[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] called on Uzbekistan Monday to deliver on promises to improve its human rights record. In a speech [text] to the University of World Economy and Diplomacy in Tashkent, Ban challenged the former Soviet republic to live up to its obligations as a signatory to various international treaties banning torture and civil rights violations. The rapidly growing Central Asian nation has long faced accusations from the West of rampant political oppression and a litany of human rights abuses, including the use of torture on its prisoners [HRW report]. Ban emphasized the importance of civil rights to the nation's growth as a democracy and as a member of the international community:
Central Asia is central to this world - a key player. ... You have an important place in the universal agreements that bind us as a community of nations. You have committed yourselves to many them, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention Against Torture, more than 60 other international treaties on human rights. ... It is time to deliver.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov [official profile, in Uzbek] dismissed criticism from the West, saying that his secular rule of the primarily Muslim nation is threatened by a rising Islamist movement [Reuters report]. He and Ban met privately Monday to discuss the issue further. Ban visited Uzbekistan as part of a week-long tour of Central Asia, including stops in Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan [JURIST reports] to urge compliance with international human rights standards.
Ban's comments come on the heels of demands [JURIST report] from the UN Human Rights Committee [official website] that Uzbekistan conduct an independent investigation of May 2005 clashes [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] between protesters, soldiers, and police in the city of Andijan that rights groups estimate left as many as 500 people dead [JURIST report]. Last month, the committee urged [report, DOC] Uzbekistan to comply with previous recommendations and supply the UN with information on Uzbek policies regarding police use of firearms on civilians. The report was the first to be issued [Reuters report] on Uzbekistan by the Committee since the Andijan clashes, which were sparked when thousands of protesters gathered [JURIST report] after rebels stormed a prison and freed a group of businessmen on trial for alleged Islamic extremism. In October 2009, the European Union (EU) announced that it would lift the last of the sanctions [JURIST report] it imposed on the country in November 2005 for its refusal to investigate the Andijan incident.