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U.S. Helsinki Commission Calls for Calm, Respect for Human Rights in Uzbekistan

WASHINGTON – The Chairman and Co-Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, (the U.S. Helsinki Commission), called today for calm on all sides and for the Uzbek Government to respect human rights after an outbreak of violence and turmoil in Uzbekistan.

“The Uzbek Government needs to show restraint in dealing with the situation in eastern Uzbekistan, and to make sure that more innocent people are not harmed,” said Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

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.

While condemning the reported armed seizure of a prison, the Commission leaders noted the Uzbek Government’s record of political arrests and of torture in detention set the stage for the incident and called for Uzbekistan to meet its OSCE commitments.

“Uzbekistan is a signatory to the Helsinki Final Act and is obliged to respect human rights and the rule of law,” added Helsinki Commission Co-Chair, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). “I recognize that the Uzbek Government has to deal with the challenges of terrorism, but the regime’s repressive methods are simply counterproductive, fostering the very extremism they purport to fight, and creating a climate ripe for the developments we see unfolding today.”

According to press reports, on May 12, an unidentified group of armed men broke open a jail in the eastern Uzbek town of Andijan to free a group of 23 local businessmen facing trial on charges of extremism. 4,000 other inmates and political prisoners were also released. Uzbek soldiers have sealed off the town where a reported 2,000 protesters have gathered following the jailbreak. There are reports that shots have been fired, with as many as nine dead and 34 wounded.

“Uzbekistan suffers from tremendous poverty and unemployment. When you add to that the repressive regime of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, you have a highly combustible combination,” noted Brownback. “Violent reprisals against the peaceful protestors will only further escalate tension. President Karimov knows his obligations under the Helsinki Accords which he signed when Uzbekistan joined the OSCE in 1992. He needs to end this crisis quickly without further bloodshed and take concrete steps to bring democracy and respect for human rights to Uzbekistan.”

“Uzbekistan remains an authoritarian police state, with little liberalization under President Karimov, who contrived to remain in power by any means necessary. Instead of moving toward genuine reforms following developments in Georgia, Ukraine, and neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Karimov has stepped up repression. That is a recipe for catastrophe,” added Smith.

“There has to be justice for criminals and terrorists,” said Brownback. “But thousands have been locked up in Uzbekistan on trumped up charges of extremism. The Karimov regime is reaping the fruit of years of trampling on the human rights of the people of Uzbekistan and should not be surprised if the people say ‘enough.’”

Torture in Uzbek prisons, according to a United Nations report, is “systemic.” 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.  

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