stifle dissidents. We are still seeing examples of this in 2002.

Nor does the situation appear to be getting any better. I have been told by people who should know that there are significantly more political and religious detainees now than there were this time last year. From my own meetings with human rights groups from across the country there appears to be a broad picture of a reduction in the rate of arrests in the first half of this year, but a very substantial increase around August. Just last week saw another highly suspicious death in police custody in Tashkent. There is little sign of genuine positive change in Human Rights.

And that is what we want to see; genuine change. By that I mean change which actually increases the liberty of Uzbek citizens in their daily lives. Uzbekistan’s international obligations require genuine respect for Human Rights. For example officially censorship

has recently been abolished. But you would not tell this by watching, listening to or reading the media which is patently under strict control and contains no significant volume of critical comment or analysis of central government policy.

Let me give you an example. In August the government embarked upon a series of closures of major bazaars in Tashkent, and subsequently across Uzbekistan. I witnessed it happen in Namangan, for example. This is not the forum to address the motive for those closures or the rights and wrongs of this action. But it was a radical action, effected with some degree of physical and moral resistance, and closed off the retail outlets through which the majority of manufactured goods are sold in this country. It directly affected the livelihood of an estimated 50,000 people. Furthermore I have in the last two weeks visited a number of factories in Uzbekistan which have halted production and laid off their workers because their distributors have been put out of business by the bazaar closures.

As I say, I make no comment on the rights and wrongs of this, though I note that the IMF has recommended that these issues be reversed, not least because of the resulting increase in inflation. But everyone in this room knows this has been a burning political issue in the last two months. Yet one could have watched Uzbek television or listened to Uzbek radio solidly throughout this period, and read the newspaper every day, but still have gathered almost nothing of the flavour of what I have just told you. There is little

reporting of basic facts and almost no free debate. I trust that the proceedings of this event will be fully and fairly reported.

What then are the components of the real change we wish to see? They are not difficult but they require political will. I believe that people are born with an instinct for liberty and that freedom and democracy come naturally to people everywhere, once they are given the chance.

Giving people freedom does not mean that anarchy and instability will follow. Indeed, it is repression which by allowing no outlet for pressures in society, risks causing resentment, alienation and social tension. Uzbekistan’s partners and friends want to see a country which is stable, free and prosperous. For that to come about there needs to be change – releases of political prisoners; registration of political opposition parties and human rights groups; the opportunity for people to express their opinions in free elections and through a free media and the right to free assembly; and to practice their religious beliefs without fear of persecution. Deeper economic reform is needed also. We are ready to support that process of change and by embarking upon it Uzbekistan will be able to transform its standing in the international community and earn the goodwill and increased support of partners whose engagement is at present limited by the problems I have addressed today.

I thank you for your kind attention.

View with comments