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7/20/04 - UZBEKISTAN HUMAN RIGHTS - 2004-07-20

The U.S. is suspending up to eighteen-million dollars in aid to the government of Uzbekistan because it has not done enough to protect human rights and create a genuine multi-party political system. “Based on Uzbekistan’s overall record of reform,” said U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, Secretary of State Colin Powell cannot make the determination that it has met the requirements under U.S. law that would make it eligible for continued aid.

The U.S. and Uzbekistan share many strategic goals, however, and the U.S. hopes for continued cooperation with Uzbekistan. U.S. assistance for non-governmental organizations engaged in democracy and human rights work in Uzbekistan will continue as part of the U.S. pledge to support democratic reform.

Lorne Craner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, told members of Congress in June that U.S. officials “remain deeply concerned by the poor observance of internationally recognized human rights standards by the government of Uzbekistan.” Mr. Craner said that some political and religious prisoners have been released, but thousands remain in jail, including many newly arrested or re-arrested.

Far from encouraging the development of political institutions, says Mr. Craner, Uzbekistan’s government has banned foreign assistance to political parties, including training and study tours abroad. And foreign non-governmental organizations have been accused by Uzbekistan authorities of engaging in so-called “unconstitutional activities.”

Allison Gill of Human Rights Watch says the Uzbekistan government has not taken the steps that would show a commitment to “real reform”:

“There are no registered political opposition parties even though there are elections here this year. The government in the past year has refused to register independent human rights organizations. Even though many of them have applied, their applications consistently get rejected for what appear to be spurious reasons.”

Uzbekistan is an important U.S. partner in the war on terrorism. State Department spokesman Boucher said, “progress in democratization, respect for human rights, and economic reforms are essential for Uzbekistan’s security and long-term prosperity, as well as to reinforce a solid and enduring relationship with the United States.”