Officials in Tashkent had been preparing for months to host the EBRD, which they had hoped to use as a vehicle to attract foreign investment. The downtown area of the capital received an overhaul, with new hotels constructed especially for the gathering. However, many participants at the May 4-5 meeting treated Tashkent as if it were a Potemkin village. Speaker after speaker at the EBRD meeting delivered a blunt message to Karimov: either promote reforms or suffer a reduced international commitment to Uzbekistan's economic development.
EBRD President Jean Lemierre, speaking at a May 5 news conference, said the annual meeting succeeded in placing "civil society at the core of the [development] process. It's a major achievement." Lemierre went on to stress that the future level of EBRD cooperation with Uzbekistan would depend on Tashkent's fulfillment its reform commitments. "We have a range of options between moving forward and investing, and reducing our activity as we have done in other countries." Uzbekistan has repeatedly promised to implement reforms, including currency liberalization, but has yet to follow through. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Perhaps the harshest criticism of Karimov's policies came at the outset of the meeting, during a session examining Uzbekistan's human rights climate. Kenneth Roth, the acting director of Human Rights Watch, said that Uzbekistan was home to about 6,500 political prisoners, adding that the deaths of eight inmates could be directly attributed to torture. Many prison sentences "are based on people's beliefs, not crime," Roth said. At the same session, Harvard University professor Michael Ignatieff assailed the government, saying it fostered a confrontational mood in Uzbekistan. "If you deny political and religious freedoms
Esmer Islamov is the pseudonym of a freelance journalist specializing in Uzbek political affairs.