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?