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HELSINKI COMMISSION TO HOLD HEARING ON CENTRAL ASIA AND THE ARAB SPRING

WASHINGTON –U.S. Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), announced today that the Commission will hold a hearing on Central Asia.

“Central Asia and the Arab Spring: Growing Pressure for Human Rights?”

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

2:00 p.m.

2322 Rayburn House Office Building 

The hearing will examine whether the factors that drove the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East exist in any of the Central Asian states, whether the demand for democracy and human rights that has spread in that region could also manifest itself in Central Asia, and whether the fear of similar uprisings could instead trigger government crackdowns in Central Asia. It also will discuss whether the U.S. should take a fresh look at its policies—particularly regarding human rights—in Central Asia in light of the events in North Africa and the Middle East.    

The following witnesses have been invited to testify:

The Honorable Robert O. Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs

Dr. Stephen J. Blank, Professor of National Security Affairs, Strategic Studies Institute, United States Army War College

Paul Goble, Professor, Institute of World Politics

Dr. Scott Radnitz, Assistant Professor, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington

Gulam Umarov, Sunshine Coalition, Uzbekistan

Popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, along with ferment in Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan and Syria, surprised even expert analysts and shook the very foundations not just of the states concerned but of the entire region. The long authoritarian rule of leaders in the region had been accepted by many as a factor of stability. In the end, however, public anger erupted over regimes that had been in power for decades, enriching themselves and their cronies, while most citizens barely scraped by.

Many of these conditions apply to the states of Central Asia, with the partial exception of Kyrgyzstan – where street protests have toppled two presidents since 2005 and last year the country established a parliamentary government. Although the situation is unique in each Central Asian country, the region’s states have human rights records that are consistently poor, and some are listed among the most repressive countries in the world.  Rulers have contrived to remain in office indefinitely, controlled and rigged elections, restricted independent media and religious freedom, harassed opposition parties – where they exist at all—and stunted the development of civil society. Torture and mistreatment in detention are common in the region.

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