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

Uzbek Human Rights “Progress” Claim

Human rights activists in Uzbekistan say they disagree strongly with claims by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, that the human rights situation is improving in the country.

Their comments follow a visit to Tashkent on September 8 by Janez Lenarcic, director of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

"We are encouraged by the progress made recently in implementing some of the commitments Uzbekistan has adopted… including efforts to improve detention conditions, the release of some human rights defenders, and the abolition of the death penalty," Lenarcic said in a press release.

According to Lenarcic, both sides in the talks expressed a common desire for “active cooperation” on human rights issues.

Starting early last year, Uzbekistan introduced a number of legislative improvements, abolishing capital punishment and bringing in the legal concept of habeas corpus, which requires a court’s approval before individuals can be kept in custody.

In October 2008, the European Union eased the sanctions it imposed on Uzbekistan after the May 2005 violence in Andijan, in which government troops shot down hundreds of demonstrators.

Despite such changes to written laws, in practice the authorities continue to persecute and jail dissidents, human rights activists and journalists, and prevent independent media and non-government organisations from operating.

The Tashkent-based Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders says there are currently 30 political prisoners in Uzbek jails.

Torture remains in common use in detention facilities.

Human rights activists both inside and outside the country say they see no real evidence of progress on human rights.

Nadezhda Ataeva, who heads the Human Rights Association in Central Asia, based in France, says the situation in Uzbekistan’s prison system remains largely unreported given the lack of external scrutiny.

“Civil society activists are deprived of opportunities to inform their colleagues in the West,” she said.

Bahodir Namozov, who heads the Tashkent Committee for Prisoners of Conscience, says official attitudes towards human rights defenders have not changed – the government either ignores them or detains them on politically motivated charges.

“Things haven't moved an inch,” said Namazov.

(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.)