Joint Letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on Uzbekistan
Joint Letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on Uzbekistan
Open Letter / Europe & Central Asia 6 minutes

Joint Letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on Uzbekistan

Dear Secretary Rice:

As you prepare to travel to Central Asia, we believe this is an opportune time for the U.S. to adopt a comprehensive strategy, including targeted sanctions, to address the deteriorating situation in Uzbekistan.

Such a policy should recognize that the government of Islam Karimov has made a fundamental break from the commitments made to the United States following September 11th – by intensifying its brutal crackdown on peaceful dissent, expelling U.S. forces from Uzbek soil, and reportedly limiting cooperation on counter-terrorism.  As an administration official recently stated in the Washington Post, the Uzbek president “fears democracy more than terrorism” – suggesting that in his ruthless determination to maintain power, Karimov will continue to take steps detrimental not only to his own people but to security and stability in his region. 

Consistent with President Bush’s repeated declarations that U.S. security cannot be based upon alliances with repressive regimes, President Karimov’s recent actions must change fundamentally the way the U.S. Government interacts with the Government of Uzbekistan.  It no longer makes sense for the United States to seek cooperation with Uzbekistan on some issues while promoting human rights, when Karimov has himself rejected a cooperative relationship.  Every element of the U.S. relationship with Uzbekistan should now be working for the goal of political reform.   We believe that such a strategy would command bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress and be sustainable over time because it is grounded in American interests and policy goals. 

It is possible that as many, if not more, people died in the Andijan massacre on May 13, 2005 than in Tiananmen Square in 1989.  Consistent reports, including by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group indicate that this staggering loss of life resulted from a deliberate attack on men, women and children.  But this event represents more than just another deterioration in the already bleak human rights situation in Uzbekistan.   The massacre, together with Uzbekistan’s refusal to cooperate with independent investigations, its defiance of diplomatic overtures from the U.S. and the E.U., its bullying of neighboring states to force the return of Uzbek refugees, and now, its absurd show trials, reveal the essential character of the Karimov government. 

We have applauded the increasingly forceful statements by yourself and other Administration officials regarding Uzbekistan, yet the time has come for a broader reevaluation of policy, as well as concrete actions to convince the Uzbek leadership that it is not in their interest to continue the course their president has chosen.  The European Union has already acted to impose a visa ban on Uzbek officials and an arms embargo.  The United States should be leading, not lagging behind. 

We hope the administration will develop a strategy that integrates its military posture in the region, its diplomatic activity (multilateral as well as bilateral), its public diplomacy, its economic engagement and its democracy assistance efforts. Such an integrated policy should include the following elements:

1. Sanctions. 

The United States should impose targeted “smart” sanctions on the leadership of the Government of Uzbekistan, including a visa ban, the freezing of personal assets of  Uzbek officials, and the freezing of assets of companies directly controlled by Karimov and his family. (We note that the E.U. has specifically adopted travel bans on those directly responsible for the Andijan massacre.) We also urge the U.S. government to follow the E.U. lead by imposing a general embargo on the transfer of any armaments to Uzbekistan, including excess defense articles, and any other equipment that could be used for internal repression. We further urge you to consider whether effective action can be taken to limit revenue the Karimov government receives from exports of Uzbek cotton (a commodity harvested in large part with unpaid child and bonded labor) without adding significantly to the hardship already experienced by the Uzbek people.

2.  Appropriate military posture.  

We are grateful that the administration accepted the loss of basing rights in Uzbekistan rather than mute its criticism of the Andijan massacre.  That same principle should apply to any remaining elements of the U.S. military relationship with Uzbekistan, including over-flight rights, to dispel any misunderstanding that Tashkent can blackmail the United States into overlooking crimes such as those perpetrated in Andijan. We also welcome the administration’s decision not to “render” Uzbek detainees in Guantanamo to the custody of the Uzbek government.  The United States should not be closely cooperating with intelligence agencies in Uzbekistan that are part of that country’s internal security apparatus – and recognize that any information provided by those agencies is likely to be tainted by torture (as well as by the Karimov government’s post-Andijan campaign of disinformation).

3. Support for the people of  Uzbekistan.  

We also further urge you to support a package of actions that would make clear to the people of Uzbekistan that, as the President said so clearly in his second Inaugural, success in our relations with that government “will require the decent treatment of their own people.”

Provide assistance to political refugees.

We are very grateful for U.S. efforts to evacuate Uzbek refugees, who fled Andijan to Kyrgystan and were then airlifted to Romania.  We wish to point out reports of hundreds of additional Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan who also face a grave humanitarian threat of being kidnapped by Uzbek military forces present in the border area.


Broadcasting by Voice of America and RFE/RL to Uzbekistan should be enhanced and emphasis on U.S. support of human rights and democracy in Uzbekistan should be amplified by establishing new transmission stations in or around the region. The Administration should actively explore options for television broadcasting as well.  Finally, the U.S. should work to help break the Uzbek government’s monopoly on Uzbek language news and broadcasting in southern Kyrgyzstan to reduce their ability to promote instability there.


U.S. embassies and missions worldwide should be alerted to the importance placed on their posture regarding Uzbekistan, in such forums as the United Nations, the OSCE, and other multilateral bodies.  The United States should closely coordinate its efforts with the European Union to maximize the effectiveness of targeted sanctions, and generate support from other nations.  In addition, urgent consultations should be undertaken with the convening members of the Community of Democracies to agree on concerted diplomatic measures that could be undertaken together in the name of the Community of Democracies. 

People-to-people engagement.

As bilateral relations deteriorate, all avenues for assistance and encouragement to peaceful dissidents, democratic activists, human rights defenders, and independent academics and civil society groups, should be maintained and even enlarged. This could mean taking steps to enable greater numbers of Uzbek democrats to participate in exchanges and visits to the U.S. and elsewhere. Legitimate civil society organizations (regardless of their standing in the eyes of the Uzbek government) ought to be exempted from reporting requirements associated with financial support that would impede their access to funding at this critical time.

The policy shift on Uzbekistan we advocate would be further bolstered by U.S. diplomacy and assistance efforts in neighboring Central Asian countries you are visiting.  Support for political, economic and other reforms, over time, can help transform these societies into stable and increasingly democratic partners.  U.S. support for civil society in Uzbekistan’s neighbors will further isolate the Karimov regime and, as new institutions and the rule of law take hold, their appeal will inevitably reach across Uzbekistan’s borders.      

The Government of Uzbekistan needs to receive a clear and unambiguous message that following the Andijan massacre we cannot and will not return to business as usual.  We believe the time has come to integrate sanctions into U.S. policy towards the Karimov government and we urge you to play an indispensable role in this regard as you prepare for your visit to Central Asia.


Mark Schneider
Senior Vice President
International Crisis Group

Morton Halperin
Executive Director
Open Society Policy Center

Eric Biel
Deputy Director (Washington DC office)
Senior Counsel
Human Rights First

Jennifer Windsor
Executive Director
Freedom House

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