In this guest column written exclusively for Apparel Insider, Lynn Schweisfurth of the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights argues that while the end of systematic forced labour in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan is an important landmark, significant human rights risks remain.
While the Uzbek Government celebrates the end of the boycott of Uzbek cotton following the eradication of systematic, state-imposed forced labour, farmers find themselves at the mercy of a system rigged against them.
As events in Kazakhstan continue to spook neighboring Central Asian countries whose populations suffer almost identical social grievances, including grand corruption, increasing poverty, and soaring fuel prices, efforts of Uzbekistan’s authorities to stifle criticism of its government have been gathering pace long before the unrest in Kazakhstan erupted in early January of this year. Despite President Mirziyoyev’s much lauded reform program which has focused mainly on the economy, civil and political reforms have lagged well behind. Freedom of speech, freedom of association and the right of civil society groups to register formally as NGOs have failed to see any relaxation of draconian, Soviet-style rules of play. Indeed, the Uzbek government appears to have stepped up its control over the Internet and bloggers and journalists repeatedly receive “invitations” from the authorities to remind them of the boundaries of what they may report on.
Human rights activist Umida Niyazova spoke to Fergana News about a recent trip to her homeland and her impression of new realities after many years in exile. The course towards greater openness and liberalization in Uzbekistan following the change of power in 2016 presented political emigrants with the possibility of returning to their homeland, at least for a short time. Some of them took the risk and then, with pleasant surprise, reported how they could cross of the border smoothly, easily register at their place of accommodation, and the lack of attention paid to them by the security forces, at least not that they noticed. Their stories were optimistic and the number of dissidents and political refugees visiting Uzbekistan slowly began to grow.
Civil society calls on the Uzbekistani authorities to register the independent human rights organization Human rights House. Tashkent Inter-district Administrative Court returned the NGO Human Rights House’s complaint about non-registration “on formal grounds”, but the group has appealed the decision and is currently seeking to register with the Ministry of Justice for the ninth time. We, the undersigned members of the Civic Solidarity Platform, call on the Uzbekistani authorities to take swift steps to register Human Rights House and other independent human rights organizations in Uzbekistan, and ensure that they can freely carry out their human rights activities.
Bagmanyan had no history of mental health problems. Beginning in 2018, he had been battling to save his property from demolition by the Akhangaran city hokimiyat (administrative authorities). He was determined to save two residential homes belonging to his family and a store where he had conducted his business for the past eight years. Bagmanyan’s efforts however were in vain and, according to Bagmanyan, the properties, were demolished without prior agreement or compensation for loss of property or income from his business. His repeated attempts to secure justice were consistently ignored by the authorities who appear to have resorted to the most extreme means to silence him.
The involvement of blind and visually impaired teachers in the education system is necessary for the promotion of inclusion in this field of Uzbekistan. But have equal conditions and opportunities been created for them to carry out teaching activities like teachers without disabilities? Together with Dr Abdulla Abdukhalilov, an Associate Professor of Social Work at the National University of Uzbekistan and a Deputy Chairman on Strategic Planning at the Association of Disabled People Uzbekistan, we wrote a joint article at Gazeta.uz (in Russian/Uzbek) to analyse the problem based on the personal experience and successful cases of inclusion in pedagogy.
The much heralded privatisation of the Central Asian state’s cotton sector has led to claims of exploitation. But workers are fighting back
The EU has accepted the Republic of Uzbekistan as the 9th beneficiary country of the special incentive arrangement for sustainable development and good governance (GSP+) under the unilateral Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP). The EU will start applying preferential tariffs for products imported from Uzbekistan under this arrangement from 10 April 2021.
According to the state register of NGOs, 9,200 non-governmental organizations, national and regional, are registered and operating in Uzbekistan today. Meanwhile, the vast majority of these organizations are branches of large quasi-governmental NGOs (GONGOs) created by the state. Registration of independent NGOs is in fact a cumbersome, painful process and, despite criticism by international human rights defenders, Uzbekistan is in no hurry to change the rules to make it easier for civil society to formally register as independent organizations.
Despite significant progress on the eradication of forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector, new challenges have come to light since the privatization process began. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland have now been transferred to private operators (clusters) leaving many farming families without work and in poverty. Because only one cluster operates per district, farmers who have retained their land are now trapped in contracts to deliver cotton to the cluster in their district, leaving them without the power to negotiate favorable terms. Instead of the state, de facto private monopolies have emerged that control entire districts.