January 25th, 2013
11:08 AM ET

Tweets can't hide Uzbekistan's woeful record

By Andrew Stroehlein and Steve Swerdlow, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Andrew Stroehlein is communications director at the International Crisis Group and Steve Swerdlow is Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are their own.

Recent Twitter conversations between the wannabe-jet-set daughter of Uzbekistan’s authoritarian ruler and critics of the country’s atrocious human rights record may have been unusual and amusing. They may have even brought a rare blip of international media attention to a reclusive regime the world normally seems happy to ignore.

What the tweets have not done, however, is improve anyone’s life in the miserably abusive state of Uzbekistan itself, where, among other things, torture in police custody is systematic, and over a million children and adults are subjected to forced labor in the cotton fields every year.

The fresh attention on Gulnara Karimova’s 140-character exchanges – in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Le Monde, Le Temps, PRI, and many others – is understandable. A tweet from the daughter of such an authoritarian ruler is indeed out of the ordinary, and that alone makes it newsworthy. But this is hardly the only “unusual” thing about her.

She is, in fact, a bit of a “weird news” magnet. Karimova is a diplomat who makes music videos, including a recent one with Russia’s newest citizen, Gérard Depardieu, and she even has her own perfume brand. She also has a line of jewelry, and she pops up at fashion shows to market and sell dresses she designs.

In fact, she seems to spend so much time promoting herself and her products that it is a wonder she has time to fulfill her official role as Uzbekistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

The Swiss city is home to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, two institutions that Uzbekistan tends to avoid. In particular, the Uzbek government has studiously ignored requests to visit by the Council’s “Special Procedures” mechanisms – independent experts who address thematic human rights issues around the world.

Uzbekistan is something of a repeat offender in this regard, having denied access to 11 special procedures in the last 11 years. This means they have refused to allow visits by the U.N.’s special rapporteurs on torture, on the situation of human rights defenders, on freedom of religion, on violence against women, on the independence of judges and lawyers, on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, on contemporary forms of slavery, on freedom of association and assembly and on cultural rights, as well as the working groups on arbitrary detention, and on enforced disappearances.

Given that Uzbekistan has little to be proud of in all these areas, it is perhaps not surprising that they prefer no such visitors and that Karimova spends her time cutting albums under her alter ego “Googoosha,” dancing with Depardieu, and promoting her perfume rather than cooperating with the U.N. human rights bodies in Geneva.

But no amount of perfume can hide the smell of Uzbekistan’s record, which for decades has been one of the most brutal in the world.

Human Rights Watch has been documenting this abusive record for years. It includes: the complete lack of political freedom and the imprisonment of civil society activists; systematic use of torture in police custody and in prisons; forced adult and child labor in the cotton fields; lack of accountability for the 2005 Andijan massacre, in which the government opened fire on mainly unarmed demonstrators, killing hundreds, and the show trials and persecution that followed; severe restrictions on freedom of expression; the denial of access for numerous international organizations and media outlets; and, of course, Uzbekistan’s continued failure to cooperate with the United Nations system of Special Procedures or any of the U.N.’s other monitoring bodies.

This is undoubtedly a long list, but the full accounting of this government’s crimes against its own people is far longer.

During her public Twitter conversation with one of us (Andrew), Karimova asked for details of these issues and promised to respond to them. We described some of the key horrors in a long open letter to her a month ago. The ambassador has so far not fulfilled her pledge to respond to these concerns, ignoring it as if it were a U.N. request.

Of course, regardless of the flash of an unusual media story, no one is fooled by a few tweets any more than they are by a new music video or a new clothing line unveiled at fashion shows.

We should not be distracted by Karimova’s jet-setting at all. The government she represents has a duty to end human rights abuses now, and she is in an official position that should be addressing these issues.

So, tweet that, Ambassador Karimova.

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Topics: Central Asia

soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. rightospeak

    I just love when you propagandists are talking about Human Rights as if there was no Patriot Act. Nothing about Assange being kept prisoner in Equadorian Embassy just like Cardinal Midszenty was kept in American Embassy in Hungary in 1956. Nothing about Human Rights Activist Ernst Zundel whose home in Toronto was burned with little police protection ( his video on Zundelsite shows the paid pickets and treats), who was kidnapped and kept in jail in the US and handed over to Canadian Secret Police. His crime – politically incorrect opinions !!!!Nothing about Human Rights violations of the best historian David Irving in Austria ( he wrote about it in " Banged Up .." ) where he was jailed and lost his livelihood for expressing an opinion based . I read his book on Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and it is excellent with inconvenient truths. Isn't jailing a person for expressing just an opinion a violation of Human Rights ?

    January 25, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Well put, rightospeak. Thank you.

      January 25, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  2. Honest Uzbek

    Gulnara Karimova is a joke and Uzbeks know it. She may enjoy her father's time but once he is gone, she is gone too. She knows that too. Gulnara va Lola live in their own pathetic worlds, where they are the Uzbek princesses. But in the eyes of the Uzbek people, they are blood-sucking brats who are draining the entire nation, its wealth and culture. For the record, not only the ordinary people hate them but the entire political and business circle in the country. Gulnara's latest song is in Uzbek, dedicated to her father. It's so awful that you want to cry. She would be kicked out of any talent show. If anybody else sings that horribly, people would make fun of that person and boo her off the stage. But tragically, Uzbeks' safe choice is to applaud her and suffer in silence. Gulnara Karimova is full of absurdities and I feel so ashamed she represents Uzbekistan. Our country has great talent and intellect. But Gulnara and her sister, just like their father and his supporters, have stolen our society's right to move forward.

    January 25, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • AtoZ

      Speak for yourself, would you? I am Uzbek and my view of these people are quite different from yours, and I don't feel ashamed by the way they represent my country. And I am honest, too!

      January 25, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
      • Honest Uzbek

        I'm definitely speaking for myself, AtOz. I would hate to put myself into the same group of people like you, who live in denial and kiss up to those who run the country in such a ruthless and selfish way. It's time to learn to judge things based on reality and NOT based on your blind, dishonest, egoistic, shallow-nationalistic, personality-cult kind of way. You live in darkness. I don't.

        January 25, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
      • Kahramon

        When you are NOT free in mind and spirit, you can't think clearly, you can't create, you can't change yourself, you can't move forward. The Uzbek people's minds have been locked – by government design – for over 20 years. I am talking about the common folk, the masses. It is one thing if you have lived your whole life in an Uzbek village, toiling in the fields, watching "Ahborot" propaganda every day and not knowing that life CAN be different. If you are a keen observer of Uzbekistan, if you see what is happening there with your eyes wide open, and still deny the truth, you definitely need a referral to a psychologist. Do it (calling out AtoZ) before symptoms get worse. I grew up in Uzbekistan, I care about my country. It pains me to see it robbed, humiliated and taken advantage of by its own government. Uzbekistan is a vehicle that started its engine, maybe moved a couple of blocks in the 90s, but has been in reverse mode ever since.

        January 26, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  3. Justin

    Honest Uzbek, you are absolutely right.
    AtoZ, I hope you enjoy spending what ever you were paid for your bucket of whitewash.

    January 26, 2013 at 6:01 am |
  4. Uzbek who seen the world

    Whatevet is written in this article and most of the comments are propoganda. Stability is number one for any counytry, especially recently independent ones in Central Asia. We are lucky to have the President who ensures the integrity of the county and stable development. The signs of development are everywhere, nobody can ignore that. It could have been much worse, just look at other post-Soviet countries, how they suffered after the transition from the Soviet Union. Uzbekistan relies on its resources and doesn't beg others for credits or assistance, that's why no outside power or internationa organization has a leverage over it and this probably angers a lot of so-called watchers. They would rather see a conflict in Uzbekistan or the region and come to Tashkent to teach on the "advantages of free society" and act as advisor and whatnot. Just stiff through archives from October 2001 or so and you will see what were leading papers and websites in the West were writing about Uzbekistan. It was all full of praise and you know why. These so-called human rights defenders are paid for "activists" and they will write articles full of praise if paid by someone or told to do so by certain cycles in D.C. For the most part of its independence, Tashkent did not listen to anyone on how to go about its job and it better continue this way. No outsider wants whats good for us, I am pretty sure of that. The only "guilt" of Uzbeks is that they might not be perceived as equals by the Westerners. But that's OK, we are proud people, we don't need to be vindicated by others. So, for my fellow Uzbeks writing from the "comforts" of faraway countries, shame on you!

    January 27, 2013 at 3:27 am |
    • Reality check

      Stability - real stability - does not come through systematic torture and other massive abuses. You keep people in cages and beat them, and that builds up tensions. Big ones. That's what we saw coming out at Andijan in 2005, and that's what we'll no doubt see again. You think there will be a smooth transfer of power once the old man goes? Not even Karimova thinks that. Why do you think she stashes her money abroad and not in Uzbekistan? Like everyone else, she knows the country is not really stable.

      January 27, 2013 at 4:47 am |
      • Uzbek who seen the world

        You will be surprized how smooth it will go... Seems you knowledge abt Uzbekistan is only based on media articles like this one.

        January 27, 2013 at 6:10 am |
    • Kahramon

      Oh, the oft-cited notorious stability that every benevolent dictator provides for his country! We the subjects outside Uzbekistan always fail to appreciate that fact. Apologies, our bad. I clearly remember the Western media singing odes to the Uzbek model of development, especially in the US, under the directive of Mr. Bush. All it takes is one phone call from the White House to the New York Times and the Washington Post. Just for the record, something like this would never happen in Uzbekistan, period. The world-trotting Uzbek is right, Mr. Karimov needs no freaking advice from outsiders, because he knows better. Uzbekistan's doors will remain shut for UN special rapporteurs because we know what they are after – the Uzbek model of development, the secret formula! Every nation in the world is begging to share it with them, and some have already implemented it in their societies. But without the secret ingredient, they will never get it perfectly right. They will never understand the true meaning of ever-deepening reforms in Uzbekistan. As for Messrs. Stroehlein and Swerdlow, the "paid for activists" who wrote this article, there is no doubt they are sipping their mojitos under palm trees on their Costa Rica vacation... and, of course, plotting their next move. Shame on you, guys!

      January 27, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  5. j. von hettlingen

    Uzbekistan is a police state. One in seven men of working age is employed by the security apparatus, including the much hated police -Militsya. The Karimov clan has much to lose, if the authoritarian regime falls. The Andijan massacre in 2005 was just the tip of the iceberg.

    January 28, 2013 at 5:04 am |
    • j. von hettlingen

      Gulnara Karimova wants to portray herself as Uzbekistan's cultural ambassador to the West. She could aim at building her popular appeal at home, and even preparing herself as a potential successor to her father.

      January 28, 2013 at 5:08 am |
  6. Justin

    The facts of the matter are, as we all know, as long as Karimov holds power, Al Quaeda and the Taliban have no chance in Uzbekistan. Hence he gains support from the West. But, what when he pops his clogs? Karimova? Oh please.
    This will become a very serious problem in Central Asia for its people, particularly the Uzbek population and ultimately for the rest of the world as terrorism will flourish in any form of power vacuum. The armed forces and Militsya will obey whoever guarantees their pay and Karimova will have long departed with the funds to some country able to give her shelter and there are plenty of those. including , no doubt Great Britain. She has managed to establish warm relations with the UK through her affiliation to the British Council. Perhaps I should say the British Councils' affilition with her. No doubt with all her skills the UK will benefit immeasurably from her miriad of abilities and varied talents. If the worst comes to the worst Depardieu could put her up in Russia? It will be interesting.

    January 28, 2013 at 10:08 am |
  7. Honest Uzbek

    You obviously haven't seen the world, "Uzbek seen the world"... Backward people like you are dragging our people to more darkness and control. It's not about what the outside world says or thinks about us. It is about us. You talk about pride. What pride?! Stop bragging about your Uzbek pride when you have millions of your people suffering and living in fear. They fear their own government, not anybody else. I bet you are one of them too, unless you are a slave to SNB. But even then, they can do anything to you. They don't care about your pride or belief in great future. They'll spit on it just like they've been doing to millions of Uzbek people. The enemy is not some outside organization or foreign state. The enemy is people like you and others who blindly support the dictatorship and watch as their great country gets abused by its leaders.... By the way, this is coming to you from Tashkent. There are people here who still dare to speak out.

    February 23, 2013 at 5:39 pm |

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