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Security and Human Rights in Central Asia

Politics of Central Asia
Joshua Foust

In September 2011, the United States government reached a new agreement with the government of Uzbekistan: the United States would reverse a 2003 restriction on foreign aid to the abusive regime in Tashkent in exchange for concessions allowing increased transport of U.S. equipment and personnel through the country along the"Northern Distribution Network" (NDN) supply route into Afghanistan.1 Despite concern about the growing challenge of corruption in Central Asia, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved a waiver that had previously restricted equipment sales to Tashkent, clearing the way for deeper collaboration.2 The decision to reengage with the government of Uzbekistan proved deeply controversial in the human rights community. A coalition of 20 human rights groups penned an open letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging her to oppose the passage of the waiver and to publicly condemn Uzbekistan's human rights record.3 According to Human Rights Watch, in Uzbekistan"torture remains endemic ... [a]uthorities continue to target civil society activists, opposition members, and journalists, and to persecute religious believers who worship outside strict state controls. Freedom of expression remains severely limited. Government-sponsored forced child labor during the cotton harvest continues."4 The U.S. State Department offered a similar assessment: both political and nonpolitical prisoners are routinely mistreated in prison, some severely; arbitrary arrest and detention is frequent; detainees are often denied fair trials; and the practice of child conscription into the cotton fields each year constitutes a grievous breach of international labor laws.