Elena Urlayeva and Abdujalil Boymatov call for resignation of Karimov on Nov. 7, 2010. Photo by p de la Fuentes.
The extraordinary scandals and dramas in the presidential palace and halls of the national security ministry in Uzbekistan lately seem almost larger than life. There are lurid tales of voices raised as the First Daughter wages a war against her sister and fights for a cousin arrested by the secret police, flinging ashtrays and slapping people -- all leading to the aging and weakened president weeping in the garden.
But all that is hard to confirm because it's hear-say and gossip, although the Christian Science Monitor and other mainstream newspapers are reporting some of it.
Meanwhile, on a lesser stage at a UN panel, you could see the dramas actually playing out, with shouting and fists banging on the table.
Long-time UN watchers are calling it the most incredible thing they've ever seen -- well, none of them are old enough to remember Khrushchev banging his shoe on the table at the UN Security Council.
The normally smooth-tongued and placid Akmal Saidov, chairman of the official National Human Rights Center, was literally shouting and pounding the table at a recent session of the UN's Committee Against Torture, the body charged with assessing countries' compliance with the Convention Against Torture.
Uzbekistan is notorious for torture in its prisons and other facilities of incarceration, and also notorious for backing and filling and double-talking its way out of pressure from the international community. Tashkent is infamous for perpetuating old Soviet methods; when the International Committee of the Red Cross came to visit a prisoner who had filed complaints of torture, the wardens simply substituted the real prisoner with a prompted fake who said everything was fine. Relatives were able to uncover the deception, and eventually this fraud and other difficulties -- like not being able to obtain conditions usually required by the Red Cross for visiting prisoners privately -- led the ICRC finally to withdraw from Uzbekistan.
If you have patience to work with a laggy video and know Russian -- or even if you don't -- you can get a gander at all this emotional defensiveness here.
Although this is a bit simplified, Steve Swerdlow of Human Rights Watch was live-tweeting the session which will give you the flavour. The UN, particularly under pressure from Russia, China and other major-league human rights abusers is always trying to take away NGO privileges at the sessions, but cell phones, lap-tops and i-Pads are allowed in the session, mainly because the UN diplomats and experts refuse to do without them.
Saidov accused committee members of using outdated information.
"You also refer to 'systematic torture' -- an antiquated, hackneyed expression that has long been thrown in our faces," he said. "There is no such phrase as 'systematic torture' in international law. That's not my conclusion, but that of the former UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak."
After Saidov's angry outburst, Felice Gaer, vice chairperson of the UN committee and the country rapporteur for Uzbekistan, said the committee dealt only with the facts. She recalled the saying, "If you can't cite the facts, you cite the law, and if you can't cite the law, you bang the table," and said that's what the committee had witnessed at the review.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights produced a rather sanitized version of the session, without the histrionics, but everyone knows they were there.
There were some other highlights -- CAT has repeatedly asked for what was being done in terms of redress for families of victims of the Andijan events, the massacre by Uzbek troops in 2005 of hundreds of civilians who came out on the public squares to demonstrate, following a jailbreak by armed opposition, the murder of several policemen, and the taking of hostages. (Human rights NGOs tend to emphasize the first part of that sentence and not mention or minimize the second part, but the two have to be mentioned together -- violence did beget violence.) Saidov's answer: "Andijan is a closed subject for Uzbekistan. It's over." Once again, he claimed that the fact that Human Rights Watch could send observers to the trials of some of the people in the Andijan case was somehow the same thing as providing a full and frank report and permitting impartial investigators. It was not.
Another creepy note was sounded when the Chinese member of CAT -- this is the UN, and any country can run for elections and be voted into these bodies -- praised Uzbekistan for "making so much progress" -- why, it already had drafted several "national plans of action" -- which is the usual sop to UN requirements -- avidly encouraged by the UN bureaucracy -- to try to do something about bad human rights records.
Saidov responded: “We’re studying the Chinese experience” and “Your experience is highly valued by us.”
Ugh. Nobody wants to think about what it means in real terms when China buys up half the gas and mineral companies and such in Central Asia. Well, that's what it means.
The official summary record also failed to mention all the names of the cases -- representing every issue from absence of lawyers to coerced confessions from torture to unjust imprisonment, etc. brought to Uzbekistan's attention, which I obtained:
Ruhiddin Komilov, Rustam Tyuleganov and Bakhrom Abdurakhmanov
Rayhon, Khosiyat, and Nargiza Soatova
Mehrinisso and Zulhumor Hamdamova
The Uzbek delegation didn't have any answers, but apparently they may provide them in writing later.
Kyrgyzstan will be reviewed November 11th and 12th at the UN CAT.