Vladimir Norov, Uzbekistan's first deputy foreign minister, faced some significant heat on his country's poor human rights record during meetings this week in Berlin.
And apparently Germany also felt the heat, because Berlin stepped up with more public statements on human rights as a result, according to BBC's Uzbek Service. This could possibly signal a shift in Germany's policy of tending to keep such conversations to quiet diplomacy, given its friendly relations with Tashkent.
Human Rights Watch and the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights urged German officials to raise with Norov concerns about political prisoners, torture, and forced child labor in the cotton industry. Tashkent has benefited greatly from Germany's multi-million euro payments to use the military base at Termez in connection with the war in Afghanistan, as well as other German trade, although the relationship has sometimes been rocky.
Yesterday, Umida Niyazova, head of the Uzbek-German Forum and a campaigner against forced child labor in Uzbekistan, met with Markus Löning, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at Germany ’s Federal Foreign Office.
Niyazova told Choihona that Löning informed her that he will keep raising the issue of forced labor in Uzbekistan, and believes that greater progress could be obtained on that issue than on more "political" issues such as the release of human rights defenders from prison.
Löning told Niyazova that during his meeting with Norov, he raised specific issues, such as Tashkent's failure to respond to the request of the International Labor Organization (ILO) to send a fact-finding mission to Uzbekistan, as well as to requests from various UN special rapporteurs. Löning began speaking out on the problem of child labor in Uzbekistan last November.
Unfortunately, Löning did not get any concrete answers to these requests, says Niyazova. Norov reportedly spoke in generalities, making reference to Uzbekistan's difficult Soviet past, and saying that it was impossible to demand that all countries build a democracy of the Western sort.
The issue isn't Western models, however, but universal principles that Tashkent itself has endorsed when it ratified ILO conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture.
Originally posted on EurasiaNet.org.