Sir,, As Neil Buckley correctly notes, the tentative economic and political reform steps in Uzbekistan, highlighted in “ ‘Coming in from the cold’ ” (The Big Read, February 14), are a major focus of attention outside as well as inside the country. Reducing tensions with the country’s neighbours, and steps to ease border crossing and transport links have made a difference in the lives of ordinary people in the region. The very modest improvements in Uzbekistan’s terrible human rights record have raised hopes that such change could be possible elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.
Yet, more broadly, as a human-rights activist is quoted as saying in the article, “now it’s time [for Uzbekistan] to turn the fine words into actions”. This should be the motto written on the Uzbekistan dossiers of diplomats and officials engaging with the country, from Europe and the US, for example, but also from institutions such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank. Uzbekistan’s motives for opening up, as Mr Buckley notes, are primarily economic — job creation and foreign investment.
This gives these international actors the chance to engage in serious discussion with Tashkent on why broader reforms, including on human rights and the rule of law, have to go hand in hand with economic progress. Amid the positive headlines about Uzbekistan, this chance should not be squandered.
Hugh Williamson Director, Europe & Central Asia ,Human Rights Watch, Berlin, Germany