Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Little Assistance for Uzbek Disabled

NBCentral Asia observers are sceptical that the Uzbek government will live up to its obligations to support disabled people even though it has signed a United Nations convention to that effect.

Uzbekistan's permanent representative at the UN, Murad Askarov, recently signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and it now goes to the country’s parliament for ratification in late March.

The UN document seeks to protect and promote the rights of people with disabilities, remove discrimination and guarantee equal access to education, healthcare and justice.

One of the practical obligations Uzbekistan undertakes by acceding to the convention is a report to the relevant UN committee within the next two years.

There are 850,000 registered disabled in Uzbekistan. All are entitled to state support under legislation dating from 1991, but NBCentralAsia commentators say that in practice, they receive little in the way of help and face obstacles when seeking work, especially now that the unemployment rate has increased.

“In Uzbekistan, people with disabilities are not viewed as full members of society, but rather as a burden,” said Zuhra Ashurova, a disabled woman from Tashkent.

Ashurova said many people with disabilities can be seen begging in urban streets as a way of subsisting, given the lack of job opportunities.

She does not believe that signing up to the UN convention is going to alleviate the situation of this vulnerable group.

A woman from Chirchik, a town just outside Tashkent, noted that disabled people do not get discounts on their utility bills and other payments.

From 2003, subsidies and in-kind benefits were replaced by a cash payment currently equivalent to seven US dollars a month.

However, many disabled people say this money quickly goes on food, with nothing left over to cover bills.

Elena Urlayeva, head of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, whose work includes assisting disabled people, doubts that any major improvements will take place. She cites the analogy of general civil and political rights, where the situation remains poor in Uzbekistan despite the government’s declarations that all is well.

According to the US State Department’s annual human rights report for 2008, Uzbekistan is one of the most authoritarian states in the former Soviet Union.

“An able-bodied person cannot assert his or her rights in the state agencies, to say nothing of people with disabilities,” said Urlayeva.

(NBCentralAsia is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service has resumed, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)