U.N. Chief Says Uzbekistan Must Observe Human Rights

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Uzbekistan on Monday to fulfill its international human rights commitments and take further steps toward improving the repressive political climate in the Central Asian nation.

In a speech to students at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy, Ban did not cite specific complaints and stayed away from any mention of Uzbekistan’s 2005 brutal suppression of an uprising in the city of Andijan.

But the speech in the Uzbek capital nonetheless sent a strong public statement in a country where such issues often are avoided. Authoritarian President Islam Karimov has led Uzbekistan since before the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and has snuffed out most opposition and human rights activism.

Noting that Uzbekistan has signed international agreements on torture and on civil and political rights, Ban said ”it is time to deliver, time to put them fully into practice.”

Ban later told reporters he delivered the same message during a meeting with Karimov.

”I expect that the Uzbekistan government will lead by example,” Ban said.

A senior U.N. official traveling with Ban’s delegation said Karimov expressed resentment about the U.N. raising human rights issues and claimed that Uzbekistan was being singled out unfairly. However, Karimov understood the issues raised by Ban ”loud and clear,” the official said, on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Uzbek officials made no immediate comment.

Ban’s visit to Uzbekistan is part of a six-day trip through former Soviet Central Asia, a region troubled by poverty, human rights violations and water shortages. Many observers fear the region’s troubles could boil over into instability or feed Islamic radical sentiment, which could impede the international military mission in Afghanistan or spread into neighboring Russia and China.

Ban’s meeting with Karimov came less than two weeks after the U.N.’s Human Rights Committee issued a strongly critical report on Uzbekistan, in particular calling for a fuller investigation of the bloody events in Andijan. Uzbekistan has angrily rejected international criticism of its actions and says independent claims that hundreds were killed are exaggerations.

Ban, apparently avoiding an outright confrontation, did point to recommendations made by another U.N. body, the Human Rights Council, which called on Uzbekistan to accept U.N. special rapporteurs and other independent experts.

”It is important that Uzbekistan act upon these recommendations as soon as possible so that civil society may flourish, so that your people can enjoy the benefits in their daily lives,” he said.

Ban leavened his criticism with praise for Uzbekistan’s contributions in Afghanistan and for its decision to abolish the death penalty, and he offered U.N. expertise and assistance in coping with the Aral Sea’s environmental catastrophe.

Once the world’s fourth-largest lake, the Aral Sea has shrunk to about 10 percent of its original size due to Soviet-era water diversions to irrigation projects. The sea’s shrinking left behind a vast wasteland of salty sand and derelict fishing trawlers, destroying the nearby region’s economy and causing health problems for the impoverished people who remain in the area.

Ban toured the sea area on Sunday and called it one of the world’s worst environmental disasters.

Later Monday, Ban traveled to Tajikistan, the poorest of the Central Asian republics, which is still struggling to recover from a civil war against Islamists in the 1990s. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are quarreling over plans to build a vast dam in Tajikistan that Tashkent says would further inhibit water flowing into the Aral Sea.

Ban met with several Tajik officials including President Emomali Rakhmon, and then attended a presentation on a grandiose hydroelectric power dam project. Neither Ban nor Rakhmon commented on the talks.

The Roghun dam project started in the mid-1970s when Tajikistan was part of the Soviet Union, but stalled because of the economic chaos that followed the 1991 Soviet collapse. It remains only partly completed.

In December Rakhmon ordered every family in the nation to pay $690 (euro460) — providing they were able — to complete the project, which is considered vital to bring an end to the power shortages that cripple this Central Asian nation every winter.

Uzbekistan is concerned that erecting a dam will reduce Vakhsh River flows to Uzbek farmland. Ban was expected to calm rising tensions between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan over the matter.

[original]

spotted by RS

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