Testimony of William B. Taylor
Joint Hearing with Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia: "Silencing Central Asia: the Voice of Dissidents"

Washington, 18 July 2001

Silencing Central Asia: The Voice of the Dissidents
William B. Taylor, Jr.
Coordinator of U.S. Assistance to the NIS
Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights
Subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia
Committee on International Relations
House of Representatives
July 18, 2001

Madame Chairman, I, too, am honored to testify before the Committee here today. While Mike Parmly represents the policy side of the house, Iím here to represent the assistance side, and Iím ready to answer any questions you may have about our efforts to promote democratic reform in Central Asia. But with your indulgence, I would first like to make a short statement.

Against the backdrop of the conditions that Mike has just described to you, the question arises: What can the U.S. do to help the people of Central Asia create democratic societies, given the fact that their governments are standing in the way of reform? As Mike said, we tell our foreign government interlocutors that U.S. assistance follows reform -- that is to say, if youíre ready to reform, weíre ready to help. Unfortunately, in the case of Central Asia, some of the governments have not been willing to reform; as a result, our assistance is focused on helping those brave individuals who are pursuing democratization from the grassroots level, even as their governments seek to thwart their every move. Itís an uphill battle to say the least, but we are committed to support these democratically minded folks as long as theyíre willing to keep struggling.

Since fiscal year 1992, we have provided about $250 million in democracy-related assistance to the five Central Asian countries, including $35 million in FY 2000 and $36 million in FY 2001. For a combined regional population of some 54 million, thatís certainly not a lot of money. Weíd like to be able to allocate more money for Central Asia, but we face significant resource constraints.

Our democracy programs in Central Asia are almost entirely non-governmental in their focus. For example, while we have tried working with some of the Central Asian governments to promote free and fair elections over the past several years, it quickly became clear to us that the election officials were not interested in allowing, or were under orders not to allow, free

and fair elections to take place. We therefore shifted the focus of our election-related assistance entirely to the non-governmental sector, working with NGOs and independent media outlets to help inform voters about their choices and to monitor the electoral process. The same is true of our other democracy-building programs as well. They are targeted almost exclusively at the non-governmental sector, with the exception of a few programs that work with reform-oriented local governments.

As Mike described in his testimony, the Central Asian countries have surprisingly active independent media outlets and NGOs, especially considering the inhospitable working environment that they face. The example of Kazakhstani NGOs and media outlets joining forces to protest a repressive draft media law was a very encouraging one. We would be happy to see similar grassroots coalition-building in the other Central Asian countries.

Over the past few years, we have undertaken numerous initiatives to support independent media, NGO development, and access to information in Central Asia, and we plan to do more. We are looking at creative ways to increase our support for independent print and broadcast media, including providing legal defense to journalists and media outlets harassed by the state. We are providing small grants to NGOs, including media watchdog, human-rights and election monitoring NGOs. In addition, we have established and are maintaining 17 public-access Internet sites in the Central Asian countries, with 14 additional sites to be opened soon.

There is a broad consensus that some of the most successful assistance programs we have are our exchange programs, especially those that bring over high school, undergraduate and graduate students to the United States. These programs reach out to the next generation of leaders. Since 1992, we have brought almost 10,000 Central Asians to the U.S. on our academic and professional exchange programs, including about 1,100 per year for the past several years. As one of our ambassadors once told me, these young people return home as "little revolutionaries," and many go on to assume influential positions in their countriesí governments and parliaments. The Uzbek Government apparently shares our view of the importance of exchanges, because they have been allocating government resources to send young Uzbeks to the U.S. on academic exchange programs--we applaud them for their far-sightedness.

We can point to numerous examples where targeted assistance has made a difference. With our help, independent newspapers in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have been able to fulfill their important function as watchdogs by trying to hold governments accountable, albeit at the local level. Internet access is helping to counter the isolation of human-rights activists in Central Asia. Mr. Ruzimuradovís courageous colleagues at the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan were able to immediately inform the world of his tragic demise because it has a website and Internet access, made possible in part by U.S. assistance. Similarly, Ismail Adilovís human rights organization was able to announce his freeing from detention on its website, on which it credited the efforts of our embassy in Tashkent with helping to facilitate the release.

We acknowledge the fact that change in Central Asia is going to be a long-term, generational process. Our assistance can continue to play an important role by supporting courageous young journalists and NGO activists who are working to better their societies. Thank you once again for the opportunity to be here today -- I look forward to answering your questions and hearing your thoughts and recommendations.