Civil society is increasingly under fire in Uzbekistan. During the past year, the Uzbek government of President Islam Karimov has suspended the activities of numerous non-governmental organizations. Most recently, internationally respected N.G.O.s devoted to strengthening democracy and civil society such as Freedom House and the International Research and Exchanges Board, or IREX were, shut down or suspended. A new law increases the penalties on international N.G.O.s for participating in what Uzbek authorities define as "political activities" or activities beyond the scope of the NGO’s mission. The law also increases penalties if N-G-Os fail to obtain government approval before holding "events."
Kyle Scott of the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe says the law "will undoubtedly further restrict N.G.O.s working in Uzbekistan as well as endanger those working to promote civil society."
N.G.O.s themselves, not the Uzbek government, should determine what their mission is, and they should be allowed to freely implement programs that promote democracy according to universally accepted standards and practices.
U.S.-funded N.G.O.s worldwide seek to peacefully advocate for increased freedom of expression and promote democracy. They work to uphold citizen's rights and educate, not to undermine local government or foment revolution. Through their participation in such organizations, said Mr. Scott, citizens "play a vital role in ensuring that governments are accountable to them, and citizens are an important part of the necessary system of checks and balances on a government's power."
Harassment of individual Uzbeks, local organizations, and international N.G.O.s by Uzbek authorities has increased significantly since government security forces reportedly opened fire on protesters in Andijon in May 2005, killing hundreds. Some two-hundred organizations have been forced to close down or to leave the country. They include Internews, British Broadcasting Corporation, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Open Society Institute.
Democracies cannot flourish without an active civil society. That is why the United States fully supports the work of N.G.O.s, particularly those that promote human rights. This entails removing draconian registration and operation restrictions on N.G.O.s and permitting Freedom House, IREX, and other N.G.O.s to carry out their valuable and necessary work unhindered.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.