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Uzbek Activist Returns U.S. Award To Protest Honoring Of Otunbaeva

An Uzbek human rights activist says she will return a U.S. State Department award she received in 2009 to protest the award being presented to Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbaeva in Washington, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

In an open letter made public on March 7, one day before Otunbaeva was to be honored, Mutabar Tajibaeva said the State Department's decision to give the International Women of Courage award to Kyrgyz president "killed my nation's trust in the United States to [maintain] justice and truth."

She wrote that Otunbaeva had "let my compatriots in Kyrgyzstan be violently killed...did not do anything to prevent the stealing of humanitarian aid sent to my people, [and] failed to stop the 'ethnic cleansing'...[and] who is unable to stop persecutions of Uzbeks, which continue even now."

More than 400 ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz died in violent ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan's southern regions of Osh and Jalal-Abad in mid-June. Thousands of others were made homeless.

Tajibaeva also wrote in her open letter that "to be on one list with Roza Otunbaeva for me would mean a betrayal of my nation, my people. I cannot be on one list with a person whose hands are covered in blood...and therefore I refuse the U.S. State Department's 2009 International Women of Courage award."

"I do not have anything against Roza Otunbaeva as a woman; I am against the President of Kyrgyzstan Roza Otunbaeva, because at the moment when she led [Kyrgyzstan's] interim government, the crime against the Uzbek people was committed," Tajibaeva told RFE/RL on March 8. "She failed to stop it, she did not take any concrete steps [with that aim], and she did not go to the exact places to meet the victims of that crime."

The U.S. State Department presents the International Women of Courage award each year to women from different countries on March 8, International Women's Day. It has honored 38 women from 27 countries since the award was instituted in 2007.

Otunbaeva, the first female head of state in Central Asia, came to power after the ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiev in April 2010. She is being given the award along with nine other women from such countries as Afghanistan, Cuba, Belarus, and China.

The State Department said on its website that Otunbaeva is being given the award for "binding together a historically fractious opposition into a provisional government structure." She oversaw the writing of a new constitution, which was approved in a referendum and shifted power away from the president, and the holding of parliamentary elections.

Tajibaeva suggested that other Kyrgyz women would be more deserving of such an award.

"If tomorrow Gulnara Karimova [Uzbek President Islam Karimov's daughter] becomes president, should we award her for courage as the second female president in Central Asia? Or [should we do so] if that happens to the daughter of [Kazakh] President Nursultan Nazarbaev?," Tajibaeva I do not understand that she is getting the award only because she became the first female president in Central Asia. If it was necessary to give that award to someone in Kyrgyzstan, to focus on that country, it would be fair to give that award to [Kyrgyz human rights defenders] Tolekan Ismailova or Aziza Abdrasulova."

Tajibaeva, 49, spent more than two years in jail in Uzbekistan for her human rights activities.

Read more in Uzbek here