Internal Affairs / Uzbekistan

Op-Ed: What’s behind special relationship between HRW and Uzbekistan

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3-08-2018, 11:57

After a seven-year hiatus, perhaps the most famous human rights organization in the world Human Rights Watch (HRW) is returning to Uzbekistan. The most famous, and perhaps the most scandalous. The activities of the organization, which at first glance were designed to protect the rights of people around the world, are increasingly being criticized today. Someone condemns the organization for prejudice against one country for the sake of others, some even point out its subversive nature destabilizing the situation in different societies.

Op-Ed: What’s behind special relationship between HRW and Uzbekistan

However, throughout its whole history, despite the noble intensions, HRW has not been able to work out an unambiguous positive authority. Why? The answer to this question is not that difficult to answer. A few facts could do it. Including its biography.

So, HRW was founded in 1978 to support the dissident movement in the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries and was first called the Helsinki Watch. The demand for human rights defenders was growing, and the union was rapidly spreading to other countries and continents. In 1989, all human rights sections were merged into one organization the Human Rights Watch - under common management.

Who is sponsoring HRW? This is a separate and an inconvenient for many question. Officially the HRW is funded by voluntary donations. In 2010, George Soros, known not only as a financier and philanthropist, but also as a politician whose funds were repeatedly accused of supporting the change of power in a number of states, covered most of HRW's expenses. Soros announced that he allocated $100 million to the organization.

HRW rejects the accusations that it is receiving funds from any government, but some funds, sponsored by HRW, do receive finances from governments. The organization does not specify the names of the funds, but it is known that 75% of funding comes from the countries of North America. It is not that hard to guess which country is doing most of the funding.

However, even if one doesn’t take into account the fact that an independent organization, is in fact, financially dependent on individual countries, there are still a lot of reasons to suspect HRW of bias. One of the latter is related to the organization's criticism of Israel. Last year HRW suddenly failed to accredit its employee in this country. Tel Aviv simply refused the person a working visa under the pretense: "the organization's reports serve the Palestinian propaganda, under the guise of a false flag of human rights."

In recent years, HRW has, as never before, often condemned Israel for violating international law. Which almost makes sense. In the context of the permanent war that Israel is waging with its neighbors, human rights violations, even on the other side of the barricade, are unavoidable. But! HRW did not mention a word about other countries in the region with authoritarian regimes and simply an innumerable list of violations. About the countries that are accused of supporting and financing international terrorism, and where society lives by nearly medieval laws.

As an example, let’s take HRW’s activities in Uzbekistan. In 2011, the Supreme Court decided to liquidate the organization as it was "conducting activities that are against the local legislation." One of the reasons that led to the termination of HRW in Uzbekistan was the strange attempt of the latter to defend the infamous Atayev family -- father Alim Atayev was the former chairman of the board of the state bakery company.

The Atayevs left Uzbekistan 18 years ago, immediately after the initiation of a criminal case against them about large-scale embezzlement in the state company. As the investigation later proved, the Atayevs did not just quietly steal, but plundered the state budget including the funds of flour intended for needy families. In general, for three years at the helm of the company the family has stolen more than 3 million US dollars.

In 2013, the authorities of Uzbekistan, not having obtained extradition of the Atayev family from France, where they settled, initiated a case without them. The verdict: Atayevs - father, son and daughter - were sentenced up to nine years. The trial, it should be noted, was open. In the course of the observation, local human rights activists observed, and even the most ardent of them were forced to admit that there had been no violations. All the charges in setting up the organized criminal groups and stealing the funds of the state company were proved, and none of the 70 witnesses gave evidence under pressure.

Nevertheless, this did not prevent HRW in its report for 2014 to state that the trial of the Atayevs was based on "fabricated accusations" and was held "closed". The most interesting thing is that HRW conducted its investigation being outside the country. Later, the organization preferred to ignore the official request of Uzbekistan on how they managed to conduct such a thorough investigation, without entering the country.

But now one of the associates of this high-profile case - Nadezhda Atayeva - actively participates in round tables and conferences on human rights protection together with HRW. Moreover, under her patronage the association "Human Rights in Central Asia" began to function. Needless to say, HRW is also its main partner. What a career: from a member of the organized crime group and a corrupt official into well-known human rights activists. But that's not the point.

The Ataev case is only a small part of the complex history of the relationship between the human rights organization and the Uzbek authorities, which, despite all the negative aspects, after a seven-year hiatus, still allowed the delegation of HRW to visit the country. And those on arrival noted for themselves "many positive changes." Head of HRW for Central Asia Steve Sverdlov separately stressed that President Shavkat Mirziyoyev supports the expansion of the organization's activities in Uzbekistan.

There is a simple answer to why he does: because the authorities of Uzbekistan, in contrast to representatives of a well-known organization, value their reputation and do not plan to conceal anything.

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