Uzbekistan: Interview With Former
British Ambassador Craig Murray
Source: Radio Free Europe
Craig Murray may be one of Britain's least
diplomatic diplomats in recent memory. While ambassador to Tashkent,
he spoke publicly about repression and the lack of democratic
freedoms in Uzbekistan. Last year he accused the United States
and United Kingdom of using intelligence gained from people tortured
in Uzbekistan. And in a widely published speech in November, he
criticized the United States for helping prop up what he called
President Islam Karimov's "brutal" regime. Murray was
suspended from his post in October 2004 and has now taken severance
pay -- moves the British Foreign Office has said are not connected
with his outspoken views. He now plans to run against British
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in Britain's Parliamentary election,
expected in May.
_RFE/RL: What's prompted you to stand
against Jack Straw in the upcoming general election?
Murray: I think that under this government
Britain has moved away from the basic principles that governed
foreign policy for many years, in particular support for the United
Nations, support for the role of international law. And that's
really quite a serious step which the British people didn't approve
of, people didn't approve of us entering into an illegal war against
Iraq without the sanction of the UN Security Council. So I'm trying
to bring that home to the foreign secretary, because he obviously
carries the responsibility for foreign policy.
RFE/RL: Are you hoping to emulate Martin
Bell [a former British journalist who entered politics in order
to defeat a member of parliament embroiled in a corruption scandal]
or is winning not the point?
Murray: I'm hoping to do a "Martin
Bell" in the sense that I want to make the illegal war on
Iraq, the government's attacks on human rights at home, its failure
to support human rights abroad -- I'm hoping to make those key
issues which get more national attention than they would otherwise.
Martin Bell did the same two elections ago for the issue of sleaze,
and concentrated media attention on that. I'm hoping to concentrate
media attention on the issues of legality and foreign policy.
So I'm hoping to emulate him in that sense, bring media attention
on a relevant issue. Obviously I'd like to emulate him in terms
of being elected, but that's entirely up to the voters of Blackburn
RFE/RL: And you are including in those
issues that you want to highlight the U.K.'s acceptance of intelligence
gained under torture overseas?
Murray: That's one of the key issues I
will highlight, the fact that Jack Straw has personally sanctioned
the use by the U.K. of intelligence materials obtained under torture.
I came across it in Uzbekistan, but exactly the same thing is
happening in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, many many countries. What is
worse, people have been able to be locked up here in the U.K.,
detained without trial, on the basis of such intelligence, which
is really a dreadful scandal. I will by trying to highlight that
in the election campaign.
RFE/RL: What was it that prompted you
to speak out about rights abuses while you were ambassador to
Murray: I think the brutality in Tashkent
was so extreme and so all-pervasive that it was necessary to expose
it. I did speak out very strongly, but for example [former U.S.
Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright had made a speech in 2000
which was just as strong as anything I ever said about the regime
in Tashkent. Sadly, of course, with the coming of the [George
W.] Bush administration, America decided it was again going to
start backing some nasty dictators who they viewed as on their
side, and the American position changed, and the rest of the West
was only too eager to fall in behind that noncritical support
of [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov. But that was in violation
of every international agreement on human rights, and I was only
speaking along the lines of accepted British policy.
RFE/RL: What was the reaction of you fellow
Murray: I think they were pretty surprised.
When I first arrived in Uzbekistan, as a new ambassador you make
courtesy calls on other ambassadors. When I called on other European
Union ambassadors and said to them, 'Goodness the human rights
situation here is terrible, this is a really nasty dictatorship,'
two of them said to me absolutely directly, 'Yes we know, but
we don't mention that because they're [Uzbekistan] close allies
of the United States.' And there was an understanding among ambassadors
in Tashkent that they just pretended not to notice what was going
on. That made their lives more comfortable living and working
in Tashkent, they weren't people personally fond of confrontations.
And I think there was some discomfort and pique that I had brought
to public attention issues that they viewed as best swept under
RFE/RL: The United States has said it's
promoting reforms in Uzbekistan and that it has kept human rights
on the agenda, withholding some aid last year because of the poor
human rights record. The EU has also spoken in terms of supporting
and encouraging reforms. Has this approach brought any results,
do you think?
Murray: No, none whatsoever. There isn't
any reform happening. The U.S. sometimes tries to pretend there
are bits and pieces of reform. For example, two years ago the
U.S. ambassador was loudly proclaiming the abolition of censorship.
[the U.S. ambassador said in 2002 he welcomed the move to end
official media censorship, but added it was only a first step
leading Uzbekistan to an open society.] In fact no such thing
has happened, Uzbekistan is still 100 percent censored in its
media. And when the State Department cut $12 million of aid last
year because of Uzbekistan's appalling human rights record, the
Pentagon immediately gave an increase in military aid of more
than twice that to make it up. [In August, General Richard Meyers,
the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced in Tashkent
that Washington would give Uzbekistan an additional $21 million
to prevent the proliferation of biological weapons.] I think that
the U.S. is in an absolutely disgraceful position with regard
RFE/RL: How should the West treat the
Murray: We should treat it as a pariah
regime. There is certainly no more freedom in Uzbekistan than
there is in Belarus, and the regime in Tashkent is still more
vicious and violent than the regime of [Belarusian President Alyaksandr]
Lukashenka. And Lukashenka we're quite happy to ostracize and
bring sanctions against while we court Karimov. If you take Zimbabwe,
which was named as one of [U.S. Secretary of State] Condoleezza
Rice's evil dictatorships, I have no time for President [Robert]
Mugabe, but there is an opposition in Zimbabwe, and people can,
at some risk, go to the polls and vote for an opposition candidate,
and they do so. There is an independent judiciary in Zimbabwe
whereas there is no such thing in Tashkent. Uzbekistan is certainly
in the 'Top 10' for dictatorial regimes in the world and we should
treat it as such. We don't have any difficulty treating Mugabe
and Lukashenka as pariahs, so why should we not treat Karimov
in the same way?
RFE/RL: Do you think you achieved anything
by speaking out?
Murray: There are individual cases of
people who would be in prison today and possibly would be dead
today if we hadn't managed to act and intervene in their cases
in Uzbekistan. I think there is much more international attention
towards Uzbekistan. I don't believe, for example, that the [U.S.]
State Department would have made its token cut in aid if it wasn't
for the international attention that the U.K. brought to the human
rights violations in Uzbekistan. So I have achieved something
in at least raising an awareness of the problem in the world.
But plainly I haven't achieved any real reform in Uzbekistan because
there is no sign of that.
RFE/RL: Do you have any regrets about
what you did?
Murray: Obviously on a personal basis
I enormously regret the loss of my career which had been extremely
successful in my 20 years at the Foreign Office. I didn't head
to Uzbekistan thinking, 'This is a good place to throw my career
away.' It wasn't intended. I regret that, but I don't feel I could
have done anything else.