Human Rights and Democracy Report 2016 - CHAPTER VI: Human Rights Priority Countries - Uzbekistan

In 2016 we continued to have concerns about the overall human rights situation in Uzbekistan, but there were signs of potential positive developments. Following his appointment in the autumn, President Mirziyoev introduced measures aimed at greater transparency and accountability in government, as well as reforms in criminal justice and some anti-corruption measures. The authorities also released two prisoners of concern and there were encouraging signals on freedom of expression and political association. Overall, however, by the end of 2016 these measures had yet to translate into evidence of fundamental change.

Credible reports suggested that freedom of religion or belief continued to be denied by the Uzbek state. Online media and NGOs continue to report actions by law enforcement against individuals engaged in religious activities outside state-sanctioned structures. The highly restrictive Ministry of Justice Order regulating NGO activity remained in force, limiting the operating space for non-governmental human rights organisations. Very few international NGOs were permitted to operate, and the limited number of local activists continued to report harassment. There were some positive developments towards the end of the year with authorisation granted for small public demonstrations and further prison visits by a local NGO.

During 2016, the UK raised human rights issues with the authorities in Uzbekistan during two ministerial visits and through regular contact at official level. This included during the visit by Sir Alan Duncan, the FCO Minister for Europe, to Tashkent in December, where he encouraged the government to promote freedom of the press and agree to the BBC’s return to Uzbekistan. We also supported programmes on media diversity and government transparency, and a visit to Uzbekistan by a leading penal reform expert. In December, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe sent a first full election observation mission (EOM), with a significant UK contribution, to monitor the presidential elections. They found that the election campaign lacked genuine competition and that proxy or family voting remained a problem, despite a widespread government campaign to discourage the practice. However, the EOM noted significantly increased transparency in the conduct of the elections and a commitment by the Uzbek Government to address outstanding issues.

In October, the Uzbek National Human Rights Centre (a governmental body) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UN on Uzbekistan’s National Human Rights Action Plan, to implement the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations. The same month, a decree “on judicial reforms and strengthening human rights” contained a number of provisions long encouraged by the UN and international experts. President Mirziyoev also criticised the 100% conviction rate of recent years and called on the courts to issue more acquittals. Some progress has been made on child and forced labour. A report14 by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on the 2016 cotton harvest concluded that the Uzbek authorities had taken measures towards eliminating child labour, making it socially unacceptable and rare. The report also concluded that, whilst the risk of forced labour remained, those in the high risk group were a minority of the workforce. The Uzbek Government has agreed to address this as part of its ongoing co-operation with the World Bank and ILO.

In 2017, we will continue to encourage progress on labour issues, freedom of media including the return of the BBC to Uzbekistan, and frame our human rights advocacy around Uzbekistan’s preparation for its 2018 UPR. The Embassy will expand support for project and programme work on human rights and good governance, including a major programme supporting anti-corruption, human rights and regional government accountability.