She Was Only A Dictator’s Daughter

The inordinately stupid Lola Karimova has just lost a libel case against a French newspaper for calling her a “Dictator’s daughter”. The French court decided that her father, Islam Karimov, undeniably is dictator of Uzbekistan. As the OSCE has ruled all of Uzbekistan’s elections as sham, and as Uzbekistan features in every list of the world’s worst human rights abusers, the outcome of the trial was never in doubt. So why did Lola do it?

The answer is a misunderstanding of French, and western, society. In Uzbekistan there is absolutely no notion of judicial independence. Every case goes the way the government wants. Criminal cases in Uzbekistan, for example, have a conviction rate of over 99%.

European Union governments have been falling over themselves to fawn on Lola’s dictator father. Recently, for example, the European Council voted to increase tariff free access for Uzbek cotton to EU markets, despite the fact that millions of child slaves are used to hand pick that cotton. The situation is so notorious that Tesco, Walmart, Marks and Spencer and many other retailers boycott Uzbek cotton and have systems to check there is no Uzbek cotton fibre in their lines. Yet the EU governments accepted an incredible assurance from the EU Commission that there is no serious problem.

The Karimovs believed that if this kind of surreal denial of the facts was practised by EU governments, it would be practised by the French court as well. Fortunately they were wrong.

Most European governments are obsequious to Karimov because of their desire to get hold of Central Asian natural gas through the Nabucco pipeline scheme. For the British government, they will do anything Karimov says as long as he keeps the supply lines to NATO troops in Afghanistan open through the Northern Distribution Network. This year saw the first official visit by the Uzbek foreign minister to the UK – a visit conducted in total secrecy by the FCO to avoid human rights protest.

There is a very revealing recent interview here with Laurie Bristow,  a senior FCO official visiting Uzbekistan, in which he lists UK priorities for Uzbekistan and makes not one single mention of human rights, democracy, good governance, corruption or child slavery. It rather upsets me that this clueless disgrace is actually standing in my old office in this video!

But even worse is the British government’s failure to react to the Uzbek government’s conviction of a member of Embassy staff, Leonid Kudryavtsev. Leonid’s crime was organising meetings inside the Embassy with Uzbek human rights groups.

All Embassies have some local staff, and in British and most western embassies they are often engaged in quite sensitive work. They have no diplomatic immunity, and their position is legally rather anomalous. In practice they depend for protection on the prestige of the country which employs them and its willingness to make waves to protect them. If you read Murder in Samarkand there is a great deal about my local staff – Leonid is there under a false name – and certainly while I was Ambassador to Uzbekistan the Uzbek government did not dare touch them. I even was able to give effective protection to some human rights activists by giving them cards for honorary positions advising the Embassy. It worked.

Leonid Kudryavtsev was convicted for just doing his job inside the Embassy. What he was doing was also in itself a human right – organising meetings. The meetings were about human rights. But in Uzbekistan, any meeting involving NGOs to be lawful must have permission of government – which will of course never come. It will not be refused, but you just will not get the permission. It is impossible for genuine NGOs to operate in Uzbekistan (and indeed over 700 western NGOs have been banned, including every one you have ever heard of).

To apply such a law to meetings on Embassy premises and to the local staff of the Embassy is unheard of. I have consulted seven other former Ambassadors and we could not think of a case. But the FCO reaction to this attack on our Embassy in Uzbekistan is disgraceful. We are actually going to do nothing at all in retaliation. We are going to stop inviting human rights activists to the Embassy. A junior FCO minister had voiced “serious concern” adding – and this is the punchline – “They were also entirely in line with President Karimov’s expressed wish to create an improved awareness of human rights in Uzbekistan.”

This about the man whose opponents are regularly tortured to death and who has some 10,000 political prisoners, and profits massively from child slavery.

I honestly do not know how they can do it, which of course is why I am now unemployed and they have the chauffeur driven cars. But I really just cannot comprehend how people can do it. It is utterly sickening.

Is it any wonder that Lola believed the court would ignore reality, and rule her father is not a dictator?

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The EU – Less Ethical than Tesco or Wal-Mart!

Today the European Union hosts Karimov in Brussels, which will be used to promote Karimov in his dictatorship, while western journalists will be given no access to the visit in Brussels.

Here is a short piece I have written for the Independent. I was allowed only 400 words, so kept it simple on Afghanistan rather than also tried to explain regional hydrocarbon politics:

Today the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, will host an official visit by the Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov.

This may seem a peculiar thing for the European Union to do. Karimov is infamous for the massacre of over 700 demonstrators at Andijan in 2005, for the boiling alive of dissident Muzaffar Avazov in 2002, for some 10,000 political prisoners held in ex-Soviet gulags, for banning all Western media organisations and reporters, for the imprisonment in lunatic asylums of dissident journalists including his own nephew, for the jailing of HIV campaigners for corrupting public morals…

But I do have to add the vast wealth of the Karimov family compared to a deeply impoverished population, most of whom are forced into labour on state cotton plantations. More than a million children are removed from education every year, for periods varying from one week to three months, and forced to pick cotton by hand in dreadful and sometimes fatal conditions. This scandal of the cotton fields is so bad that retailers, including Tesco, Walmart and Marks & Spencer, have entirely voluntarily removed all Uzbek cotton content from their products sold, and put resources into audit provisions to make sure this sticks.

Yet the European Commission maintains there is insufficient evidence of forced child labour in Uzbekistan for EU trade sanctions ?” a straightforward lie, as anybody can discover in five minutes on the internet.

So why is the EU less moral than Tesco or Walmart? The answer is a single word ?” Afghanistan. Twenty per cent of supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan now transit Uzbekistan, and the figure has steadily been increasing as supplies through Pakistan are increasingly tenuous. Germany also has an airbase in Uzbekistan. What is in it for Karimov? Political backing for his dictatorship, and juicy Pentagon supply contracts routed through his daughter.

It is a prime example of the way our disastrous Afghan policy is not just failing in Afghanistan, but poisoning an entire nexus of foreign policy issues. The effect of that corrosion will be seen vividly in Brussels today. Uniquely, no journalists are allowed to accredit for today’s official visit. Only the official Commission and Uzbek government media will be allowed to take pictures, to be relayed to Uzbekistan’s endarkened population as more evidence that their infallible President bestrides the world stage.

The EU are making sure that it feels just like home for Karimov.

My position as British ambassador in Tashkent was highly uncomfortable. I cared about the human rights of ordinary Uzbeks, and I assure you that the British government didn’t.

I am sorry comments are still not open here yet while the site undergoes a complete rebuild on a new platform. But you can comment over at the indie.

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British Embassy Tashkent Refuses to Speak to Uzbek Opposition – or to Me!

British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Rupert Joy is vocal and effusive in his praises of the Uzbek regime. But he has gone all coy and refused to answer any questions from leading Uzbek journalist Galima Burkabaeva about his starring appearance at dictator’s daughter Gulnara Karimova’s Tashkent Fashion TV extravaganza.


Galima put the same questions to me as to Rupert Joy. This article is based on my responses, and also notes that Rupert Joy refused to comment.

As the article also states, the Embassy’s Third Secretary, Richard Pike, gave a formal response to Galima stating that the Ambassador’s views had been explained in full at the fashion event – but unfortunately the Embassy could not provide a text or summary of what he had said!

So I emailed Richard Pike and Rupert Joy and asked, very politely indeed, whether they could point me to any public statements by Rupert Joy on human rights in Uzbekistan or on forced and child labour in the cotton industry. I have not received any reply at all.

Now I am a British taxpayer and perfectly entitled to ask a civil question about public statements and expect a reply. I am also the author of a widely read blog and entitled to expect answers from public servants for my readers.

It seems that unless you are a dictator given to imprisoning tens of thousands of prisoners and torturing hundreds to death, the British Embassy in Tashkent is not very interested in you. You may have more look in getting a response than I. Try [email protected] and [email protected].

The root cause of our government’s adoration of Karimov remains the war in Afghanistan. I was trying to avoid comment on Sky’s absurdly theatrical outings with some low level Taliban resistance personnel encouraged into silly bragging. But Iain Dale’s hysterical reaction spurs me into action.

In fact there were two genuine nuggets in the coverage which Sky News failed to pick up on at all in their fervour to promote the war agenda. An elder stated in terms that it was difficult to persuade people to lay down arms when civilian relatives were killed by coalition forces. It was also stated that young children were attracted to the Taliban when they saw coalition forces come into their villages. It was further repeatedly stated as a greivance that the Kabul government was corrupt.

Sky journalists simply ignored this vital information about the causes of resistance, and instead directed us towards funding from the UK of the “Taliban”, and theatrics about hiding an IED in a culvert, which was hardly news – we had not been under the impression they were suspended from hot air balloons. Sky allowed the talentless thug Liam Fox to witter endless nonsense about imposing the writ of the”democratic” government of President Karzai, without any journalist mentioning election fraud or pointing out to Fox that we had just seen repeated evidence that a primary grievance of the villagers was the corruption of the Karzai government.

The point is not about treason in the UK. It is about our occupying a country where the population do not want us.


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Where is Britain Most Culpable?

Our complicity with torture in Karimov’s Uzbekistan is a startling example of Britain’s double standards. But where are Britain’s other most current disgraceful examples of immoral foreign policy, and in particular support of dictators? I want to consider perhaps five of the most egregious examples for a media project. I have my own ideas, but would welcome your thoughts.

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Afghan War Spreads Corruption Through Central Asia

There is still no concerted international response to the violence on Kyrgyzstan, either in terms of peacekeeping or aid to refugees. Sporadic killings continue and much of Osh is burnt out. I have to confess at a grim humour in reading this morning articles in the British media by people who plainly know nothing about it: the Guardian has some prime examples of google and wiki knowledge part digested and regurgitated for sale. Here is my own take yesterday:

Yesterday Maxim Bakiyev, son of the recently ousted Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was arrested in the UK when he arrived at Farnboro in a private plane. The interim government of Kyrgyzstan had issued an Interpol warrant for him for corruption. (Note to the police – the “in a private plane” may be a clue).

It is interesting that the specific count of corruption cited relates to Pentagon contracts given to Maxim Bakiyev for the supply of the US airbase in Kyrgyzstan. This appears to be the standard US modus operandi for bribing dictators in Central Asia. In Uzbekistan, the US has given massive supply contracts to dictator’s daughter Gulnara Karimova.

This is yet another ill effect of the Afghan war – the increase in corruption and the personal reward of dictators by the USA. Is the Pentagon exempt from the reach of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the United States?

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Kyrgyzstan: Hundreds Dead

The sad fact is that any posting about Central Asia sees my visitor figures plummet. I can please myself and don’t make money from this webiste. But I can see why commercial media ignore Central Asia. And the harsh truth is that, even when a dramatic crisis is occuring and this blog is one of the few sources of informed comment, only a dribble of people bother to google.

A disclaimer – I know Uzbek and Kirghiz people who don’t really understand what is happening. The only journalists who might have a clue are Michael Andersen and Monica Whitlock, and the latter self-censors a lot on Central Asia for family reasons. Disgracefully Britain does not even have an Embassy in Bishkek and “covers it” in the most desultory way imaginable from Astana, more than a thousand kilometers away.

Academic analyses concentrate on “clan systems” which mean nothing to most Kirghiz, who are unaware they belong to separate “clans” according to Western universities.

Even spellings are difficult becase you are transliterating non-Russian names, which had been rendered into Russian Cyrillic, into the latin alphabet. There is therefore no dispute on the Cyrillic spelling of Kyrgyzstan, but I always spelt it Kirghizstan in latin. Similarly the country’s interim leader I always spelt as Rosa Otubaeva, but now she is suddenly in tiny articles in the middle broadsheet pages as Roza Otunbayeva.

I endeavoured to give some background to the current conflict here:

Note the almost total lack of comments. Let me explain a bit more of Kyrgyzstan’s tragedy.

Newly independent Kyrgyzstan had, in Askar Akayev (spellings vary) by far the best President of any of the Central Asian states – out of an incredibly poor bunch. His country is dreadfully disadvantaged geographically. Distance from markets, poor communications and lack of infrastructure are a barrier even to the development of its mineral resources, but he instituted the freest economy in Central Asia and undoubtedly the least oppressed media and civil society.

I have referred before to Murray’s universal seven year rule. All governments everywhere in the world, even if they started clean, are after seven years deeply mired in sleaze. It applies everywhere, includng the UK. The subsidiary rule is that it is the President’s indulgence to his nearest and dearest which allows the poison to spread. I last referred to the rule as spoling the end of the second term of my friend John Kuffour in Ghana. The same happened to Akayev. Censorship crept back apace. Deepening corruption centred on his children, and it was for their political futures that he eventually indulged in vote rigging.

I remain sympathetic though to Akayev. He was eventually overthrown in the 2005 “Tulip revolution”, a coup in which genuine democrats were used by rival oligarchs wishing to take over the state’s resources. Akayev resigned to avoid bloodshed, and went back quietly to being a scientist in Moscow.

His replacement, President Bakiyev, proved worse than the man he had replaced in precisely the areas of vote rigging, media control and corruption which had been the complaints against Akayev. His old democratic allies deserted him and fought the 2009 election against him. Bakiyev’s re-election in 2009 with 83% was widely condemned. Bakiyev was particularly unpopular in the capital Bishkek, though apparently maintaining genuine popularity among rural Kirghiz. Two months ago Bakiyev was overthrown in a second popular revolution.

The interim leader, Rosa Otunbaeva, has announced fresh elections but her government has been overwhelmed by a gathering whirlwind of violence.

It would be wrong to characterise the violence as politically motivated. Ancient ethnic tensions and stereotypes have come to the fore and of course poverty is the root cause. But at the same time it is broadly true that the Uzbeks of the South generally support Otunbaev, while their Southern Kirghiz attackers generally do not and Bakiyev supporters have played some role in stirring up the violence. The ultimate loyalties of the police and army are not absolutely certain at this point.

To complicate things futher, while Osh’s Uzbeks may support Otunbaeva, President Karimov most certainly does not, seeing her as an embodiment of the dangers of democracy to dictators like him. And he most certainly does not want a flood of comparatively democratically sophisticated Uzbeks from Osh into Uzbekistan. That is why, even though Kyrgyzstan opened the border for Uzbeks to escape the violence, Uzbekistan did not. Remember also that Karimov had demolished most of the bridges and mined the entire border (see Murder in Samarkand).

Otunbaeva is a liberal Central Asian and, as typical of her generation, that means she looks to Russia. But Putin dislikes her for the same reasons as Karimov. That is why Putin and Karimov are anxious not to give help to Otunbaeva, but to refer the matter to that appalling dictators’ club, the Shanghai Cooperation Organistaion, whose primary purpose is to stamp on democracy throughout the region (oh, sorry “fight terrorism”)

Bakiyev meanwhile has taken refuge with the dictator’s dictator, Lukashenko of Belarus.

The Americans seem to have a policy of hunkering in their military base in Kirghiz and hoping nobody asks them anything. So far, it is working.

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The Killings in Osh, Kyrgyzstan are Stalin’s Legacy

Osh lies in the heart of the Ferghana Valley. This extract from Murder in Samarkand gives essential backround:

I was determined to set an early example to the staff of getting around the country and wanted to travel to the Ferghana Valley. This high valley, a fertile flood plain where tributaries from the great mountains join to form the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers, nestles in the foothills of the Himalayas, beneath the High Pamirs and the Tien Shan, the Heavenly Mountains. It was considered a likely ethnic and religious flashpoint.

The Ferghana Valley is very heavily populated, home to over ten million people. The five countries of Central Asia together have a land area substantially greater than all of Western Europe. Twenty per cent of the entire population of this vast region live in the Ferghana Valley, which has a land area similar to Belgium.

It is, in a very real sense, the heart of Central Asia, It ought to be the economic powerhouse of the region. To explain why it is not, I have to explain something about the crazy geography of Central Asia.

The Ferghana Valley is split between Kirghizstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The borders of these three countries, and not just in the Ferghana Valley, intertwine and convolute as though they were a jigsaw cut by a one armed alcoholic. In the Ferghana Valley, there are seven enclaves of Uzbekistan entirely cut off by surrounding countries.

This is the difficult bit to grasp: the borders are deliberately nonsensical and specifically designed not to create viable economic units, and in particular not to have any political, cultural or ethnic coherence. The names Kirghizstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan might give the impression that they are the ethnic home of the Kirghiz, Tajiks and Uzbeks. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. They are quite deliberately not that. For example, the major Uzbek town of Osh, in the Ferghana Valley, is over the border in Kirghizstan. The centres of the great Tajik culture, Samarkand and Bokhara, are not in Tajikistan but in Uzbekistan, even though 90% of the population of those cities remain Tajik speaking – although they are now subject to drastic Uzbek government attempts to choke the language out.

The Soviet Union was in theory just that – a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Kirghizstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan were three of them. But whatever the theory, Stalin had no intention of allowing the republics to become viable entities or potential powerbases for rivals. So they were deliberately messed up with boundaries that cut across natural economic units like the Ferghana Valley and cut cultural and ethnic links.

Murder in Samarkand pp 70-71

Further thoghts on this tomorrow.

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Terrible News From Osh

Uzbek opposition sources are giving much higher totals of dead than the official 53 in the violence in the ethnically Uzbek city of Osh in Kyrgyzstan. Russia has refused the request to intervene from interim Kyrgyz leader Rosa Otunbayeva – a leader Putin would not be inclined to support. Rosa came to power after May’s revolution and is in the process of trying to organise democratic elections.

This documentary from Michael Andersen gives essential background to the conflict.

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Obama’s Central Asian Policy Worse than George Bush

This is a very important documentary from the ever excellent Michael Andersen. It requires some patience and concentration, but it is essential to get away from the banalities of the mainstream media and understand the sheer scale of the disaster to which a purblind concentration on the disastrous Afghan war is leading.

Please watch.

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Rumblings in Tashkent

There is much consternation at the apparent decline of Gulnara Karimova’s multi-billion dollar company, Zeromax – which owns Uzbekistan’s most valuable economic assets.

Gulnara is of course the daughter and favoured successor of dictator “President” Islam Karimov. Zeromax is, in addition to interests encompassing gold, uranium, coal, cement, cotton, hotels, night clubs and sex-trafficking, the Pentagon’s major conduit for land supply to US forces in Afghanistan.

The immediate cause of the shutdown appears to be arrears of US $440 million on multi billion loans given to Zeromax by the Uzbek government. The loans were secured on assets which Zeromax obtained in the first place for next to nothing from the Uzbek government’s closed “privatisation” process, otherwise known as “let the President’s daughter have everything”. Zeromax has never made any attempt to repay any of the loans.

Outside analysts are speculating that the moves against Zeromax represent a power grab against Gulnara by Prime Minister Mirzayev (the man who ordered the specific Murder in Samarkand which became the title of my book).

That seems to me improbable. More likely Zeromax has simply outlived its usefulness as a vehicle. I suspect that it is repositioning, simply. Zeromax worked pretty well for several years as a front to hide the fact that the Karimovs were hiving off much of Uzbekistan’s economic production for personal benefit. The cover has been well and truly blown for a couple of years now and Zeromax was attracting jealousy. So it gets jettisoned like a snake shedding an old skin. I don’t think you’ll find Gulnara has lost a penny.

If Zeromax goes down, its debts will be written off, and I will be astonished if the productive assets do not still remain under the control of the Karimovs, in a new vehicle or variety of vehicles.

Much more worrying is further evidence of the reach of the Karimovs in Washington. Paid Karimov lobbyist and former lawyer for Zeromax, Carolyn Lamm, is now President of the American Bar Association – how sickening is that?,1

Presumably Lamm played a key role in the huge Pentagon supply contracts landed by Zeromax.

Almost worse, in the light of Karimov’s banning of all anti-Aids organisations and jailing of Maksim Popov,

is that Gulnara Karimova was feted at Cannes by Amfar – the American Foundation for Aids Research – as co-chair of their mega celebrity bash Cinema Against Aids at Cannes.

I several times telephoned AMFAR to ask how thay could justify celebrating Gulnara (two years running now), in the light of her regime’s purblind attitude to AIDS – not to mention the fact that the Karimov-Dostum narcotics trafficking racket is the main cause of AIDS in Uzbekistan. AMFAR refused to answer or return my calls.

I call for a boycott of AMFAR because of their continuing friendly links with the Uzbek regime. I do hope that people will continue to donate money for AIDS research, but to other less tainted charities.

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Please Write To Your MP About Maksim Popov


This is Maksim Popov, an Uzbek psychologist sentenced to seven years in Karimov’s notorious jails for running an AIDS charity which distributed needles, condoms and UN supplied literature.

There is an excellent article about Maksim in Guardian CIF. As usual with web articles on Uzbekistan, many of the comments are from Karimov trolls.

The swift spread of AIDS in Uzbekistan is fuelled by the flood of heroin from the Dostum held areas of Afghanistan, in the trafficking of which Dostum and Karimov are personally involved. This is what UK citizen Richard Conroy of the UN was investigating when he was killed in a plane crash.

The Uzbek government bans programmes of free needles and also of free condoms – yet at the same time it seeks to reduce population through a forced sterilisation programme.

Even though Maksim Popov received some DFID and USAID funding for his work, neither the US nor the UK has made any protest to Uzbekistan about Popov’s jailing. The last UK government put their military alliance with Uzbekistan over Afghanistan as first and last in their relationship with Karimov, and increasingly refused to act over, or even to acknowledge, the dire state of human rights in the country.

I urge you strongly to write to your MP and urge the British government to protest formally to Uzbekistan over the jailing of Maksim Popov. International pressure can have an effect – it secured the release of Umida Akhmedova, whose sentence for publishing photographs that “damaged the image of Uzbekistan” has been suspended.

But it is also very important that you write now. I know from experience that the civil service will be gleaning from Ministers in the new government their first “Lines to Take”, to give policy direction on various questions. I am quite sure that Maksim will not mind if, in trying to help him, we also bring to the front of Minsters’ minds the human rights situation in Uzbekistan. (If you write to your MP, they should forward it to the Foreign Office and it will get a ministerial reply).

In opposition William Hague had raised the question of torture in Uzbekistan and our complicity in it.

Whether or not he is prepared to take action over Maksim Popov’s dreadful imprisonment will be an early indication as to whether foreign policy may improve.

You can get details of your MP here:

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Forced Sterilisation in Uzbekistan

Many congratulations to The Times for giving us an article on the revitalised programme of compulsory sterilisation in Uzbekistan.

Karimov is increasingly crazed. The only disagreement I have with the article is that the population of Uzbekistan is only increasing in official statistics. In fact, about a fifth of the population (including nearly all the ethnic Russians) have emigrated since independence.

It is very worthwhile to see articles in the mainstream media which reveal something of the truth about the situation in the country. This is particularly chilling, and perfectly believable:

Activists say mass sterilisation began in 2003, but was eased after two years following an outcry. It is said to have restarted in February this year, when the health ministry ordered doctors to recommend sterilisation as an “effective contraceptive”. Critics claim every doctor was told to persuade “at least two women” a month to have the procedure. Doctors who failed faced reprisals and fines.

“We estimate that since February, about 5,000 women have been sterilised without consent,” said a local human rights campaigner who fears detention if she is named.

Remember, this is a country which is our “Ally” in the war on terror, whose ruling family personally have the overland supply contracts for allied forces in Uzbekistan, which the Home Office claims in asylum cases has no human rights problems. Miliband’s FCO offers not one word of criticism of perhaps the world’s most despotic regime.

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Karimov is Totalitarian

A good article by Sonia Zilberman in yesterday’s Guardian cif about the Karimov regime’s destruction of Uzbekistan’s cultural base.

This is greatly detailed in Murder in Samarkand. She rather understates the case, not mentioning for example the banning of books (actually in practice all books are banned – that is the default position. A small number are on an allowed list). She also doesn’t mention the murder of the country’s leading theatre director, Mark Weill.

But what she does say is perfectly true, and needs airing. It is rather saddening that there are very few comments, and these are dominated by mainly US pro-Karimov supporters, putting forward the entirely false argument that the only alternative to Karimov’s dictatorship is a Taliban governmnent. They also claim Karimov is not totalitarian. If he is not, then the word cannot be applied to any government anywhere.

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Britain Boosts Karimov: Our Deep Shame

I urge you to read the full text of this speech by the current British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Rupert Joy.

Delivered in what is undoubtedly one of the most vicious and ruthless dictatorships in the world, there is not the slightest hint that Britain finds anything to criticise in Karimov’s Uzbekistan. This is of a piece with recent Home Office claims that there is no human rights problem in Uzbekistan.

Those who have read Murder in Samarkand will know that I was under pressure from the FCO to promote “reforms” by the Karimov regime to justify our alliance with Uzbekistan, even though those reforms were entirely sham.

Joy servilely intones:

“Your parliamentary institutions are developing in a positive direction. We want to support that development through closer parliamentary links with Britain, which has one of the world’s oldest parliaments.”

[FACT – only five fake parties which support Karimov are allowed to take part in parliamentary elections. All three main opposition parties are banned. The OSCE condemned the latest Uzbek parliamentary elections as offering no real choice to the electorate. There is no debate in the Uzbek parliament.]

“We want to support Uzbekistan in areas where it has introduced progressive legislation, such as habeas corpus and the abolition of the death penalty.”

[FACT Uzbekistan is quite happy to appease its US and UK allies by introducing entirely fake reforms. Habeas Corpus is simply ignored by the Uzbek judiciary, which the UN Committee on Human Rights recently affirmed had no independence. The abolition of the death penaly has no meaning in a country where regime opponents disappear and where families are not informed of date of execution or burial place, as again recently reaffirmed by the UN committee. Uzbekistan has 10,000 political prisoners].

The alliance with Karimov is a deep shame to this country. The UK , US and other NATO countries seek to deepen it still further as Uzbekistan becomes the major transit route for supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan. A railway link is being built to Mazar i Sharif specifically to upgrade the already massive military trafiic by truck. The construction and shipping contracts for NATO supplies are being given to private companies owned by the Karimov family.

Rather than human rights, the main burden of Joy’s speech is on cooperation on “counter-terrorism” and Afghanistan – which all Uzbeks will know is code for unflinching Western support for the Karimov dictatorship:

“If anyone still believed that Britain’s security depended solely on traditional defence, their illusion was shattered on 11th September 2001, when al-Qaida attached New York and Washington, killing thousands of innocent people. Those terrorist attacks, and the murderous attacks that followed in London, Madrid and elsewhere, demonstrated that our physical security depends on working with other governments to fight extremism”

“Fighting extremism” is of course how Karimov characterises his outlawing and extermination of any domestic democratic opposition.

The FCO seeks to sweep away past criticism of Uzbekistan’s appalling human rights record as having been a “Misunderstanding”. This is perhaps the most nauseous passage of Joy’s appalling licking of Karimov’s arse.

“Our two countries have not always understood one another well enough. That is not surprising. We are far apart: my country is an island; yours is double-landlocked. And we have had very different histories. But the peoples of our countries have much to gain from deeper engagement”

You see, if we just understood each other better, we will realise why President Karimov is forced to boil people alive.

This speech really is deeply, deeply shameful if you think of the context of the totalitarian regime in which it was spoken. It also puts to bed the lie that New Labour supported my actions on human rights in the country.

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Pentagon Gives Gulnara Karimova Huge Contract For Supply of US Forces in Afghanistan

The UN Human Rights Committee is a body which routinely pulls its punches. It treats member states with respect, whether they deserve it or not. The UN is of course composed of nations many of which have much to hide on human rights, so the glass houses and stones argument is much applied.

In that context, the new advisory report of the UN Human Rights Committee on Uzbekistan is absolutely damning – as damning as these reports ever get. It contains one paragraph of “Positive Aspects” and 25 paragraphs of “Concerns”.

Concerns include lack of judicial independence, widespread use of torture, the position of women, the failure to produce bodies or graves of those executed by the state, lack of freedom of speech and movement, and use of forced labour – to name but a few.

Download file“>Download file

Not even the UN can pretend that the human rights situation in Uzbekistan is anything other than abysmal.

Still more astonishing then that the Home Office has refused the asylum applications of every single one of the few dozen escapees from Uzbekistan to make it to the UK – which still has the Soviet exit visa system and locks its people in. Even last week the Home Office was still claiming at immigration hearings that there is no human rights problem in Uzbekistan. (Fortunately judges have been less blinkered and asylum cases have been won on appeal).

The UN and EU countries continue to use Uzbekistan as a major supply base for the occupation of Afghanistan. Major new contracts between the US and Uzbekistan were signed in March 2009, and Hilary Clinton is to pay an official visit to President Karimov in November this year.

Even more disgusting is that it now emerges that the newly reinvigorated US/Uzbek relationship was made possible in negotiations because the US agreed to contract Gulnara Karimova’s company FMN Logistics to provide the transport for all the US supplies passing through Central Asia to the US forces in Afghanistan.

Not only that, but the Karimov company FMN Logistics is involved in construction and supply services on the US airbases in Afghanistan itself, and has been involved in the massive expansion work to the prison at Baghram Airbase to provide a replacement Guantanamo torture centre further away from media access.

The Pentagon contracts are worth $850 million a year to the Karimovs.

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A Life Saved

The good news is that Alisher Khakimjanov was granted asylum by a judge yesterday after being refused by the Home Office and scheduled for deportation to Uzbekistan.

One interesting facet of the original Home Office decision was that they explicitly stated that they would not accept evidence from opponents of the Uzbek regime – including me – as it is not “Objective”.

Whereas evidence from the Uzbek regime itself and its supporters is objective, according to the Home Office.

I am involved in another case which has been refused by both Home Office and judge and which is now going to the European Court of Human Rights. In that case the Home Office states that the British Embassy has consulted a Tashkent law firm who say there is no human rights problem in Uzbekistan.

This is the equivalent of “We have taken advice from a Berlin law firm who say that there is no danger to individuals from Herr Hitler and his government”. I am genuinely stupefied by the refusal of the Home Office to accept what the entire world knows is the nature of the Uzbek regime. I actually have sympathy for the argument that many asylum seekers from many countries are economic migrants with weak claims. But the tiny number – less than 50 – of Uzbek asylum seekers who have escaped (Uzbekistan still has exit visas) and made it here, are victims of blind unreasoned Home Office hostility.

The policy is so unreasonable I can only believe it is conditioned by our desire to butter up Karimov to maintain the military alliance with him over Afghanistan. This is yet another terrible shame on this British government, which has betrayed in so many ways the many good people who built up the Labour Party.

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Fast Tracked To Death?


At 2pm today Alisher Khakimjanov faces a fast track asylum hearing and possible immediate deportation to Uzbekistan. Alisher’s father was arrested by police following the Andijan massacre by Uzbek troops of anti-regime demonstrators. The family’s home was confiscated by the State and militia have been looking for Alisher, who was a student in the UK.

Under the “Fast track” system there is no right of appeal. When the government introduced “fast track” it was represented as a way of dealing with vexatious applicants from “safe” countries where there was unlikely to be a need for asylum.

Uzbekistan is most certainly not a safe country. That Uzbeks are now being put into the fast track system is a disgrace, and yet further evidence of the government’s willingness to be complcit with human rights abuse by the Karimov regime.

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Child Slavery In Uzbekistan

More invaluable work from the Environmental Justice Foundation, in collaboration with Anti-Slavery International. Their latest thoroughly researched report estimates that one million children were subjected to slave labout during the 2009 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan.

This is essential work because it gives the lie to false UK, US and EU claims that the human rights situation under the Karimov regime is “improving”, thus “justifying” their continued alliance with Uzbekistan as a logistics base and route for operations in Afghanistan.

Here is a selection of key facts from the report:

?? Children as young as 10 years old can be dispatched to the cotton fields for two months each year, missing out on their education and jeopardizing their future prospects.

?? Uzbekistan is the world’s 3rd largest cotton exporter and earns around US$1 billion

annually from the sale of its cotton to clothing factories primarily in Asia, which in turn

export garments to the west; and to cotton traders, many of which are based in Europe.

?? Reports in November 2009 estimated one million children working in the last harvest.

Cotton picking is arduous labour, with each child ascribed a daily cotton quota of several

kilos that they must fulfil.

?? Children may be compelled to stay in barrack-like accommodation during the harvest.

Living conditions are often squalid. In those places where food is provided to children, it is

inadequate, often lacking in basic nutrition and children can often only access water

from irrigation pipes, which carries health risks.

?? Children can be left in poor physical condition following the harvest; illnesses including hepatitis, injuries and even deaths are all reported. The harvest begins in the late summer, when temperatures in the fields remain high and can continue until the onset of the Uzbek winter. Children are not provided with any protective clothing whilst they work.

?? Children receive little or no reimbursement for their labour, perhaps a few US cents per kilo of cotton picked. However, payments are deducted to cover their travel to the fields and the food they are provided with during the cotton picking season, which can leave them in debt.

The full report can be downloaded from here:

Every year young children die during forced labour in the Uzbek cotton fields. Millions of adults are also conscripted into slave labour. Islam Karimov and Gulnara Karimova get ever wealthier.

It is a stunning fact that Wal-Mart, Tesco, Asda and C&A have been so sickened by Uzbek child slavery that they have voluntarily banned Uzbek cotton and set up, at their own expense, audit systems to ensure there is not Uzbek cotton in products they sell.

Yet no government has used available anti-slavery provisions in international trade agreements to ban Uzbek cotton. The EU has never even discussed the matter while, thanks to the influence of Western governments, UNICEF has never made any statement or taken any position on child slavery in Uzbekistan.

This is arguably the World’s most depraved single act of inter-governmental complicity.

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