Craig Murray: Afghanistan is the reason why EU ignores atrocities

Over a million children are taken out of school every year to pick cotton in dreadful – often fatal – conditions

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Today the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, will host an official visit by the Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov.

This may seem a peculiar thing for the European Union to do. Karimov is infamous for the massacre of over 700 demonstrators at Andijan in 2005, for the boiling alive of dissident Muzaffar Avazov in 2002, for some 10,000 political prisoners held in ex-Soviet gulags, for banning all Western media organisations and reporters, for the imprisonment in lunatic asylums of dissident journalists including his own nephew, for the jailing of HIV campaigners for corrupting public morals...

That list could go on and on without my having to stop and think.

But I do have to add the vast wealth of the Karimov family compared to a deeply impoverished population, most of whom are forced into labour on state cotton plantations. More than a million children are removed from education every year, for periods varying from one week to three months, and forced to pick cotton by hand in dreadful and sometimes fatal conditions. This scandal of the cotton fields is so bad that retailers, including Tesco, Walmart and Marks & Spencer, have entirely voluntarily removed all Uzbek cotton content from their products sold, and put resources into audit provisions to make sure this sticks.

Yet the European Commission maintains there is insufficient evidence of forced child labour in Uzbekistan for EU trade sanctions – a straightforward lie, as anybody can discover in five minutes on the internet.

So why is the EU less moral than Tesco or Walmart? The answer is a single word – Afghanistan. Twenty per cent of supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan now transit Uzbekistan, and the figure has steadily been increasing as supplies through Pakistan are increasingly tenuous. Germany also has an airbase in Uzbekistan. What is in it for Karimov? Political backing for his dictatorship, and juicy Pentagon supply contracts routed through his daughter.

It is a prime example of the way our disastrous Afghan policy is not just failing in Afghanistan, but poisoning an entire nexus of foreign policy issues. The effect of that corrosion will be seen vividly in Brussels today. Uniquely, no journalists are allowed to accredit for today's official visit. Only the official Commission and Uzbek government media will be allowed to take pictures, to be relayed to Uzbekistan's endarkened population as more evidence that their infallible President bestrides the world stage.

The EU are making sure that it feels just like home for Karimov.

My position as British ambassador in Tashkent was highly uncomfortable. I cared about the human rights of ordinary Uzbeks, and I assure you that the British government didn't.

Craig Murray is the former ambassador to Uzbekistan

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