Credible independent investigations following the events found Uzbek security forces responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths and rejected the Uzbek government's claims that the demonstrators were motivated by Islamic extremism. According to Human Rights Watch, Uzbekistan's government has refused to cooperate with international investigations, cracked down further on civil-society groups, and sought the forcible return of those who fled the country after the violence.
The AUCC declined to comment on Lamm's involvement with the organization, but her official biography shows that she's been active with the group since at least 1994.
Another of Lamm's ties to Uzbekistan is through Zeromax, a holding firm formed in 2001 that is widely reported to be controlled by Gulnara Karimova. "Zeromax is essentially one of the facades behind which Gulnara Karimova continues to tighten her grip on any and all available sources of income in the country by any means she deems necessary, with little or no regard for legal niceties," says one Central Asian analyst.
Karimova has denied any ties to the company, though some press accounts have reported that she controls it through intermediaries. Zeromax is alleged to have bullied competitors with extralegal methods, including kidnapping, extortion, and racketeering; the firm reportedly often simply takes over competitors, as reported by Harper's magazine. In Interspan Distribution Corp. v. Liberty Insurance Underwriters, Inc., a lawsuit filed in federal court in Houston, an American company claims that Zeromax used its influence with the government to drive it out of the country, even arresting or threatening to arrest its employees to force them to sign over assets. Currently, Zeromax dominates the oil and gas, uranium, agriculture, and gold-mining sectors, according to its Web site and the International Crisis Group. White & Case is the company's general counsel in London, Moscow, and Washington D.C., according to Zeromax's Web site, and Lamm served as the company's lead counsel in a 2007 lawsuit.
U.S. Federal Agent Registration Act documents show that Lamm has lobbied on
behalf of other authoritarian states. She registered to lobby for Libya in 2008,
at a time when the United States and Libya were in the process of normalizing
relations. She was also registered as a lobbyist for the Bank of Zaire -- now
the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- from 1981 through 1984, and White &
Case was registered as a lobbyist for the Bank of Zaire from 1980 to 1991.
That the ABA would overlook Lamm's ties to Uzbekistan is all the more surprising given the organization's past advocacy on behalf of democracy and rule of law in the country. The association established an office of its Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative, or CEELI, in the 1990s to "furnish technical assistance on a wide range of issues essential for further consolidation of the rule of law" in the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe. In Uzbekistan, the program ran human rights clinics at government law institutes and supported public-defender centers.
In the wake of the international condemnation of the Andijan massacre, Uzbekistan's Ministry of Justice ordered ABA/CEELI to close it operations, as it did virtually all other NGOs. Currently, the ABA runs an "offshore" program for lawyers from Uzbekistan in neighboring Kazakhstan. A U.S. speech in March 2009 by the program director spoke of the many challenges of running such an initiative, most of which involved "ensuring the security" of the Uzbek participants invited to programs in Kazakhstan or Turkey.
The concerns about security are understandable. As Freedom House notes in its country report on Uzbekistan, "the judiciary is subservient to the president, who appoints all judges and can remove them at any time ... Police routinely abuse and torture suspects to extract confessions, which are accepted by judges as evidence and often serve as the basis for convictions."
Lamm declined to be interviewed for this story and it is unclear whether her ties with Uzbekistan will have an effect on her policies as ABA president. She has committed herself to updating the association's ethics guidelines to reflect "our changing world," and, in an August 2009 speech upon assuming the presidency of the ABA, stated, "It is not just the rule of law we are called to strengthen, but the rule of just law."
A noble goal indeed, and surely one that would be welcome by the beleaguered citizens of Uzbekistan.