Response to HRW in Central Asia

Recently, the Human Rights Watch published an article regarding their World Report 2014and strongly noting that Central Asia is full of misfits in government that do not obey by international human rights (click here to go to HRW article). HRW urges the EU and US to take on specific actions to raise the Central Asian human rights standard by enforcing it when supplying the region with defense equipment and support for post-Afghanistan fallout.

As I tip my hat to HRW for keeping track of human violations throughout the world, holding governments accountable, and not letting go of this important issue in today’s world, I must disagree with their approach on Central Asia. Yes, the region is not known for their humane tactics. However it is not up to US, EU or any other nation to hold the carrot of security within an arm’s reach only if the nations comply by their standards.

“The rights records of these Central Asian states, while varied, are all distinctly poor,” said the director of Europe and Central Asia division at HRW, Hugh Williamson. “Sustained pressure and conditioned engagement is vital to secure rights improvements for the roughly 60 million people of this oft-ignored region.”

But, Mr. Williamson, that is not the case. First, it is disappointing to see a specialist combine 5 sovereign nations into one group and dwarf the fact that each state has their own government and individual culture that cannot simply be swayed if the West chooses to pressure Central Asia. 23 years ago the republics were all under the Soviet umbrella, and before then the ties were strong and country lines were never adhered to when it came to the general populace, but today, the republics are very patriotic. So, how can the West systematically pursue the HRW’s suggestions?

It is not through pressure, either. At the end of 2013, The Council on Foreign Relations, a prestigious US think tank unveiled theirPreventative Priority Survey 2014 where they rank international threats to the US, and Central Asia and Caucasus pose almost no threat to US interests, especially the Afghan spillover (read summary on Eurasianet). If we look at international policy in regards to geopolitics, the US has no reason to continue to support Central Asia – especially when the last of any interest dissipates with the exit of the allied troops exit Afghanistan.

The solution that is the best option to bettering human rights condition in the 5 sovereign republics is through economic development of infrastructure and international trade. Currently, Central Asia has majority of its economic trade tied to Russia and China. If this barrier is broken with expansion of trade with the West, then higher human rights standards will follow. Once a nation begins to extensively trade with partners who adhere to certain level of standard, then they will follow. To do so, roads and infrastructure improvements are a necessity, and that is where investment should come in – not protection. Making the Silk Route a reality is possible, and creating an extensive international marketplace for Central Asia is attainable. Central Asia has natural resources to offer and it has plenty of room for foreign direct investment when it comes to building manufacturing plants. Central Asian republicans are ready to trade, and they will forgo their human rights violations.

I might be optimistic, but it is not out of the question to change the human rights standard in Central Asia, but it will have to happen one nation at a time. I do not want to bad mouth HRW, I just want to put a different perspective and approach to solving the problem. To begin, we in the US must advocate for trade with the 5 republics of Central Asia, and to introduce individual state governments the value of Central Asia!

I welcome any comments on different approaches that you feel will make this change a reality. Starting a conversation amongst the experts, leaders, business owners, human rights advocates, youth, pessimists, and optimists is the first step towards change.

– A.B.

This post was originally posted on 01/23/14 on our former blogsite Homegrown & Global

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