Politicians are scrambling to trim unnecessary government spending, but the United States is simultaneously considering expanding its financial assistance to a country with a deplorable human rights record — further proof that, despite its rhetoric, the Obama Administration still focuses on American strategic interests while completely disregarding human rights.
Uzbekistan has long been criticized for its repressive policies, systematic torture, lack of freedoms like speech and religion, and forced child labor. Nevertheless, on Sept. 21, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would waive the restrictions currently in place and allow the United States to give more taxpayer-funded military and police assistance to the Uzbek government, despite the fact that the human rights situation there remains among the worst in the world.
In a Sept. 27 letter urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to reconsider this move, a coalition of rights groups wrote,
More than a dozen human rights defenders and numerous journalists and political activists are languishing in prison in Uzbekistan because of their work. Torture and ill-treatment are systematic and widespread in pretrial detention and prisons, and the Uzbek government persistently refuses to allow domestic and international nongovernmental organizations to operate in the country.
Recent dramatic developments elsewhere in Central Asia and across the Middle East make clear that Uzbekistan’s status as a strategic partner to the United States should not be allowed to eclipse concerns about its appalling human rights record.
As President Obama recognized in a speech on the “Arab Spring” earlier this year, “failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people will only feed the suspicion that has festered for years that the United States pursues our own interests at their expense. … Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.”
Given the president’s previous statements supporting protesters elsewhere and condemning repressive regimes, the U.S. government’s move to offer more support to Uzbekistan is blatantly hypocritical. But unlike the high-profile riots in Egypt or Libya, many Americans are unaware of the human rights crisis in Uzbekistan — and their ignorance is allowing their government to support yet another regime that mistreats its citizens. Clearly, Obama and the U.S. government only support human rights when it is convenient.