ADB ‘deaf’ to Tashkent forum fears

14/05/2010 | Peter Salmon

The Asian Development Bank has been accused of being “absolutely deaf” to concerns raised by human rights campaigners, who were barred by Uzbek authorities from attending the multilateral bank’s forum in Tashkent earlier this month

The Asian Development Bank has been accused of being “absolutely deaf” to concerns raised by human rights campaigners, who were barred by Uzbek authorities from attending the multilateral bank’s forum in Tashkent earlier this month.

Human rights Campaigners, who planned to demonstrate at the forum on May 3, to mark international press freedom day, said they were prevented from doing so by the security services.

Crucially, the ADB left registration and visa arrangements to the Uzbek authorities, making it easier for them to restrict access to the meeting.

Alisher Ilkhamov, a researcher at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, told Emerging Markets that independent Uzbek NGOs who had tried to register for the meeting had been referred to the Uzbek government, led by controversial president Islam Karimov, while pro-government NGOs had had free access to the forum.

Ilkhamov, who is from Uzbekistan, said: “When the EBRD held its annual meeting in Uzbekistan in 2003, it was quite responsive to civil society organizations and listened to what they had to say. The ADB was absolutely deaf.”

The demonstration on May 3 was planned by the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, an internationally-known group that campaigns against the torture, and detention in prisons and psychiatric hospitals, of the government’s critics.

Alliance member Bakhadyr Namazov, in an e-mail response to questions from Emerging Markets, confirmed that “the leader of the Alliance, Yelena Urlaeva, and other human rights defenders were put under house arrest” on the day that they planned to demonstrate. Namazov added that he himself had been placed under police surveillance throughout the ADB meeting and under house arrest on 3 May.

Emerging Markets drew the ADB’s attention to published reports of the police action against the protesters. Ann Quon, Principal Director, ADB Department of External Relations, responded: “We were not aware of this alleged incident during the Annual Meeting and it has not been brought to our notice since.” She declined to comment further.

Namazov said that “not one representative of local NGOs that are independent of the government” was able to attend the ADB forum, because they were denied registration.

Journalists’ accreditation was also dealt with by the Uzbek authorities, and at least two reporters from major international news agency were denied a visa. Asked about restrictions on journalists, Quon replied: “ADB informed participating journalists at the point of registration that decisions on accreditation and visas were to be made by the host country.”

The Uzbek authorities closely monitored not only protesters but forum participants too. The head of an international bank’s South East Asian business told Emerging Markets that government officials insisted against his will on being present at client meetings.

An international coalition of NGOs dedicated to monitoring the ADB’s activity, Forum ADB, decided to boycott the Tashkent meeting after asking for, and failing to receive, a guarantee from the bank that representatives would be able to hold meetings with Uzbek citizens and distribute literature. Quon at the ADB said that the bank had told the Forum “that they were welcome to attend and participate in the Annual Meeting, and that they would be expected, just like all other participants, to respect and observe the host country laws, protocols and requirements”.

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