Tuesday May 4, 2010

Thousands of Women Forcibly Sterilized in Uzbekistan

By Hilary White

TASHKENT, May 4, 2010 ( – When doctors told a 28 year-old Uzbek woman that she had been sterilized after her first pregnancy without her knowledge or consent by government order, her husband left her. “Not a day passes without me crying,” said Gulbahor Zavidova. “I was outraged when I found out what they had done. How could they do such a horrible thing without asking me?”

Human rights groups have said that a government program of stealth sterilizations is part of larger systematic human rights abuses and oppression being perpetrated by the Uzbekistan government. The Times reports that a program of systematic sterilization of poor farmers’ wives is a policy of the Uzbek dictator President Islam Karimov.

Karimov is an old-style soviet ruler who has been in power since 1990, when the country was part of the Soviet Union. The CIA World Fact Book describes the government of Uzbekistan as an “authoritarian presidential rule, with little power outside the executive branch.” The country maintains a strictly government-controlled health system in which decrees of the government are carried out directly by doctors.

Recently, human rights activists condemned a decision by the Asian Development Bank to hold its four-day annual meeting in Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent. The decision “risks sending a signal about the bank and its shareholders somehow approving of the Uzbek government’s policies, and will no doubt be exploited by the host government for internal and external PR purposes,” Veronika Szente Goldston, Human Rights Watch’s advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia, told

Human Rights Watch has pointed the finger at the U.S. and the European Union for their increasing silence on human rights abuses in the country. Goldston said the event creates “an impression of the EU and the U.S. effectively giving up any serious effort to promote human rights as part of their engagement with Uzbekistan.”

The country was recently named one of the most oppressive states in the world by a United Nations report. The report by the UN’s Human Rights Committee also listed “limitations and restrictions on freedom of religion and belief, including for members of non-registered religious groups” and “persistent reports on charges and imprisonment of such individuals.”

The Times quoted a local human rights campaigner, who was not named for fear of reprisal, saying, “We estimate that since February, about 5,000 women have been sterilized without consent.”

Activists say that mass sterilizations began in 2003, eased for a time and were started again in February this year. According to the UN, Uzbekistan’s fertility rate has fallen from 4.4 babies per woman to 2.5 since Karimov came to power.

The Times report told the story of Hidojat Muminova, a 26-year-old cotton picker who said that doctors tricked her into agreeing to surgery, during which she was sterilized.

“They scared me into believing I needed an urgent operation,” she said. “I was surprised as I’d never had any pain but I was worried and agreed to the surgery. When it was over they told me they’d performed a sterilization. I could not stop crying. They tricked me and treated me like an animal.”

While Uzbek authorities have denied it, a number of human rights groups have reported that a recent decree requires doctors to persuade at least two women a month to have a hysterectomy. In March the Expert Working Group, an independent think tank based in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, reported that a Health Ministry decree issued in mid-February orders district doctors to recommend hysterectomy as an effective contraceptive.

The Expert Working Group’s coordinator, Sukhrobdzon Ismoilov, told the Boston Globe in a phone interview that physicians who do not comply face reprisals and fines from their superiors.

“We’re talking about at least tens of thousands of women,’’ Ismoilov said.


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