Refugees trying to escape political violence in Uzbekistan by seeking international protection in Kyrgyzstan are at risk of being forcibly returned to their country. All people have the right not to be returned to a country where they face threats to life or freedom.
Kyrgyzstan, the region’s first signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, has responded quickly and is cooperating with the United Nations to assist the new arrivals, but there are troubling indicators of vulnerability for refugees and others seeking to flee: increased Uzbek security activities that include shootings of unarmed people near border crossings; additional border patrols to stem movement; individuals trying to flee who have been turned back or detained; the proximity of the refugee camp’s to the border, making it vulnerable to incursions from Uzbekistan; varying reports that individuals who crossed the border legally have been prevented by Kyrgyz border troops from joining the camp; and the possibility that Kyrgyzstan could bow to Uzbekistan’s pressure to return the refugees.hat Kyrgyzstan could bow to Uzbekistan’s pressure to return the refugees. The right of refugees from Uzbekistan to non-refoulement, asylum, and humanitarian assistance must be protected. The 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol make non-refoulement, or protection from forced return, a fundamental right of refugees fleeing the threat of persecution.
In Uzbekistan, Central Asia's most repressive republic, unarmed women and children can be branded "Islamic radicals" and "criminals," and mowed down in the streets.
That is how President Islam Karimov has sought to justify the massacre last week in Andijan, where his troops crushed a local uprising. Witnesses say 500 people were killed, and 200 in other cities. Some were shot in the head as they lay hurt.
There is no justifying such carnage, however useful the autocratic Karimov regime may be helping the United States to suppress Al Qaeda and its allies in neighbouring Afghanistan. Karimov lets the U.S. operate an air base on his turf. But he has always been an unsavoury ally. Now he is a fatally tainted one.
Not since China's infamous Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 has a regime so notoriously crushed its own citizens, if eyewitness reports are accurate.
Karimov, once a Communist boss, has ruled the former Soviet republic of 26 million since 1989. He has jailed 6,000 dissidents, labelling many "Islamic extremists," often without trial. Many have been tortured. Opposition parties are banned.
The violence in Andijan flows from that benighted policy. The city lies in the poor Fergana Valley, where Islamist sentiment is strong.
When Karimov put 23 local businessmen — all major employers and charitable donors — on trial as extremists, their supporters attacked a police station. They took weapons, overran a prison and freed the businessmen and hundreds of others. Then they took over a government building, held a rally denouncing repression and bad economic conditions, and hurled stones at troops.
The soldiers opened fire from armoured personnel carriers, gunning down hundreds. Gunfire could still be heard yesterday.
Karimov is grimly determined to stave off a Georgia- or Kyrgyzstan-style regime change. And the protest may indeed have been manipulated by Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an outlawed Islamic group. But Karimov's repression has left Uzbeks little choice but to turn to extremism.
There are Muslim democrats in Uzbekistan, and reformers, in addition to autocrats and radicals. The U.S. and its allies should cultivate those moderates, and lend them support. Uzbeks deserve better.
Source: Editorial at The Toronto Star
Islam Abduganievich Karimov was born in Samarkand to an Uzbek father and a Tajik mother, and was raised in a Soviet state orphanage - on January 30, 1938.
After studying engineering and economics in Tashkent, he became an official in the Communist Party.
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 declared the independence of Uzbekistan on August 31, 1991 and won elections held on December 29 of that year with 86% of the vote. The elections have been called unfair, with state-run propaganda and a falsified vote count, although the opposing candidate and leader of the Erk (http://www.uzbekistanerk.org) (Freedom) Party, Muhammad Solih, had a chance to participate. Shortly after the elections, a harsh political clampdown forced opposition leaders into exile, while many have been issued long-term prison sentences and a few have disappeared.
In 1995, Karimov extended his term until 2000 through a widely criticized referendum, and he was reelected with 91.9% of the vote on January 9, 2000. The United States said that this election "was neither free nor fair and offered Uzbekistan's voters no true choice" (http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/election/uzbekistan/bbu260100.htm). The sole opposition candidate, Abdulhasiz Dzhalalov, admitted that he had only entered the race to make it appear to be a democratic contest and that he had actually cast his own vote for Karimov.
Refugees who fled a crackdown by Uzbek troops said on Friday they dared not return home, amid growing international demands for an inquiry into reports that security forces dispatched to end protests, killed civilians in the Uzbek town of Andizhan last week.
On January 27, 2002, Karimov won another referendum extending the length of presidential terms from five to seven years; Karimov's present term, formerly due to end in 2005, was subsequently extended by parliament, which scheduled the next elections for December 2007.
Karimov's record on human rights and press freedom has met with considerable criticism in the international community. In particular, outspoken former British Ambassador in Uzbekistan Craig Murray has pointed to reports of Karimov's regime boiling people to death, and the United Nations has found torture "institutionalized, systematic, and rampant" in Uzbekistan's justice system.
Karimov is married; his wife Tatyana Akbarovna Karimova is an economist. They have two daughters and three grandchildren. His elder daughter, Gulnara Karimova, serves as an Advisor to the Ambassador of Uzbekistan in Russia and is believed to have built an extensive business empire that includes the largest wireless telephone operator in Uzbekistan, night clubs, and a large cement factory.
Russia conquered Uzbekistan in the late 19th century. Stiff resistance to the Red Army after World War I was eventually suppressed and a socialist republic set up in 1924. During the Soviet era, intensive production of "white gold" (cotton) and grain led to overuse of agrochemicals and the depletion of water supplies, which have left the land poisoned and the Aral Sea and certain rivers half dry. Independent since 1991, the country seeks to gradually lessen its dependence on agriculture while developing its mineral and petroleum reserves. Current concerns include terrorism by Islamic militants, economic stagnation, and the curtailment of human rights and democratization.
Source: CIA World Factbook
Uzbekistan is a dry, landlocked country of which 11% consists of intensely cultivated, irrigated river valleys. More than 60% of its population lives in densely populated rural communities. Uzbekistan is now the world's second-largest cotton exporter, a large producer of gold and oil, and a regionally significant producer of chemicals and machinery. Following independence in December 1991, the government sought to prop up its Soviet-style command economy with subsidies and tight controls on production and prices. Uzbekistan responded to the negative external conditions generated by the Asian and Russian financial crises by emphasizing import substitute industrialization and by tightening export and currency controls within its already largely closed economy. The government, while aware of the need to improve the investment climate, sponsors measures that often increase, not decrease, the government's control over business decisions. A sharp increase in the inequality of income distribution has hurt the lower ranks of society since independence. In 2003, the government accepted the obligations of Article VIII under the International Monetary Fund (IMF), providing for full currency convertibility. However, strict currency controls and tightening of borders have lessened the effects of convertibility and have also led to some shortages that have further stifled economic activity.
Source: CIA World Factbook