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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
12 January 2006

UZBEKISTAN: Year in Review 2005 - Growing isolation

ANKARA, 12 Jan 2006 (IRIN) - Significant economic progress was made during 2005 in Uzbekistan, although a worsening security environment and increasing Western criticism and isolation marred these achievements.

A delegation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) confirmed strong economic growth in 2004 and predicted the same for 2005. President Islam Karimov’s programme of limited economic reform and liberalisation, including privatisation, protection of business rights, reform of the banking sector and improved tax legislation and regulation, were praised.

There were promising economic indicators, with overseas investment increasing, for example with proposed Russian and Chinese development of oil and gas fields. Cotton production, of which Uzbekistan is the world’s sixth largest producer and second largest exporter, had its best year since 1991, with a total harvest of over 4 million mt predicted by Deputy Prime Minister, Vyacheslav Golyshev. Economic benefits also came to the population, with a presidential decree increasing wages by 20 percent in the state sector and providing various benefits, grants and pensions.

The “Year of Good Health”, declared by the president, saw a US $40 million health initiative from the World Bank and major funding from The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the United Nations system. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) addressed child and maternal mortality and malnutrition through a programme of Vitamin A supplementation, salt iodisation (to prevent impaired development in children) and fortification of flour with iron (to prevent anaemia).

UNICEF Deputy Regional Director, Shahnaz Kianian-Firouzgar, visiting Uzbekistan, said that anaemia was “a major cause of death amongst children at birth, as well as having a debilitating impact on the health of children and women”.

Although registered cases of HIV/AIDS are low and confined largely to high-risk groups, such as injecting drug users (IDUs) and commercial sex workers, 2005 saw a rise in new cases from 2,016 in 2004 to 5,612 in 2005 (from only 153 in 2000), according to official figures.

According to UNAIDS, these figures are underestimated by up to five to six times. A national campaign to halt the spread of the virus was launched by the government and UN agencies in October. In December the World Bank announced a $28 million HIV/AIDS project in Central Asia.

Trials took place for those accused of involvement in the Tashkent and Bukhara bomb explosions of spring 2004. Defendants were found guilty of being members of Hizb-ut Tahrir and the Wahabbi religious movement, regarded by the authorities as responsible for the bombings. They received prison sentences of between five to 17 years.

On 10 May, media sources reported that approximately 4,000 people had gathered outside the courthouse in the eastern city of Andijan to protest in support of 23 residents who were on trial for being members of a religious extremist group, Akrimiya. On 13 May, the events in Andijan become worldwide news.

During the night of the 12 May a group of up to 100 men reportedly attacked a police building and military barracks in the city, seizing guns in the process. They then entered the city prison and freed the 23 defendants, together with hundreds more prisoners. The attackers then took over the Hokemiyat (government building). The following morning crowds estimated to be up to 10,000, congregated in the central square, expressing support for the 23 defendants and airing grievances.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, eyewitnesses said that, later that evening, the crowd was fired upon by military units and army snipers using heavy-calibre machine guns.

Unverified accounts claim up to 1,000 people died in the killings. The Uzbek government has denied that troops fired on protestors, insisting that only terrorists were targeted and that civilians were killed by the terrorists.

In the aftermath of the events in the square, a number of protestors walked from Andijan to the nearby border with Kyrgyzstan. After crossing the border, 439 applied for, and were granted, refugee status and were subsequently flown to Romania and on to third countries for resettlement.

A group of US senators visited Uzbekistan and called for an independent investigation to be carried out by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which Uzbekistan is a member. Further demands also came from NATO and the EU. Uzbek authorities set up their own investigation.

The investigation by the Uzbek Prosecutor-General’s Office concluded that, “the Andijan events were planned and implemented by foreign destructive forces. In August 2004 these destructive forces, with the involvement of international terrorist and religious extremist organisations such as the Islamic Movement of Turkestan, Hizb-ut Tahrir and one of its branches, the Akrimiya, planned to carry out acts of terror in May 2005 with the aim of seizing power and overthrowing the constitutional order.”

The trial of the first 15 defendants took place in Tashkent in September. All pleaded guilty and were found guilty of committing acts of terrorism. They received prison sentences of between 14 and 20 years. In December, a further 41 defendants were found guilty of murder, terrorist acts and attempting to undermine the constitutional order, receiving similar length sentences. The trials were widely condemned internationally as show trials where defendants appeared to be drugged as they gave what seemed to be prepared admissions of guilt.

The EU imposed a ban on all military aid and sale of weapons to Uzbekistan and drew up a list of 12 senior Uzbek officials who would face visa and travel restrictions to EU member states.

While Uzbekistan’s relations with the US also declined, particularly with the closure of the US military base in Xonobad near Qarshi, in November, closer ties were established with Russia and China. A treaty with Russia was signed in November, offering mutual assistance in the event of an aggressive act against either country and providing each with the right to use military facilities in either country. The treaty also aims to improve trade and economic relations. Russia, together with China, also backed President Karimov’s handling of the Andijan events.

The Year Ahead

The first National Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Report, completed in 2005, showed that Uzbekistan was making significant progress in areas such as health and education. There are also opportunities for economic growth, based upon development of oil and gas fields. Moreover, the government is committed to privatisation, private-sector development, trade and financial liberalisation and reform of the agricultural sector.

National strategies for the protection of human rights are being adopted and a National Action Plan to combat torture is being implemented. An assessment of child labour was undertaken by UNICEF and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), with further action in 2006 expected, whilst a new law on “Guarantees of the Rights of the Child” will be drafted in 2006, together with a new juvenile justice code.

During the year, 484 Afghan refugees, recognised under the office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCR)'s mandate, were resettled from Uzbekistan to other countries. Resettlement will continue to feature prominently in UNHCR's quest to seek durable solutions for refugees in Uzbekistan in the next few years. This solution is also viewed by the Uzbek government as an internationally important burden-sharing tool for a country that has been hosting Afghans for several years now.

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This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but May not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2006



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