WASHINGTON – The crisis in Uzbekistan and U.S. policy options toward the regime of President Islam Karimov were examined at a briefing held today by the U.S. Helsinki Commission.
“President Karimov is at a crossroads,” said Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission. “He can continue with his repressive policies, or he can move forward to reform the regime.”
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.
The Helsinki Commission held a hearing on the developing political and human rights crisis in Uzbekistan on June 24, 2004.
Today’s briefing was held in the wake of protests in the town of Andijon in eastern Uzbekistan that was violently put down by Uzbek troops on May 13. The Uzbek regime has long been listed as an abuser of human rights. Torture in Uzbek prisons, according to a United Nations report, is “systemic.”
“President Karimov needs to come clean,” added Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ). “The media should be admitted into the area, humanitarian groups like the ICRC should be allowed access. If peaceful protests spread throughout the country and Uzbek forces respond indiscriminately with deadly violence, the United States would be forced to reevaluate its strategic partnership with Uzbekistan.”
Among those participating in the briefing were H.E. Samuel Zbogar, Ambassador of Slovenia and representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office; Dr. Abdurahim Polat, Chairman of the Uzbek opposition Birlik Party; Mr. Michael Cromartie, Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Dr. Martha Brill Olcott, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Mr. Daniel Kimmage, Central Asia Analyst for Radio free Europe/Radio Liberty.
“There will be a catastrophe worse than what has already happened unless the Uzbek Government changes it ways,” noted Commission Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin, (D-MD). “Uzbekistan must strive to resolve this situation peacefully, and continue to meet its commitments as a participating State in the OSCE.”
According to Uzbek and international human rights groups, approximately 5,500 individuals remain jailed because of their religious beliefs or affiliations, despite repeated calls by Members of the Helsinki Commission, the international community and NGOs for their unconditional release.