Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: H.E. Abdulaziz Komilov
Ambassador - Republic of Uzbekistan


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honor for me to testify for such a respected institution as the Helsinki Commission.Please allow me to thank you for the invitation and for the opportunity to express our point of view on the development perspectives of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

At the same time allow me to object the title of today’s hearings “Uzbekistan: Stifled Democracy, Human Rights in Decline”. It seems unjust rendering unilateral judgment prior a discussion of the issues at hands.

The Uzbek Government has always been completely open and ready for the dialogue on a whole range of questions. We are happy to have a transparent and candid discussion on any issue.

In this endeavor there has been exemplary cooperation between United States and Uzbekistan. Over a hundred US Senators and Congressmen have visited Uzbekistan in
the last 3 years. Dozens of American delegations from various US Government agencies have come to Tashkent since the beginning of 2003.

Mr. Chairman, I am personally very grateful for yourconstant willingness to carefully consider and understand the complicated and sometimes controversial processes occurring both in our country and Central Asia.

We also appreciate the high level relations and deep trust that we have developed with the representatives of the Helsinki Commission, especially with Ronald
McNamara, Michael Ochs, Knox Thames, and Dorothy Taft.

We have also been engaged in a fruitful dialogue with the State Department’s Assistant Secretary Lorne Craner. Our relationship allows us to have ongoing open discussions and occasional disagreements on the fundamental issues of the ongoing political, economic, and social development of Uzbekistan.

Mr. Chairman,
Members of the Commission,

It is not my intention today to speak at length on what we have achieved in the realm of democratic
development and economic reforms. It is covered
extensively in the bulletins that were handed out to
you. These reports give a detailed picture of the
dynamics of developments in Uzbekistan.

However, I’d like to state at the outset that
Uzbekistan does not see any alternative to democratic development. We are working to build a rule-of-law state that guarantees basic rights to its citizens and respects the main principles of international law.

I assure you that these are not empty statements. Let
me give you some examples.

During the 13 years of independence, the parliament of Uzbekistan has passed over 120 laws and ratified over 60 international treaties regarding the protection of human rights.

Citizens of Uzbekistan are free to follow their
religious beliefs. This right is guaranteed by the
Constitution and the Laws.

During the entire period of the Soviet rule the number
of pilgrims from Uzbekistan to the Muslim sacred
places was only 86 people. Since Independence about 60
thousand citizens of Uzbekistan have made pilgrimage
to Mecca.

There are the Islamic University, Higher Clerical
Institute, 10 Islamic Madrassahs and 2 seminaries in Uzbekistan, where representatives of new generation
pursue their education.

In 1990 only 211 religious organizations were
registered in Uzbekistan. Currently, more than 2000,
including Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Bahai, Krishna,
Buddhist and others.

As of today, over 300 humanitarian and human rights
NGOs, and over 3000 local associations have been
registered in the Republic.

Uzbekistan is the first country of the former Soviet
Union to have invited and received the UN special
rapporteur on torture, Teo van Boven. Based on his recommendations, the government has adopted a National Plan on implementing Articles of Convention Against Torture And Other Cruel, Inhuman Or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Penal institutions have become more open. For example,
the number of visits to places of detention by
representatives of the Red Cross International
Committee has increased ten times over the past two
years. As a result of our cooperation with NGOs and
other organizations we have reached an agreement to
allow independent human rights advocates to monitor
places of detention.

We can also see an active process of the
liberalization of criminal legislation. We have
lowered the penalties for arrest and detainment for
lesser crimes. This helped us to reduce the number of
prisoners by half since 2000. Today, Uzbekistan has
the lowest proportion of prisoners per 100, 000
population among both former Soviet Republics and
Eastern European countries.

An ongoing evolution in our nation’s criminal
legislation has also influenced the issues of capital punishment. In 1991 capital punishment was provided for in 35 articles of criminal code, now it is applicable only in 2, terrorism and intentional homicide.

As part of our nation’s ongoing evolution of our legal
system, Parliament has started discussing a Habeas
Corpus bill.

We admit that abuse of power by some representatives
of law enforcement agencies is still an issue today.
We conduct a system-defined battle against it. Abuses
of power are immediately terminated when uncovered and
the offenders are punished according to our criminal
code. At the same time, I must note that many accusations
against Uzbekistan in this issue are unjustified. The
recent finding of a commission investigating the death
of A. Shelkovenko proves this. In order to demonstrate
its commitment to total transparency and no answer
baseless charges by several human rights
organizations, Uzbekistan invited representatives from
U.S. Embassies both in Moscow and Tashkent, the
international organizations “Freedom House” and “Human
Rights Watch,” forensic experts and criminal law
specialists from Canada and the USA to conduct an
independent investigation.

The commission established that A. Shelkovenko’s death
came as a result of suicide. During his detention,
Shelkovenko was not abused or tortured.

I emphasize once again that our countries share
similar views regarding the question: “What should be
done?” Despite numerous challenges, Uzbekistan has
decisively rejected its Soviet-imposed totalitarian
past and is gradually moving forward to become a
prosperous state based on a total commitment to the
rule of law. These trends are in sync with US
interests and values and the reforms implemented since
1991 are now irreversible.

Dear members of the Commission,

We acknowledge that much still remains to be done to
build a full-fledged democratic state. Problems exist
and we don’t hide from them. However, we must
acknowledge that the ongoing political evolution of
Uzbekistan strongly depends on a number of factors
that cannot be ignored.

Among these I specifically point out Uzbekistan’s
historic heritage and the unique circumstances of its
external environment.

Contrary to the USA, where the history of democracy
spans over 200 years, Uzbekistan will celebrate only
13 years of its independence in September of 2004.
Centuries of our colonial past have had a serious
effect on our country.

Up to today we have made and continue to make enormous
efforts to overcome the deadening legacy of communist
ideology and its moribund economic concepts.

The scale of tasks we face speaks for itself:
construction of a democratic state, the fundamental transformation of our country’s Soviet economic legacy with its emphasis on the production of raw materials; the recovery of Uzbek historic heritage and the restoration of the country’s ecology, all of which were mangled or destroyed by seventy-four years of Soviet dictatorship.

Our external security situation also requires our
unwavering attention. Since gaining independence in
1991, Uzbekistan has encountered the destructive
influence of deepening civil conflicts on our borders,
both in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. We have had to
resist a rising flood of weapons, drugs, and extremist literature lapping at our borders from these conflicts.

Despite the efforts of the U.S.-led antiterrorist
coalition the level of threats to regional security is
still rather high.

I’ll mention just one fact. According to the estimates
of some specialists, during 1979-2001 about 100,000
people trained in Afghanistan’s terrorist camps.

Today, these well-trained terrorists have spread
throughout the world, attacking peaceful nations,
their independence, freedom, and values.

Where are they now? Some of them were involved in
planning the attack on the USA on 9/11; others were
responsible for the train bombings in Spain in March.
Still other groups remain active in the frontier zones
between Pakistan and Afghanistan. These forces
continue to present a serious threat to stability and
the security of Central Asia.

As President of Uzbekistan I.Karimov said during the
last summit of Central Asian states in Astana:
“Terrorism and extremism have been able to regroup and
they are becoming more active again launching their
undermining actions. The scale of the narcotic
aggression is not declining, the elements of
instability are preserving in the neighboring
regions”. According to his evaluations all these
together leads to the conditions of “strategic
uncertainty in the region”.

Unfortunately, unlike the United States, Uzbekistan is
not separated from major terrorism centers by two
oceans. The threat of international terrorism is an
everyday reality to us; we need only look across our
borders. More than two years before America’s tragic
9-11 encounter with fundamentalist fanaticism,
extremists exploded several bombs in the heart of
Tashkent. This attack was not planned half a world
away, it was plotted next door. Had the terrorists
succeeded and exported their fundamentalist revolution
to Uzbekistan, then the entire Central Asian region
could have become a “heart of darkness” threatening
the hopes, dreams and prosperity of the entire world.

Our people endured three generations of dictatorship
in the name of “building Communism;” we are determined
to prevent our nation from becoming a component of a
similar utopian dream of “establishing an Islamic
Caliphate.” Such a fate would not be a dream; it would
be nightmare beyond imaging.

Mr. Chairman,
Dear members of the Commission,

Our relationship with the U.S. is based on long-term
goals and a common concern with problems of regional
and global security. We face problems that require a cooperative response.

First, in the sphere of fighting neo-terrorism, we
must deepen our cooperation at every level,
particularly in the fields of contemporary military
and technical infrastructure. Arrayed against us are
vast financial resources, special training camps for
fighters and a deep-seated ideology based on
fundamentalism, political radicalism and intolerance.

Terrorists cannot be defeated only on the battlefield.
We cannot stop the people who are hypnotized by
radicalism and infected by terror. Our nation’s main
task now is to prevent the emergence of new followers
of Usama bin Laden and Hazb Ut-Tahrir.

Our main weapon is enlightenment. 80% of the Uzbek
population is Muslim, who follow the peaceful and
tolerant traditions of the Sunni Hanafiyah school of
law. Uzbekistan has been an integral part of the
Muslim world for many centuries. We are reviving our
heritage and we won’t allow foreign fanatics to take
it away from us.

Together, we have to create a strong barrier to all
their attempts to impose “ideology of hatred” on us.

In this mission, Uzbekistan could offer its broad
experience and historic practices of longstanding
traditions of tolerance and religious moderation. I
believe this task can draw upon the deep undiscovered
potential in the Uzbek-American strategic partnership.

Secondly, we must work together to stabilize the
situation throughout Central Asia, transforming the
region into a significant component of global
security. Uzbekistan advocates developing multilateral
contacts in Central Asia, involving Afghanistan in a
system of advanced and mutually beneficial regional cooperation.

At the last Summit of Heads of States of Central Asia
in Astana, Uzbekistan unveiled an initiative to create
a Central Asian Common Market. Following Uzbekistan’s
proposal, the issues of forming food, water, energy
and trade consortiums are being discussed within the
framework of Central Asian Cooperation Organization

Uzbekistan also supports the development of trade and
an investment relationship between the USA and Central
Asian countries under recently signed TIFA agreement.

Mr. Chairman,

In the last 3 years our countries have reached an
impressive level of teamwork, which has helped us to
face modern challenges with confidence, standing
shoulder to shoulder. Uzbekistan is a resolutely
dependable partner of the US. Three years ago,
Uzbekistan was the first of the former Soviet
Republics to join the International Antiterrorist
Coalition and put its military infrastructure at the
disposal of the U.S. We supported our American
partners in solving serious international problems:
Iraq, Cuba, nuclear non-proliferation, drug
trafficking, etc. Uzbekistan is taking an active part
in a number of transatlantic initiatives.

It is critical now to preserve the spirit of our
strategic partnership, and utilize our acquired
potential. Any increase in distrust between us will
only assist those interested in weakening our unity in
the International Antiterrorist Coalition.

Unresolved contemporary problems on global and
regional levels require us to be unshakeable in our
commitment and strengthen our partnership. Uzbekistan
is ready to continue open cooperation based on common
vitally important interests that define the strategic
character of our relationship.

Thank you for your attention. I will be happy to
answer all your questions.