Amnesty International’s recent report on the systematic use of torture in the judicial process of Uzbekistan is both timely and concerning. With human rights abuses flagged up frequently in various parts of the globe, it is interesting how, in some countries, such violations are allowed to continue without serious censure.
Uzbekistan is ruled by Islam Karimov, a dictator in all but name. He has led the Central Asian state since independence in 1991 and was, indeed, the General Secretary of the Uzbek Communist Party prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Karimov does not make any serious attempts to hide the gross injustices of the political and judicial systems that he has helped forge. Confessions of ‘anti-state’ and ‘terrorist’ activity proliferate, often drawn from brutal interrogations meted out to opponents of the regime. These forced testimonies are typically accepted by pro-Karimov judges without question, the battered and bruised bodies of the accused simply ignored in court.
Karimov was born in Samarkand, a city historically associated with the Silk Road. In the Middle Ages it became, along with the current Uzbek capital Tashkent, a vibrant centre of commerce, scholarship and religious debate. Even the Mongols – hardly renowned for their patronage of culture – accepted the freedom of thought and expression that had taken root in these great cities.
Today, despite retaining vestiges of its glorious past, Uzbekistan is one of the most repressed societies in the world. Yet, as both Amnesty and other charities have been eager to point out, it has become a crucial ally to the West. As such, it is immune to the criticisms so frequently directed by the United States and its allies towards ‘less important’ states who are engaged in similar abuses of human, social and political rights.
Having made his country an indispensable supply route for the coalition forces fighting in Afghanistan, and taken a strong stance against Islamic extremists, Karimov can wield disproportionate influence for a leader of a country with limited means. That Uzbekistan is also well within the Russian orbit further restricts the desire of the West to alienate its president with demands for political reform.
Global politics is inherently hypocritical and the case of Uzbekistan and the West is a perfect example. Just as disappointing, though, is how a country with settlements that once stood at the forefront of human civilization can have been reduced to serving one man and his cronies,
When the Afghan adventure finally ends, the US and its allies need to consider what Uzbekistan really has to offer them and whether they would not be better placed agitating for greater freedoms for the country’s industrious people. Otherwise it will be left to China to fill the void, a role President Xi Jinping is rather hoping it will seize.