Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C St, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Blinken,
We are deeply concerned about the state of human rights and democracy in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and urge you to place these issues at the center of your upcoming engagements with these governments.
Your visit is a momentous occasion for these two nations, one which signifies the importance that the United States places in its relations with the countries of Central Asia. Engagement by the United States in the region is desperately needed and sought by the nearly 55 million people living in both countries, especially on human rights and democracy issues. The State Department Human Rights Reports reveal the long and disturbing list of human rights abuses still common in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, among them political imprisonment, torture, and severe limitations on the freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression, among many others. To that end, we encourage you to raise specific human rights issues in your engagements with the governments.
In Kazakhstan, we urge you to prioritize accountability for abuses committed during the January 2022 Events and political reforms. At least 238 people were killed and many were tortured during the January Events, yet the government has refused to hold those responsible for abuses accountable. We echo the call made by four U.S. Senators in a letter sent to you in October 2022, specifically that the United States should insist on full accountability for all abuses which occurred during the January Events. President Tokayev has sought to redirect discussions about accountability for the January Events to his “New Kazakhstan” reform proposals. Yet the previous year of repression makes strongly suggests that his reform rhetoric is more about securing his political future than advancing reform. We encourage you to push Kazakhstani officials to allow independent political parties to register and participate in elections. To that end, we also urge you to call for the release of Zhanbolat Mamay, a political prisoner arbitrarily detained since February 2022 due to his opposition political activities.
In Uzbekistan, we urge you to prioritize the freedom of expression and the government’s heavy-handed regulation and oversight of NGOs. While as recently as 2020, Uzbekistan had no journalists or bloggers in prison, there are now at least 18 imprisoned journalists or bloggers at last count. One case of particular concern is that of Otabek Sattoriy, an independent blogger whose detention was recently ruled a violation of international law by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Uzbekistan continues to make it nearly impossible for independent NGOs to form, register, and operate without government interference, severely curtailing the right to freedom of association. Once registered, NGOs must submit to intrusive oversight, including prior-notification of events and the requirement to appoint a government minder with expansive powers. We urge you to raise the situation of civil society groups and NGOs in Uzbekistan, and to push the Uzbekistani authorities to register independent organizations and roll back its intrusive policies.
More broadly, we are concerned that the United States’ high-level engagement could be construed as
lending support to the leaders of these nations who are embattled due in large part to their
authoritarian policies. While the United States should support reform in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, it cannot deny that many of the reform promises have been largely empty. Yet violent crackdowns in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in 2022, and the impunity enjoyed by those responsible, are further signs that there is little intention of creating the open, pluralistic, and just societies they have repeatedly promised.
There is little doubt that raising human rights and democracy issues repeatedly and strategically is essential, and positively affects the behavior of the governments. Nonetheless, the steady march towards deeper relations on terms that are friendly to Kazakhstan’s and Uzbekistan’s authoritarian governments sends the unmistakable message that the United States is content to engage and support them despite their ongoing abuses. We believe that United States should take a more principled stand in its relations with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, one which takes advantage of the United States’ leverage and tools to incentivize palpable gains.
Your visit is an opportunity to convey the United States’ concern at the highest level about the human rights abuses that continue to be perpetrated in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. It is also an opportunity to cut through the governments’ lofty rhetoric in search of solid assurances that can be used in the coming months and years to assess those governments’ commitment to reform. We are confident that your leadership and commitment to human rights will motivate the government to take positive steps in improving the situation.