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U.S. Criticizes Restrictive New Uzbek Law on NGOs

USINFO

February 2, 2006

By Jeffrey Thomas

The United States is very disturbed by the increasing repression of civil society in Uzbekistan, a U.S. diplomat told the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) February 2.

Kyle Scott, the deputy U.S. representative to the OSCE, said that in the past year the Uzbek government has suspended the activities of numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) -- including Freedom House and the International Research and Exchanges Board, known as IREX -- and that legislation signed in December by Uzbek President Islom Karimov restricts the activities of NGOs.

Uzbekistan frequently has been a source of U.S. concern since the violence in the Uzbek city of Andijon in May 2005. In recent months the United States has spoken out about the arrest of Uzbek opposition leader Nodira Khidayatova, the closure of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) bureau in Tashkent and harassment of other independent media, and the unfair trials of 15 men found guilty of organizing and participating in the demonstrations in Andijon.

As an OSCE participating State, Uzbekistan has committed to uphold the principles of freedom of association and the functioning of non-governmental organizations [NGOs], Scott told the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna, Austria. He cited the commitments outlined in the 1990 Copenhagen and 1991 Moscow documents which were issued following OSCE meetings in those cities on human rights issues.

Uzbekistan's recent legislation and actions against NGOs are unmistakably in opposition to these OSCE commitments, said Scott, adding that citing enacted laws as a justification for their actions (especially in the case of laws that have not been formulated and adopted as the result of an open process reflecting the will of the people) is not sufficient to meet OSCE obligations.

As examples of the weaknesses in the new legislation, he cited the increases in penalties on international NGOs for participating in "political activities that authorities might deem to go beyond the mission of the organization; and for failing to obtain prior government approval before conducting "events" or failing to provide "required information" about their activities.

Although this legislation may appear benign, the vague definitions of political activity, of events, and required information can be easily interpreted as widely as possible, and changed at will to suit the Government of Uzbekistan, Scott said.

These regulations only increase the possibility for arbitrary implementation and hinder the vital work of nongovernmental organizations. This legislation will undoubtedly further restrict NGOs working in Uzbekistan as well as endanger those working to promote civil society, he added.

While acknowledging the Uzbek government's contention that NGOs should be transparent in their finances and operations, Scott said NGOs themselves should decide what their mission is or should be, not governmental regulators.

He added that citizens, through participation in civil society are an important part of the necessary system of checks and balances on a government's power.

Democracies cannot flourish without the ongoing and active participation of civil society, he said. We proudly support many NGOs around the world and will continue to do so in our commitment to helping the development of civil society.

Scott called on Uzbekistan to comply with its OSCE commitments by enacting legislation that facilitates, rather than hinders the work of NGOs, and to stop its crackdown on civil society, including Freedom House and IREX.

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