2-2-2012By Sam Quatromoni
Human Rights Defenders Program
The government of Kazakhstan announced yesterday that leading human rights defender Yevgeniy Zhovtis has been granted amnesty after serving over two years in prison. Human Rights First and other international observers have called his conviction politically motivated and unlawful. One of the most prominent activists in Central Asia, Zhovtis was convicted in 2009 in a trial that was illegitimate by both international and Kazakhstani standards.
We are delighted that Zhovtis will soon be reunited with his family and friends. Secretary of State Clinton should be commended for discussing Zhovtis’s case during a visit to Kazakhstan in 2010, as should the U.S. mission that continued to follow his case. However, the U.S. government should develop a consistent policy to guide Embassy engagement with human rights defenders around the globe.
For example, Secretary Clinton has received a lot of flak for not raising the issue of risks to human rights defenders during her November trip to Uzbekistan, which has, arguably, a far worse record on human rights than Kazakhstan. Why didn’t she? Because Uzbekistan is a more important military partner as it controls the Northern Distribution Network, which the U.S. needs to get in and out of Afghanistan.
As the United States seeks to deepen ties to civil society in countries like Egypt and Bahrain, human rights defenders need a show of support from the United States. Knowing that they can expect a certain amount of support and engagement from the international community bolsters activists.
In Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and beyond, leaders like Zhovtis need to know if and how the U.S. Embassies will support their efforts.