Human rights activists are condemning the Asian Development Bank for holding its annual meeting in Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent. They say the summit is helping to legitimize the repressive policies of President Islam Karimov’s administration.
The four-day Asian Development Bank gathering is set to conclude May 4. It marks the first time in the institution’s 43-year history that the ADB has convened its board of governors meeting at a Central Asian venue.
Holding the event in Tashkent “risks sending a signal about the bank and its shareholders somehow approving of the Uzbek government's policies, and will no doubt be exploited by the host government for internal and external PR purposes,” Veronika Szente Goldston, Human Rights Watch’s advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia, told EurasiaNet.org.
The ADB’s partners, especially the European Union and the United States, “have grown increasingly silent in the face of Uzbek government repression,” continued Goldston. The event creates “an impression of the EU and the US effectively giving up any serious effort to promote human rights as part of their engagement with Uzbekistan.”
The NGO Forum on the ADB, a network of civil society organization that monitors the bank’s activities, boycotted the event. It contended that “[p]olitical rights [in Uzbekistan] are severely constrained, and dissent is not tolerated and is often met with extreme force,” according to a statement posted on the forum’s website on April 28.
The ADB meeting is the first major international conference held in Tashkent since the 2005 Andijan massacre, in which Uzbek security forces killed hundreds of protestors. [For background see EurasiaNet archive].
Relying on carefully orchestrated coverage by state-controlled media outlets, Karimov has used the meeting to enhance his aura of authority in the eyes of Uzbeks. Speaking to the ADB director on April 30, Karimov heralded the annual meeting in Tashkent as a “historical event,” emphasizing at the same time that the institution was plowing roughly a billion US dollars into investment projects in Uzbekistan. State television also has broadcast comments by local analysts offering praise for the Uzbek government. Various experts have also suggested that Karimov’s political and economic leadership helped convince ADB representatives to select Tashkent as the site for the bank’s annual meeting.
Asked why the ADB selected Tashkent to be its meeting venue, a bank spokesperson responded that “holding the annual meeting in Tashkent demonstrates the ADB's commitment to help reduce poverty and improve living conditions for the people of Uzbekistan and this region.”
HRW activists disputed the notion that a Tashkent ADB meeting will help improve the quality of life for average Uzbeks. The decision to hold the meeting in Tashkent “plays directly into the hands of the Uzbek government and its quest for monopoly on all information about the state of human rights in the country, leaving the already embattled human rights communities and victims of human rights abuse feeling even more abandoned and exposed,” Goldston said.
Some journalists, including all representatives from at least one major western news agency, were refused visas to attend the meeting. No foreign correspondents from any major news agencies are permanently accredited in Uzbekistan.
“It’s clear that Uzbekistan views hosting the ADB conference as something of a public relations coup, but at the same time the ADB was under no obligation to hand Karimov that opportunity. It is regrettable that having secured this internationally prestigious event, Uzbekistan was not pressed to ensure a whole range of international media was entitled to cover the occasion,” said an Almaty-based western reporter who was denied entry. Most journalists who spoke with EursaiaNet.org wished to remain anonymous for fear of being denied visas again in the future.