The International Committee of the Red Cross will no longer try to visit prisoners in Uzbekistan because authorities are not allowing ICRC officials private access as promised, the organization said on April 12.
Uzbekistan has one of the world’s worst human rights records; torture and incommunicado detention are considered common. The Geneva-based ICRC suspended visits, which have been held sporadically since 2001, last October.
The decision, which the ICRC described as rare, came after last-ditch talks between its director-general Yves Daccord and authorities this week in Tashkent.
"Visiting all detainees of ICRC concern and speaking to them in private - without witnesses - are essential preconditions for the effective protection of detainees," said Daccord in a statement.
"Visits must have a meaningful impact on detention conditions, and dialogue with the detaining authorities must be constructive. And that's not the case in Uzbekistan," he said.
ICRC officials have been visiting prisoners on and off in Uzbekistan since 2001. In return for access, their findings are only shared with authorities.
The U.S. envoy to the U.N. Human Rights Council last month drew attention to alleged violations.
"Torture and abuse of detainees by security forces, denial of due process and fair trial, and government-organised forced and child labour in cotton-harvesting continues," ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe told the Geneva forum.
In his testimony to Congress last month, the chief of U.S. Central Command, General James Mattis, said that he had instructed the U.S.'s intelligence officers to draft "releasable products" to give to its "most trusted partners" in regions including Central Asia:
As I travel throughout the [CENTCOM area of responsibility] and see the promise of new initiatives and the risk posed by numerous challenges, I receive requests from military leaders across the region to increase intelligence sharing between our militaries. Many show determination to make tough decisions and prioritize limited resources to oppose antagonists seeking to destabilize their countries or use them to plan and stage attacks against the U.S. homeland. With this in mind, and in order to demonstrate our commitment, I requested the Intelligence Community to begin drafting releasable products for our most trusted partners in the Levant, on the Arabian Peninsula, in the Central Asian States, and in South Asia as a standard practice rather than the exception.
I am encouraged by the personal attention the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is giving these matters. Director Clapper’s strong emphasis and encouragement for the intelligence community to produce intelligence in a manner that eases our ability to responsibly share information with our military counterparts creates a stronger, more focused front against our common enemies and builds our partner nations’ confidence. We are grateful for the nimble manner in which our intelligence community has strengthened our efforts to checkmate more of our enemy’s designs.
A report in The New York Times that Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbek strongman Islam Karimov, has resigned as her country’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva set off a flurry of speculation about her future plans.
On April 6 The Times suggested that she was “possibly positioning herself for a larger role at home” amid uncertainty about her father’s health.
However, an official at Uzbekistan’s Geneva mission denied the report of Karimova's resignation on April 8.
“This does not correspond to reality,” a spokesperson who declined to be identified by name told EurasiaNet.org by telephone from Geneva. “Ms. Gulnara Karimova is still Uzbekistan’s ambassador to Geneva.”
Karimova is a colorful personality – a pop diva and fashion designer as well as a diplomat. Many observers believe she is positioning herself to succeed her 75-year-old father, which she pointedly failed to rule out in an interview recently made public.
The subject of the presidential succession in Uzbekistan is currently the subject of much international press speculation, prompted by a report put out by Uzbekistan’s opposition-in-exile that Karimov suffered a heart attack last month. The rumor spread like wildfire but was soon proved false.
Kazakhstan's new foreign minister did some traveling in the region last week, visiting Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in an apparent effort to get the two sides to talk about their dispute over the massive, controversial Rogun dam project. The United Nations has been trying to get Kazakhstan to play a leading role in resolving the issue between its neighbors to the south and when the foreign minister, Erlan Idrissov, spoke to the press in Dushanbe, he highlighted the Rogun issue:
"It's no secret that the construction of the Rogun hydroelectric power plant is one of the important issues on the agenda. The Tajik president spoke during the meeting about his vision and approach to the construction of this facility. He suggested the importance of working together with the World Bank to conduct an independent examination of the construction of the power station," Idrisov said....
"The states in the upper waters should not violate the rights and economic interests of the states located in the lower waters and vice versa. There are international conventions according to which the two sides should sit at the negotiating table and work out a mutually acceptable scheme for the usage of water resources," Idrisov said.
TV footage released Wednesday suggests President Islam Karimov has not been felled by a heart attack, contrary to the widely distributed claims made by one of Uzbekistan’s exiled opposition leaders. The 75-year-old Uzbek strongman was shown this evening in a televised broadcast that appeared to be shot March 27, eight days after he was rumored to have suffered the massive attack.
On March 22 and 24, Muhammad Solih, head of the Norway-based People’s Movement of Uzbekistan, said, citing separate unnamed sources in Tashkent, that Karimov was near death. The rumor has percolated unchallenged through much of the Russian-language media in recent days. But this evening Karimov looked pretty much like he did eight days ago, last time he was on television: old, yes, but alive.
State-run Yoshlar’s evening news program showed Karimov hosting Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov at his Oksaroy residence. Yesterday, Idrissov’s ministry had announced that he would be in Tashkent the following day. In the footage, Karimov wore a black suit with a red tie and appeared to speak in his usual tone and manner. The two discussed bilateral relations, with Karimov praising Kazakhstan’s relatively new initiative to conclude a treaty of strategic partnership.
A rumor that Uzbek President Islam Karimov has suffered a debilitating heart attack is spreading as quickly as a pandemic in a thriller. As more media outlets reprint the rumor, it may be increasingly perceived as the truth, but in fact the sourcing remains as thin as it was when this started last weekend.
The allegations all go back to the same person, an exiled opposition figure thousands of miles away in Norway – Muhammad Solih, head of the People’s Movement of Uzbekistan (PMU). On March 22, Solih’s website cited an unnamed source in Tashkent as saying Karimov, 75, had suffered a heart attack after attending festivities marking the Navruz spring holiday. On March 24, Solih reiterated the rumor by citing a second source, a journalist “working for one of the state media outlets, performing his activities directly under the oversight of the National Security Committee and the press service of the president of Uzbekistan.”
The U.S.'s growing military ties with Uzbekistan may be a strategic necessity, given the importance of the Central Asian country in the U.S.'s war effort in Afghanistan. But it is forcing the U.S. to confront an important, if little-discussed, complication: Uzbekistan is the least-trusted, most-feared country in the region. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have well-known border and water conflicts with Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan sees Uzbekistan as a regional rival. So is the U.S.'s military aid to Uzbekistan raising regional tensions?
U.S. military aid, after being suspended for several years because of human rights concerns, is steadily being ramped up. That the U.S. is giving small surveillance drones to Uzbekistan is the worst-kept secret in Washington (OK, in the narrow slice of Washington that The Bug Pit inhabits). It's also giving Uzbekistan's armed forces night-vision goggles, body armor, and GPS systems, and there are credible rumors in Washington of heavier military equipment being considered for Uzbekistan to either buy or be given. (And it's not just the U.S.: Uzbekistan has pledged to work more closely with NATO on training, and the U.K. is also planning to make some donations to Uzbekistan as well.)
Gulnara Karimova, Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s eldest daughter, seems to have had a change of heart: Once described as a “robber baron” for the way she used her position of privilege and power to seize successful enterprises in Uzbekistan, she’s now championing the cause of the small businessman.
The private Novyy Vek newspaper reports that Karimova has complained about the difficulties small- and medium-sized businesses face in Uzbekistan due to, in the paper’s words, “bureaucratic and other obstacles created by government agencies.”
Speaking on March 25 at the awards ceremony of a fair showcasing handicrafts made by select artisans from across Uzbekistan, Karimova described the plight of a “promising” factory in southern Surkhandarya Region that had been forced to close because of such obstacles, Novyy Vek quoted her as saying.
“Once we visited a factory in Surkhandarya and it made very beautiful items and quality carpets and silks and it had a very interesting and good team of women and girls. Generally, it was such a decent small business,” said Karimova, who has long been rumored to covet her father’s position.
“We discussed how this enterprise could supply its products to Tashkent in order expand the factory’s sales and opportunities, but several months later we learned that the enterprise was shut,” she explained, because of “difficulties” meeting raw silk quotas set by Uzbekistan’s state body overseeing the textile industry.
One of Uzbekistan’s opposition groups-in-exile has reported that President Islam Karimov has had a heart attack, prompting a denial from officials, while reigniting speculation about the aging leader’s health.
The People’s Movement of Uzbekistan (PMU), headed by Muhammad Solih from his base in Norway, reported on March 22 that the 75-year-old president suffered a heart attack on March 19. The report cited the PMU’s “own correspondent” in Tashkent, who was not named.
On March 24 the PMU reported confirmation of the news from a second source, a journalist “working for one of the state media outlets, performing his activities directly under the oversight of the National Security Committee and the press service of the president of Uzbekistan.”
The report quoted the unnamed journalist as saying that Karimov had a heart attack on the evening of March 19 and is “now seriously ill.”
No other sources apart from the PMU have independently confirmed the report of Karimov’s alleged heart attack.
A source in the presidential administration denied the news. “The president of Uzbekistan is in excellent form as always and does not have any signs of any indisposition,” the unnamed source told Russian news agency RIA Novosti on March 22.
In a separate report the same day, RIA Novosti quoted a source in the presidential administration (it was not clear if it was the same person) as saying the report was “most likely a canard” and pointing out that Karimov had been seen in public on March 19 at celebrations of the Navruz spring equinox holiday.
Uzbekistan has begun drilling for shale oil at the Sangruntau deposit in northern Navoi Region, an unnamed government official told the Novyy Vek newspaper on March 20.
Business New Europe reported in February that the $600-million project, the first attempt to develop shale oil in Central Asia, would compensate for falling oil production in Uzbekistan and reduce its reliance on imports from Kazakhstan. Officials are tightlipped about who’s paying for all this, but Novyy Vek said financing came partially from “foreign loans.”
The project will provide up to 8 million metric tons of shale oil and up to 1 million metric tons of oil products a year, Novyy Vek reported, adding that Uzbekistan's shale oil reserves are estimated at 47 billion metric tons.
According to the 2012 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, Uzbekistan's oil production fell from 7.2 million metric tons in 2001 to 3.2 million in 2011, while consumption decreased from 6.7 million metric tons to 4.4 million over the same period.