Saturday, September 16, 2006

"Uzbekistan: Protest Over Award for Leader"

Read the full story by ILAN GREENBERG in the New York Times Asia Pacific editions published on September 14, 2006. It notes:
"Unesco has infuriated human rights organizations by awarding a medal to the widely criticized leader of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov......

The award was for Uzbekistan’s contribution to preserving World Heritage sites, said Suzanne Bilello, a Unesco spokeswoman in New York."
Reporters Without Borders provides the following information:
UNESCO today explained that the medal was just a matter of protocol and in no way represented any recognition of President Karimov’s activities.

But Karimov’s office said in a statement that he was given the medal for strengthening friendship and cooperation between the nations, development of cultural and religious dialogue, and supporting cultural diversity. The statement has been picked up by the Uzbek press.

Expressing its surprise, Reporters Without Borders said: “Islam Karimov is one of the world’s worst press freedom predators, and the systematic repression of Uzbekistan’s independent media has been stepped up ever since the May 2005 uprising in Andijan.”
According to Wikipedia, Karimov was an
official in the Communist Party of the USSR. He came to power as the party's First Secretary in Uzbekistan in 1989. On March 24, 1990 Karimov became President of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic.
He has remained President of Uzbekistan ever since. Wikipedia also notes:
The international community has repeatedly criticized the Karimov administration's record on human rights and press freedom. In particular, former British Ambassador in Uzbekistan Craig Murray pointed to reports of boiling people to death. The United Nations found torture "institutionalized, systematic, and rampant" in Uzbekistan's justice system.
President Karimov has become even more controversial since the suppression of the Andijon uprising. The International Crisis Group reported:
On 13-14 May 2005, the government of Uzbekistan brutally suppressed a popular uprising in the eastern city of Andijon and the surrounding area. President Islam Karimov announced his forces had acted to end a revolt by Islamist extremists, yet the hundreds of victims -- possibly as many as 750 -- were mostly unarmed civilians, including many children.
The State Department states:
A year after the tragic events in Andijon, the Government of Uzbekistan still owes the victims and their survivors a full accounting of what took place.

Bukara, © UNESCO

Uzbekistan's World Heritage Sites

Uzbekistan holds four World Heritage sites:
* Itchan Kala (1990)
* The Historic Centre of Bukhara (1993)
* The Historic Centre of Shakhrisyabz (2000)
* Samarkand – Crossroads of Cultures (2001)
The United States and Uzbekistan

In 2005, Uzbekistan evicted the United States from a military base that was described by The Washington Post as having "served as a hub for combat and humanitarian missions to Afghanistan since shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."

Currently diplomatic relations continue, but the State Department notes:
The tumultuous events in Andijan in 2005 and the subsequent U.S. condemnation of President Karimov’s actions render the future relationship between the nations uncertain. In June 2005, Karimov refused U.S. demands for a formal investigation of the Andijan massacre, exacerbating the divide between the two nations. To maintain strong relations, the United States urges greater reform in Uzbekistan to promote long-term stability and prosperity.
The United States continues to provide financial assistance to Uzbekistan (See the USAID Uzbek website).

Editorial Comment: It is especially unfortunate that UNESCO, which is charged with a key role in the U.N. system for the protection of freedom of expression, should have given President Karimov such a medal. On the other hand, Uzbekistan is a member state of UNESCO, and the Director General has a reponsibility to act diplomatically with heads of state of member nations. I certainly see value in the Director General of UNESCO taking advantage of his trip to Central Asia to bring attention to the world heritage sites along the Silk Road (and thus to encourage their continued protection and maintenance.) Certainly it is hard to see how the U.S. government, which itself not only maintains diplomatic relations with Uzbakistan but also provides the country with financial assistance, is in a possition to criticize UNESCO for this incident.

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