On May 13, Freedom House and Human Rights Watch organized a commemoration of the Andijan massacre, when Uzbekistan's government forces gunned down hundreds of peaceful protestors on the Fergana Valley city's main square on that date in 2005. Senator McCain spoke and his remarks can be read here: http://www.freedomhouse.org/uploads/features/Andijan_Commemoration_Speech_5-11-09.pdf He urged the new administration to be on the right side of history, and not to ignore human rights concerns in order to ramp up military cooperation with Uzbekistan.
Audience members posed questions about forced child labor on Uzbekistan's cotton harvest (answered unfortunately after the Senator had left), which an unnamed State Department official took up. The condensed version: it's a tough problem but we're working on it (talking about it behind the scenes with Uzbek officials, etc.). Not exactly comforting. State's view of the problem's root cause also shows either naievete or excessive diplomacy, perhaps, as it holds that local officials are in the driver's seat. Our diplomat even suggested that President Karimov has told his officials that child labor "is not allowed," but that those pesky local satraps are just sneaking around behind the big guy's back. Fantasies of the good tsar and the evil boyars seem to persist in the face of all contrary evidence.
State should be given credit for the work it is doing to link the U.S. socially responsible investor and corporate communties with Uzbekistan's government, to make sure that their concerns are heard and taken seriously. But it doesn't help matters when it makes suggestions like educating teachers about the evils of child labor--the same teachers whose jobs are threatened by principals and education officials up the line if they don't dragoon their pupils, presumably? The ones who are themselves forced to spend weeks at a time out in the fields harassing eleven year olds to pick their daily 100 lbs? This is reminiscent of the tag line on the subject in this year's State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: " Enforcement was lacking due in part to long-standing societal acceptance of child labor as a method of cotton harvesting." Social acceptance, indeed.