Rights group calls for UN action on Uzbekistan
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has made a submission to the United Nations Human Rights Committee ahead of its national review this month.
The rights group said Uzbekistan had taken some steps to address abuses since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took power in September 2016. HRW noted that around 50 political prisoners have been released and there is an increasingly vibrant media environment. The New York-based NGO said some officials had been held accountable for abuse or corruption.
But HRW said many promised reforms only exist in theory.
The country’s jails still contain thousands of political prisoners and media self-censorship is prevalent. Many websites, such as the Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, remain blocked.
The HRW submission said: “In June 2018, the authorities adopted a new law on NGOs that would relax registration procedures. But the law has yet to be implemented effectively, and officials have reportedly discouraged the registration of new organisations. They have also yet to remove the barriers to registration and accreditation of staff faced by international human rights organisations who were forced to discontinue their work in Uzbekistan following the 2005 Andijan massacre, including Freedom House, the American Bar Association and Human Rights Watch.”
Forced labour in the Uzbek cotton sector has continued despite a public decree prohibiting the process.
The International Labour Organisation estimated that 170,000 adults were forcibly mobilised to pick cotton during the 2018 harvest. The Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights and the Cotton Campaign said those numbers could have been far higher. Neither group has yet produced a study for the 2019 harvest.
Since March 2018 legislation has prohibited courts from using evidence obtained through torture and requiring all decisions to be based only on evidence confirmed during a trial.
But HRW said thousands of inmates had endured torture and terrible conditions during detention.
Uzbekistan has not ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture or allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross to monitor Uzbek detention centres since 2013.
HRW urged the Human Rights Committee to call on Uzbekistan to probe all deaths in custody and claims of torture and allow prison visits by international observers.
It also said the committee should call on Tashkent to fully abolish the practice of forced labour in the cotton fields.
Uzbekistan remains architecturally stunning but politically oppressive. Picture credit: Eurasia Times