Closure of NGOs in Uzbekistan

During the last few weeks, a number of international NGOs have been closed or been threatened of closure in Uzbekistan. Since the end of April this year, the speed of closures seems to have increased. The reasons for this are not entirely clear. The anniversary of the Andijan events and the upcoming presidential elections early next year might be two motivations for the Uzbek authorities to become more active. Parallel to this, the National NGO of NGOs of Uzbekistan (NaNaOuz) is becoming more active at national level. Beside an increased funding for projects of its members, the head of NaNaOuz…

During the last few weeks, a number of international NGOs have been closed or been threatened of closure in Uzbekistan. Since the end of April this year, the speed of closures seems to have increased. The reasons for this are not entirely clear. The anniversary of the Andijan events and the upcoming presidential elections early next year might be two motivations for the Uzbek authorities to become more active.

Parallel to this, the National NGO of NGOs of Uzbekistan (NaNaOuz) is becoming more active at national level. Beside an increased funding for projects of its members, the head of NaNaOuz (a former SB person) made it quite clear in an April meeting what he thinks about international NGOs in Uzbekistan. He also commented directly on EU NGOs during this meeting: “We don’t know yet how you get the money into the country but we will stop it.” (A participant of this meeting told me about this).

Also, Uzbek members of NaNaOuz are speaking at times in quite a negative way about EU NGOs. So, the rumor of EU NGOs laundering money is making it’s way around.

On June 1st this year, NGOs in Uzbekistan had to start re-registering again, which leads one to the assumption that the process of closure of NGOs will further continue. Only NGOs which are members of NaNaOuz have some kind of protection. I assume that right now there are only less than 15 international NGO left in Uzbekistan that are able to do some effective work. Embassies and other relevant international agencies such as the UN or the OSCE who still have some kind of influence in Uzbekistan do not have that much more time left to clearly give their support of international NGOs and Civil Society.

Finally, and to illustrate the recent situation, I summarize the closures during the recent months:

05/06/06: Possible closure of Partnership in Development (UK)
05/06/06: Closure of offices of Central Asian Free Exchange (USA). During the last weeks several of their offices were closed and I would say that CAFE will have to leave the country entirely.
01/06/06: Closure of Global Involvement Through Education (USA)
01/06/06: Closure of American Council for Collaboration in Education and Language Study (ACCELS) (USA) and warning for COFUTIS (France) and Magyar Okumenikus Szeretetszolgalat (Hungarian Christian Organisation)
17/05/06: Closure of protestant churches . I want to add that these churches offer some kind of protected space for civil society in Uzbekistan.
04/05/06 Closure of Counterpart International (USA)
24/04/06: Closure of American Bar Association Central European and Eurasian Law Initiatives’ (ABA/CEELI)

Update 7.6.2006:
The case of Counterpart Internaional is again discussed at the board of Tashkent city. Uzreport’s article is a little bit cryptic but gives some insight at least.

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  • Let me play the devil’s advocate here. What if closing international NGOs turns out to be good for the development of democracy and a free market in the long run? For example, the Russian economy improved after Russia kicked out the Peace Corps. Given the track record of NGOs in Kyrgyzstan–where some see their rapied growth as destabilizing to the fragile balance in the country–perhaps Uzbekistan’s actions are rational responses. After all, in the wake of Andijan, with NGO people calling for Karimov’s overthrow, such actions are no more irrational than America’s shutting down Islamic NGOs such as Global Relief and Benevolence International–both registered charities–in the wake of 9/11.

  • This is from the OMB Watch website:

    The charities assets were frozen for about 10 months before the Treasury Department officially deemed them supporters of terrorism. As a result, both charities closed their doors permanently — leaving over a million dollars suspended indefinitely. The director of Benevolence International pled guilty to diverting money to Islamic fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya but prosecutors later dropped charges that he aided terrorists. A co-founder of Global Relief was deported after an immigration judge deemed him a security risk.

    The report concludes that these cases demonstrate the government’s dramatic shift from pre-9/11 investigating and monitoring terrorist financing to actively disrupting suspect entities through freezing their assets. It also found many suspects are denied due process and organizations have been closed without formal evidence that they actually funded al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. The question becomes what is the threshold of information for the government to take disruptive action against suspect charities. For more background see OMB Watch’s September 2003 report The USA Patriot Act and its Impact on Nonprofit Organizations.

  • […] – Why are so many NGOs closing in Uzbekistan? […]

  • Thanks for your comment Laurence. I don’t overestimate the impact of NGOs on the country. My point here is just that any country should allow civil society to get organised. And let me just give you one little insight. It is in the end all about money and monopolizing of NGOs. Why else do you think NaNaOuz is having a grip on the contry and the daughter of the president is the chair of about 5 or 6 government NGOs?
    I also would be interested to read more about what you said about Peace Corps in Russia, because I can’t imagine it that well.

  • Russia kicks out U.S. Peace Corps
    Jill Dougherty
    CNN Moscow Bureau Chief
    Saturday, December 28, 2002 Posted: 5:52 PM EST (2252 GMT)

    MOSCOW (CNN) –The official statement from the Russian government came Christmas Day: the Peace Corps is no longer welcome in Russia.

    The Russian Foreign Ministry said things have changed since 1992, when the U.S.-sponsored program began operating in Russia, and noted “changing economic and social tasks facing our country.”

    The ministry said it is consulting with the United States on other forms of partnership “more in line with today’s needs.”

    The move comes at the end of a difficult year for the Peace Corps in Russia, with the Federal Security Service, successor to the KGB, charging that some volunteers were spying.

    “Among them are persons who were collecting information on the social, political and economic situation in Russian regions, on officials of governmental bodies and departments, on the course of elections and so on,” FSB head Nikolai Patrushev told reporters earlier this month.

    The U.S. Embassy dismissed the charges as “groundless.”

    Earlier this year, Moscow refused to provide entry visas for new Peace Corps volunteers or to extend the visas of nearly half the volunteers already in the country.

    Since the two governments signed an agreement in 1992 that authorized the program in Russia, more than 700 Peace Corps workers have volunteered in such areas as teaching English as a foreign language and in business education.

    “The Peace Corps is very disappointed that the work of the volunteers is coming to an end but we respect the right of the host country to make that determination,” the agency said in a posting on its Web site.

  • From the CIA world factbook:

    Russia ended 2005 with its seventh straight year of growth, averaging 6.4% annually since the financial crisis of 1998. Although high oil prices and a relatively cheap ruble are important drivers of this economic rebound, since 2000 investment and consumer-driven demand have played a noticeably increasing role. Real fixed capital investments have averaged gains greater than 10% over the last five years, and real personal incomes have realized average increases over 12%. During this time, poverty has declined steadily and the middle class has continued to expand. Russia has also improved its international financial position since the 1998 financial crisis, with its foreign debt declining from 90% of GDP to around 31%. Strong oil export earnings have allowed Russia to increase its foreign reserves from only $12 billion to some $180 billion at yearend 2005. These achievements, along with a renewed government effort to advance structural reforms, have raised business and investor confidence in Russia’s economic prospects.

  • Compare steady Russian economic growth to uncertainty in Ukraine, with a strong international NGO presence, according to same CIA world factbook:

    A dispute with Russia over pricing led to a temporary gas cut-off; Ukraine concluded a deal with Russia in January 2006, which almost doubled the price Ukraine pays for Russian gas, and could cost the Ukrainian economy $1.4-2.2 billion and cause GDP growth to fall 3-4%. Ukrainian government officials eliminated most tax and customs privileges in a March 2005 budget law, bringing more economic activity out of Ukraine’s large shadow economy, but more improvements are needed, including fighting corruption, developing capital markets, and improving the legislative framework for businesses. Reforms in the more politically sensitive areas of structural reform and land privatization are still lagging. Outside institutions – particularly the IMF – have encouraged Ukraine to quicken the pace and scope of reforms. GDP growth was 2.4% in 2005, down from 12.4% in 2004.

  • I still fail to see the connection between Peace Corps leaving Russia and subsequent economic growth. The passage above says that in 2005 Russia enjoyed its 7th straight year of economic growth, meaning that there was growth while the Peace Corps was active in the late 1990s. Also, there is no direct link between the article and CIA factbook summary that you posted above. Thus the conclusion that the Russian economy was greatly improved as a result of the Peace Corps leaving seems unlikely at best.

  • It didn’t hurt Russia’s economy to throw out the Peace Corps or close international NGOs, that’s the point.

  • Of course the logic doesn’t make sense, but I was expecting you to adopt some sort of defense of the point, or at least give it a shot. That’s what playing devil’s advocate is all about.

  • Yep Lawrence, I agree with The Dag. The point is not that it did not hurt the Russian economy to kick out the Peace Corps but on the other hand it did not help either. And for Uzbekistan I would actually say the banning of international NGOs actually can harm the economy because expats bring in cash, support community level developments and actually compensate for obligations the Uzbek government does not fullfill (e.g. the Child Rights Convention that Uzbekistan signed but still pushes childen every year into the harvesting of cotton that is a clear breach of this convention).
    I am not an advocate for the implementing of US style democracy and I agree that each country needs its own way. But, the way Uzbekistan has been taken during the last years is not my understanding of democratisation.

  • The connection between economic growth and intl’ NGO presence is fairly far-fetched to say the least. Of course it doesn’t necessarily harm economic growth if country A kicks out huminatarian relief organisations. But to establish the connection in a way you do it Laurence, then the economy of country B also improves because it wasn’t hit by a meteor.

  • I have mixed feelings about this.

    On one hand, yes: many of the Western NGOs which are given the boot promote non-viable, even alien, Western concepts; do have hidden agendas which I don’t like as well (eg. CAFE and CADA are basically cover-ups for evangelist sects); often, in no way represent what Olivier Roy called ‘civil society as it is’; and an overkill of NGO’s and aid projects is just not healthy for a society because it strengthens a culture of dependecy and handouts (just take a look at Kyrgyzstan, for example).

    This said, the whole move in Uzb is in no way something that is to ‘facilitate economic growth’, ‘affirm independence’ or ‘not wanting to be treated like a third world country’. I mean, the regime and its goons are not that ‘patriotic’ and ‘independent-minded’ when it comes to pocket IFI and IO $$$€€€. It’s all about a doomed regime anxiously trying to safeguard raw power — nothing more, nothing less.

    “for obligations the Uzbek government does not fullfill (e.g. the Child Rights Convention that Uzbekistan signed but still pushes childen every year into the harvesting of cotton that is a clear breach of this convention).�

    Look, Uzbekistan and other Southern Soviet republics have signed tons of conventions, cooperation agreements and what all. The reality is that, by doing so, their ‘power elites’ basically continued what they did under de USSR: pay lip service to the party line, make sure the stats and reports are what they want to read, and cash in the subsidies/granst/IFI loans etc.

    Also, this is a region were formal institutions and agreements have no value at all when push comes to shove. That IFIs and IO’s have obviously not understood that by now is either a matter of bad will or hallucinating gullibility and outlandishness of their country reps and HQ desks.

  • Atman, I know that these are mainly lip services that the govs in the region signed up to. But, they signed up and so they have to account for them. Then again, why should they account for them if the UN are actually bankrupt and many western govs (UK, US, Germany) don’t respect either all the conventions. What I want to say is – in an ideal world – that NGOs can have the function of an independent actor beside govs and media.

    We (as I work for a secular NGO) have no real hidden agendas. Ok, these are not all NGOs, that’s sure. Our approach is theoretically oriented according to the basic needs of vulnerable people and we are free of any religious or ideologic overkill. But even for CAFE (despite their missonaric intention), they have real projects that try to improve the lives of people (like orphanages in Tashkent) and are not all “bad” or “importative”.

    NGOs must have a clear and as much as possible neutral mandate, otherwise it does not work that well. And it must be clear that we should work for the people and not some screwed up directors or parties. If there is not announced need from people, bad luck, then we have to leave.

    Beside all of this. Uzbekistan does not have any kind of media left that can truely report about the situation there. So maybe another function of NGOs can be to show a very naive way of “international solidarity”.

  • BTW, has a story by Alexey Volosevich with the self-explanatory title “УзбекÑ?кие влаÑ?ти борютÑ?Ñ? как Ñ? радикальными иÑ?ламиÑ?тами, так и Ñ? мирными протеÑ?тантамиâ€? (The Uzbek regime is involved in fighting radical Islamists as well as peaceful Protestants):,486,1171513

    It mentions the closure of Global Involvement through Education (Глобальное Ñ?отрудничеÑ?тво через образование), CAFÉ in Kokand and Ferghana and two Korean NGOs, the «Institute of Asia Culture and Development» (ИнÑ?титут азиатÑ?кой культуры и развитиÑ?) and the «Korean Foundation for World Aid» (Фонд Ð’Ñ?емирнаÑ? корейÑ?каÑ? помощь), on the grounds that their use a humanitarian cover to proselytise (which, in these cases, is mostly true BTW).

    “You can see the effect already�, Volosevich says. “The ‘patrols’ of Jehova Witnesses, a familiar sight a while ago, disappeared from the streets of the capital�. Volosevich tries to explain the causes of this rather recent and increasing anti-evangelist campaign: “Why are peaceful Christians being treated the same way as radical Islamists?�

    According to him, the fact that they ‘spread alien Western values’ or ‘help foster Orange revolutions’ are only excuses. He suggests that since a few years, the Tashkent regime understood that that fact that while it cracked down on every independent expression of the Islamic faith, evangelists could openly proselytise, caused a lot resentment and inter-confessional hatred that can turn against the regime.

    “почему хриÑ?тианам в УзбекиÑ?тане разрешено заниматьÑ?Ñ? миÑ?Ñ?ионерÑ?кой деÑ?тельноÑ?тью, а муÑ?ульманам не разрешаетÑ?Ñ? пропагандировать даже Ñ?вою Ñ?обÑ?твенную религию? ПолучаетÑ?Ñ?, что в иÑ?конно муÑ?ульманÑ?кой Ñ?тране практикуетÑ?Ñ? диÑ?криминациÑ? муÑ?ульман?..â€?

    And while it can not, and will not, make any concession towards Islam and the Muslims because it is convinced that Islam, by nature, is violent, extremist and out to overthrow the regime and take state power anyway, it decided to take on the Christian sects.

    Any views on this?

    I do not agree though that the present harassment of Christian sects can be equalised with the persecution of Muslims in Uzbekistan. The latter was, and is, a much larger and much more vicious move that affects larger sways of the population than the former.

    Some people may argue that militant Islamists are far more violent and far more of a threat than Christian evangelists. Well, the first are much more noisy and spectacular indeed — and the “threatâ€? they pose has often been inflated for political reasons (besides, not all violence by Muslims, where it occurs, aims at an ‘Islamic state’, ‘the restoration of a caliphate’ and other fantasies; Muslims have the right to defend themselves against aggression and brutal oppression if there are no other means).

    Even if evangelists may not be violent, the social damage they cause is there and much more subtle. Some do good things and are inspired by faith without actually proselytising indeed. Yet several others are sects. And sects do what they do: brainwashing vulnerable youth and women (it’s no coincidence that many focus on orphanages, for orphans are easy prey); the destruction of families by consciously setting up youth against their folks; luring people into conversion with promises of money, scholarships in the West and jobs; even semi-forced conversions (especially employers’ pressure, like I know one example in Taraz, Kazakhstan); also, for years, certain regimes and embassies were in cahoots with evangelists (most obvious in Kyrgyzstan under the former regime).

    BTW, I found *part* (not all) of the Western(-oriented) aid and diplo community to be always *very* double-standarded towards the persecution on Muslims in Uzbekistan; that’s why I can not suppress a little Schadenfreude now that they get *a bit* of a taste of it themselves. :twisted:

  • […] has a partial history of NGO shutdowns as of February 28, 2007; NewEurasia has a timeline from the domestic perspective as of June 6, […]

  • I am not an advocate for the implementing of US style democracy and I agree that each country needs its own way. But, the way Uzbekistan has been taken during the last years is not my understanding of democratisation.

  • why do americans need prosperity of Uzbekistan, no one needs the neighbours to be strong, therefore, the performance of US and other NGOs are taken under strict control, the NGOs are financing war and instability in those countries, therefore governments take the responsible actions afterwards. plz, try to understand, those people working in NGOs are professional liers, and their goal is not to help people in Uzbekistan or in Russia, but to help themselves. My point is if they destabilize the economy and policy of the country, their government would in turn be able to manipulate that country in their own way and “democracy”. This is my point, you would never help me, if you don’t know Uzbek, my traditions, my way of living and habits. In each “help” in deepth there is a goal of any organization, and those organizations work for their own government and their own people, not some Uzbeks they would ever try to know about… You would never care of us if you have no purpose, political, millitary, financial, or other form. But noone would give a clean help and hand to a dyeing country…

  • Hi there…Man i just love your blog, keep the cool posts about comin..holy Tuesday .

  • […] to 7, with 1 signifying highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest). The government has kicked out most foreign non-governmental organizations and its intelligence services have converted the mahalla, a traditional informal neighborhood […]

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