Deadly Uzbekistan Protests Still Echo a Year Later

The United States, whose military base in the Uzbek city of Khanabad is strategically important to operations in Afghanistan, asked for an "objective and transparent international investigation." Uzbek President Islam Karimov rejected the possibility of an outside inquiry and, in July, ordered the U.S. troops out of the southern military base.

A year later, international human rights groups are lobbying for the West to renew pressure on Karimov for an international investigation into the events. In two new reports issued this week, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accused Tashkent of a cover-up.

"The trials," the HRW report stated, "did nothing to answer the outstanding questions about the scale of and the responsibility for the massacre."

"No one has been held accountable" added Steve Strohlein, HRW's London director.

U.S. Pressure

The calls from human rights organizations found supporters among government officials in both the United States and the European Union.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., are reintroducing legislation in Congress to fund the promotion of democracy and human rights in Central Asia, with proposed sanctions on Uzbekistan directly affecting Karimov and his governing circle. The bill will prevent U.S. funds from going to the Uzbek government until a credible international investigation gets under way. The proposed bill mirrors EU sanctions by establishing a visa ban and an asset freeze for Uzbek officials and their families, in addition to an export ban on munitions.

Talking to an international conference in Washington at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace recently McCain painted a dark picture of a country with repression of civil society, Soviet-style show trials and expulsion of international media and nongovernmental organizations.

Tashkent blamed U.S. and other foreign groups for fomenting the protest, accusing Washington of sending Islamic terrorists to destabilize the country.

Talking to the Russian press agency Interfax on Thursday, Col. Abdumutal Zakurlayev, a senior investigator at the Uzbek Interior Ministry, said, "Obviously, last May's events resulted from the collusion of religious and extremist organizations, which wanted to seize power with the assistance of external forces."

He added that, "The destructive forces planned to repeat the colored revolutions of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. They wanted to create unrest but minimize the use of arms."

On Wednesday, the British Government said it would continue pressing Uzbekistan to improve its human rights record and try to strengthen punitive measures already in place against the Central Asian nation.

"We will keep up the pressure on Uzbekistan in order to make sure that the human rights situation … is changed," Prime Minister Tony Blair said.

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