AIRING HER DIRTY LAUNDRY
- Jonit Bookheim
- 01 Nov, 2011
“Enslaving children and torturing dissidents is never chic.”
Congratulations to Human Rights Watch for their successful campaign to have New York Fashion Week cancel Gulnara Karimova’s show, daughter of Uzbekistan’s long-standing dictator. She was scheduled to present her spring line on the prestigious runway, but HRW and other rights organizations intervened to voice their concerns about her role in her father’s tyrannical government.
Gulnara Karimova isn’t just the eldest daughter of Islam Karimov – Uzbekistan’s autocratic leader since the Soviet era – she also serves as the government’s ambassador to Spain and the United Nations, a high-level position in a regime known for imprisoning and torturing political opponents and rights activists. Her father’s government forces up to two million Uzbek children to leave school for two months each year to pick cotton – a fabric woven throughout Karimova’s designs.
Karimova maintains a jet-setter lifestyle, which includes making a pop video with Julio Iglesias and launching her fashion line “Guli.” But according to a cable released by Wikileaks, US diplomats said most Uzbeks view her as “a greedy, power-hungry individual who uses her father to crush business people or anyone else who stands in her way.”
To get her Fashion Week show canceled, Human Rights Watch reached out to senior management at IMG, the event organizer, and Fashion Week’s main sponsors, like Mercedes-Benz – providing examples of the abuses that HRW Uzbekistan researchers documented on the ground.
HRW stressed how no one in Uzbekistan has been held accountable for the 2005 massacre in Andijan, when government troops opened fire on mostly unarmed protesters, killing hundreds. Many of the country’s journalists and human rights defenders are jailed, and prisoners routinely tortured. Uzbekistan’s clampdown on nongovernmental organizations is so widespread that, earlier this year, Uzbek authorities forced Human Rights Watch to close their office in the capital, Tashkent – the first time in their 33-year history that a government shut one of their offices. In years prior, Uzbekistan had also closed local operations of Freedom House, the Open Society Institute, BBC, Deutsche Welle, and many others.
On the opening day of Fashion Week, the New York Post ran a front-page story, pitched by Human Rights Watch, with a soon-to-be-classic headline, “Dressed to Kill: Daughter of Murderous Dictator to Unveil Spring Line at Fashion Week.” It ignited a wave of global media coverage.
It’s fitting that Fashion Week won’t showcase a designer who represents such a repressive government. It sends a strong message: abusers shouldn’t be allowed to launder their image at the expense of human rights.