Western governments are overlooking rampant human rights abuses in Uzbekistan since the Central Asian country serves as a key supply route for NATO forces in Afghanistan, claims a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Uzbekistan is using torture -- both physical and psychological – on prisoners -- alleges HRW, based on interviews with victims, their families, lawyers and others.
The report details some gruesome forms of torture inflicted upon detainees and also states that the Uzbek government has led a campaign of disbarring prominent attorneys and denying prisoners with legal counsel.
HRW wrote in its report: “Torture in Uzbekistan’s criminal justice system was both ‘systematic’ and ‘widespread,’ often occurring immediately after a person’s detention, during interrogation, when a person has no access to a lawyer, and is far from a judge’s oversight.”
The report suggests that Uzbek’s strategic proximity to Afghanistan have led Western governments to ignore the gross abuses heaped upon its people by the state apparatus. In fact, the European Union (EU) actually dropped sanctions that were already in place against the country. In September of this year, the U.S. government approved sending military aid to Uzbekistan, waiving the restrictions it normally would impose on a nation with questionable human rights policies.
Uzbekistan is a landlocked nation sounded by Turkmenistan to the southwest, Kazakhstan to the northeast; Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east; and Afghanistan to the south. Moreover, given the fact that Pakistan has recently shut off two key supply routes for NATO to use into Afghanistan, the Uzbek option becomes more important for the war effort.
Steven Swerdlow, head of HRW's Uzbek program, criticized the US and Europe over its sloce relations with the country.
“Uzbekistan has this single functioning rail line from the north to the south into Afghanistan, he told the BBC.
And the United States and the EU have of late, moved away from criticizing the human rights situation in favor of co-operating with the country in order to supply their troops in Afghanistan.”
HRW is now calling for western states to impose sanctions – such as travel bans and asset freezes -- on Uzbek officials involved in torture.
However, a spokesman for the US government told BBC that aid to Uzbekistan is imperative.
We need this waiver to allow the United States to provide defensive equipment to enhance Uzbekistan's ability to protect its border through which a lot of cargo that is destined for our troops in Afghanistan is passing, said US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake.
But we raise human rights on every occasion that we have engagement with Uzbekistan.”