September 28, 2010

This memorandum provides Human Rights Watch's assessment of the Uzbek government's compliance with the human rights criteria formulated by EU foreign ministers in various General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) conclusions, most recently in October 2009, when the Council announced its decision to lift the remaining sanctions on Uzbekistan - the embargo on arms sales - with a view "to encourage the Uzbek authorities to take further substantive steps to improve the rule of law and the human rights situation on the ground."[1] The criteria formulated by GAERC in October 2009 were as follows:

  • Release all imprisoned human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience;
  • Allow unimpeded operation of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)in the country, including Human Rights Watch;
  • Cooperate fully with all relevant UN Special Rapporteurs;
  • Guarantee freedom of speech and of the media;
  • Proceed with the implementation of the conventions against child labor;
  • Fully align its election processes with OSCE commitments, ODIHR recommendations and other international standards for democratic elections, especially with a view to the parliamentary elections on December 23, 2009.

Significantly, the October 2009 GAERC Conclusions committed the EU to "closely and continuously observe the human rights situation in Uzbekistan," and to "discuss and assess progress made by the Uzbek authorities and the effectiveness of EU-Uzbek cooperation" within one year, noting that "the depth and quality of the dialogue and cooperation will depend on Uzbek reforms and progress." The Foreign Affairs Council is expected to meet in Brussels on October 25 and 26, 2010 to review Uzbekistan's progress in fulfilling these criteria.

As this memorandum shows, authorities in Uzbekistan have failed to take any "substantive steps" in the last year to improve the human rights situation, which remains atrocious. Quite the opposite, with respect to several of the above criteria, human rights abuses have only intensified. The past 12 months have been marked by increased government persecution and arrests of political and human rights activists; continuing, credible reports of arbitrary detention and torture and ill-treatment of detainees, including at least one suspicious death in custody; unrelenting crackdown on independent Muslims; and the government's persistent refusal to allow domestic and international NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, to operate without interference by the authorities.

The upcoming Foreign Affairs Council review represents a crucial opportunity for serious scrutiny of the Uzbek government's human rights record and commitment to reform. It also provides an important opportunity for assessing the effectiveness of the EU's approach to human rights in its engagement with the Uzbek government. Human Rights Watch urges EU member states to make full use of both opportunities, to strongly reaffirm the continued validity of the human rights criteria it has set for Uzbekistan, and to make their fulfillment a core objective of EU policy vis-à-vis Tashkent.

Unfulfilled Criteria

  • Release all imprisoned human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience

Uzbek authorities have not released a single imprisoned human rights defender in the last 12 months, despite their wrongful convictions and, in the case of several of the defenders, their ill-health. At this writing, the government continues to hold at least 14 human rights activists in prison for no reason other than their legitimate human rights work: Solijon Abdurakhmanov, Azam Formonov, Nosim Isakov, Gaibullo Jalilov, Alisher Karamatov, Jamshid Karimov, Norboi Kholjigitov, Rasul Khudainasarov, Ganihon Mamatkhanov, Farkhat Mukhtarov, Habibulla Okpulatov, Yuldash Rasulov, Dilmurod Saidov, and Akzam Turgunov.[2]

Human Rights Watch has received consistent reports from relatives of imprisoned human rights defenders that several suffer from ill-health, and that many of them have become very thin because of lack of proper nourishment, making them even more vulnerable to illness.  A number of the defenders suffer from serious illnesses, the effects of which are exacerbated by poor prison conditions and a lack of proper medical care.  Alisher Karamatov and Dilmurod Saidov both suffer from tuberculosis; Norboi Kholjigitov suffers from diabetes; and Abdurasul Khudainasarov suffers from chronic bronchitis. Despite the health grounds for their release, the government continues to keep these defenders wrongfully incarcerated.

The government persists in harassing and imprisoning individuals who seek to document and expose human rights violations in Uzbekistan. Since October 2009, at least two more human rights defenders have been sentenced to extended prison terms, while two other activists are currently facing criminal charges. Anatolii Volkov, a member of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, is standing trial on trumped-up charges of fraud and Tatyana Dovlatova, another member of the same organization, is under criminal investigation on politically motivated charges of hooliganism.

On November 25, 2009, Ganihon Mamatkhanov, a Ferghana-based human rights defender affiliated with the Committee for the Protection of Individual Rights, was sentenced to five years in prison on trumped up charges of fraud and bribery (reduced to four and one-half years on appeal). Gaibullo Jalilov, a Karshi-based human rights defender and member of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, was sentenced to nine years in prison on January 18, 2010 on fabricated religious extremism charges. On August 6, 2010, in a closed trial, he was convicted again on an additional count of anti-constitutional activity and sentenced to four more years in prison. Authorities did not officially inform his family of the new charges or of the investigation into his alleged criminal activity.

Many other civic activists, independent journalists, and political dissidents are also serving prison sentences on politically motivated charges, including poet and political dissident Yusuf Jumaev, who continues to be subjected to ill-treatment in Jaslyk prison, and Azamat Azimov, a member of the political opposition movement Birdamlik ("Solidarity"), who was sentenced to seven years in prison on July 28, 2010. Fellow activists believe he was arrested on trumped-up drug-related criminal charges in retribution for his political activism leading up to the December 2009 parliamentary elections.

Uzbek authorities released a well-known political prisoner, Sanjar Umarov, on November 7, 2009, four years into his seven-year prison sentence. However, Umarov was not exonerated of the politically motivated charges of extortion and embezzlement that led to his conviction. Moreover, he appears to have been released after prolonged psychological and physical ill-treatment, having spent an extended period of time prior to his release in a prison hospital. While no doubt the result of sustained international pressure on his behalf, Umarov's release should not be misconstrued as "progress" or as a shift in Uzbek government policy. Rather, his case serves to further highlight the deplorable conditions of prisoners in Uzbekistan, and underscores the urgency of securing the release of all those who still languish in prison on politically motivated charges.

In addition to human rights and other civic activists, highly relevant for a discussion of politically motivated arrests in Uzbekistan is the plight of independent Muslims - who practice their faith outside strict state controls or who belong to unregistered religious organizations - against whom the Uzbek government continues to wage an unrelenting, multi-year campaign of arbitrary detention and ill-treatment and torture. Since 1999, thousands of independent Muslims have been incarcerated for non-violent offenses. For instance, persons alleged to be followers of the Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi are targeted for arrest and imprisonment, with dozens sentenced to lengthy prison terms in the last year, most recently on August 16, when nine men were convicted of having read Nursi's works and sentenced to prison or fined.

In December 2009, Human Rights Watch interviewed individuals in Uzbekistan whose relatives had recently been detained and arrested on charges based on articles 159 ("attempt to overthrow the constitutional order") and 244 ("membership in an illegal religious or extremist organization") of the Uzbek Criminal Code, among others. These cases represent only a fraction of the new cases brought under "religious extremism" charges, which the Uzbek government has used over the past decade to imprison thousands of independent Muslims. All the families interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported gross procedural violations and lack of due process, including the authorities' obstruction of families' efforts to hire non-state appointed lawyers, and in cases where independent lawyers were hired, the authorities' refusal to permit the lawyers' access to their clients. In many cases, the authorities also failed to inform family members of the location of their relatives' detention, as well as information about the time and date of their trials. 

Local human rights groups also report that persons detained on "religious extremism" charges are routinely subjected to torture or ill-treatment in custody. For example, according to a statement circulated by Jizzakh-based human rights defender Bakhtior Hamroev on March 21, 12 of 25 men standing trial at the Jizzakh Regional Criminal Court on religious extremism charges testified in court that they had been subjected to ill-treatment in custody, including by being beaten into signing a confession. The judge ordered that four of the defendants be subject to a forensic medical examination, but instead of prompting an investigation into the allegations of torture, they were dismissed as unfounded.

Additionally, in a disturbing trend that appears to be designed to keep religious prisoners incarcerated beyond their original sentences, authorities frequently initiate new criminal proceedings against such prisoners for alleged violations of prison regulations, such as failure to shave their beards or disobeying orders of prison staff. Sentencing proceedings can often occur completely outside of a normal legal framework, where charges are brought and ruled upon in quasi-administrative prison hearings, defendants have no opportunity to review the charges before them, and have no access to legal counsel. Prisoners subject to such proceedings are not afforded adequate due process rights and can easily end up having their prison sentences extended by three years or more. A recent example is the case of Habibullo Madumarov, the son of Akhmadjan Madmarov, a Margilan-based human rights defender. The 16-year prison sentence he had been serving (after he had completed his original nine year prison sentence in 2008) was extended by a year on July 15, 2010 on charges of article 221 of the Uzbek Criminal Code ("violation of the prison regime"), reportedly for getting out of bed to pray before the prison's morning wake-up.

  • Allow unimpeded operation of non-governmental organizations in the country, including Human Rights Watch

Civil society in Uzbekistan remains the target of constant government intimidation and harassment. Authorities continue to routinely interfere in the activities of both domestic and international organizations, making it impossible at times for NGOs, particularly human rights organizations, to carry out their work. Authorities deny members of Uzbek human rights groups exit visas to prevent them from participating in trainings or international conferences, place activists under surveillance, and frequently subject them to beatings, threats, arbitrary detention and house arrest. International NGOs, even those that are legally registered such as Human Rights Watch, remain unable to operate effectively due to the government's refusal to allow their staff to enter the country.

Authorities have persisted in their refusal to allow independent domestic human rights NGOs to register. With two exceptions - the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan and Ezgulik, registered in, respectively, 2002 and 2003 - Uzbekistan's human rights community, including prominent groups such as the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU), the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, and the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan (IGNPU), are forced to operate de facto illegally, rendering them all the more vulnerable to harassment and abuse.

For example, on May 13, on the occasion of the five-year anniversary of the Andijan massacre, at least seven members of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan were prevented from publicly commemorating the occasion by being placed under de facto house arrest. That morning, one of the defenders, Elena Urlaeva, managed to leave her house, but on her way to the metro station near her apartment, was stopped by police officers who forcibly took her home, and confiscated the posters she had been carrying.

Since October 2009, the Uzbek government has continued to place significant hurdles on the ability of international NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, to operate in the country. In December 2009, a Human Rights Watch researcher who had travelled to Uzbekistan was subject to a violent attack in the town of Karshi that appeared to have been orchestrated by the authorities. The researcher was temporarily detained and then expelled from the city. Human Rights Watch's most recent attempt to staff its Tashkent office has been met with months of delaying tactics. In May 2010, Human Rights Watch applied for a work visa for its new director of the Tashkent office, but as of this writing - four months later - his visa application was still pending approval by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As a result, Human Rights Watch's work on Uzbekistan remains severely disrupted. For more than two years now, we have been unable to maintain a continuous presence in the country, a situation that renders our registration meaningless. None of the numerous international NGOs that were forced to close or otherwise end their operations in Uzbekistan after the Andijan massacre, including Freedom House and Counterpart International, have been permitted to resume their activities in Uzbekistan.

  • Cooperate fully with all relevant UN Special Rapporteurs

The Uzbek government's record of cooperation with United Nations mechanisms remains very poor. Despite repeated requests, it continues to refuse access to the country to all eight UN special procedures who have requested such access - the Special Rapporteurs on torture, on the situation of human rights defenders, on freedom of religion, on violence against women, on the independence of judges and lawyers, on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, on contemporary forms of slavery, and the Working Group on arbitrary detention.

In April 2010, on the occasion of his visit to Uzbekistan, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly called on Uzbekistan to "welcome the United Nations Special Rapporteurs and other international experts" who could help Uzbekistan fully implement the human rights treaties that it has ratified. Yet, to date, no invitations have been issued.

The government of Uzbekistan has similarly persisted in its failure to fully implement the 2003 recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on torture. This is evidenced by the ongoing, regular and credible allegations of torture being perpetrated during investigations, in pre-trial detention and in prisons, as noted by the Special Rapporteur in his annual reports to the UN Human Rights Council, as well as by the UN Human Rights Committee during its review of Uzbekistan in March 2010.

  • Guarantee freedom of speech and of the media

In the last year, the right to freedom of speech has continued to come under concerted attack in Uzbekistan. Despite legislation ensuring freedom of speech, in practice, censorship is the norm and freedom of expression is severely limited. Foreign correspondents and Uzbek citizens working for foreign media are not allowed to operate without accreditation, which in turn are difficult to obtain. The few local journalists who continue to work in the country do so at great risk to themselves, and are forced to self-censor due to harassment, beatings, detention, and threats of imprisonment for their critical views of the government. Many websites providing critical information on Uzbekistan are blocked by the authorities, including Ferghana.ru, Uznews.net, Muslimuzbekistan.org, and our own website, www.hrw.org. News agencies such as the BBC, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Deutsche Welle are unable or forbidden to operate in Uzbekistan.

On February 10, 2010, photographer and videographer Umida Ahmedova was convicted by the Mirobad District Criminal Court on charges of slander and insulting the Uzbek people. Authorities brought charges against Ahmedova on the basis of a book of photographs published in 2007 and a documentary film published in 2008. These works reflect everyday life and traditions in Uzbekistan, with a focus on gender inequality, but were found by the court to "discredit the foundations and customs of the people of Uzbekistan" and "offend [their] traditions." Following an international outcry, Ahmedova was found guilty on both of the charges, but was immediately amnestied.

On June 13, 2010, independent journalist Aleksei Volosevich was detained as he was filming busloads of Uzbek refugees fleeing ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan not far from the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border. He was held in the Andijan Regional Department of Internal Affairs (UVD) temporary holding center for three days before he was released without charge.

More recently, in mid-July, Vladimir Berezovskii, a veteran ethnic Russian journalist who is the editor of an Uzbek-Russian website Vesti.uz, was charged with insult and slander (articles 139-2 and 140-2 of the Uzbek Criminal Code). According to the indictment, an analysis by the Mass Media Monitoring Center of the State Press and Information Agency (UzASI) found that 16 articles published on Vesti.uz between August 2009 and January 2010 were defamatory in nature and introduced "to the Uzbek population, defamatory, misleading and misinformed information, the distribution of which could incite interethnic and inter-state hostility and create panic among the population." As of this writing, Berezovskii's trial is ongoing at the Yakkasarai District Criminal Court.

On August 23, at a press conference hosted by human rights organization Ezgulik, Saodat Omonova and Malokhat Eshonkulova, two employees at the television station Yoshlar ("Youth"), publicly stated that their channel is heavily censored by the authorities, they are forbidden from airing critical or analytical reports, and the channel's administration had been misappropriating state funds. Omonova told Human Rights Watch that after she had spoken out, she had been taken off air and that both she and her mother had received threatening phone calls. Several days later, Omonova and Eshonkulova submitted a letter addressed to the president of Uzbekistan outlining their grievances.

  • Proceed with the implementation of conventions against child labor

Widespread use of government-sponsored forced labor, including child labor, to collect the annual cotton harvest remains a pervasive human rights concern in Uzbekistan. There is no evidence that the government has taken any meaningful steps to implement International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (Convention No. 182) or on the Minimum Age of Employment (Convention No. 138), which it ratified in March 2008, despite adopting a National Action Plan in 2008 and introducing legislative amendments in December 2009. As the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards on Uzbekistan stated in its conclusions issued in June, "although various legal provisions prohibited forced labour and the engagement of children in hazardous work [in Uzbekistan], it remained an issue of grave concern in practice." Emphasizing its concern over reports of the "systemic and persistent recourse to forced child labour in cotton production" in Uzbekistan, the ILO Committee reminded the Uzbek government that it was required to take "immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of these worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency." The Committee further urged the Uzbek government "to accept an ILO high-level tripartite observer mission that would have full freedom of movement and timely access to all situations and relevant parties, including in the cotton fields, in order to assess the implementation of Convention No. 182."[3] To date, the Uzbek government has rebuffed attempts by the ILO to gain access for its independent monitors to visit Uzbekistan to assess the extent of its compliance with the international obligations it has undertaken.

According to local human rights defenders who monitored the 2009 and the ongoing harvests, the government continues to close schools and order school officials to send children to the cotton fields during the harvest season. It sets centralized harvesting quotas for cotton and uses threats, harassment, and intimidation to ensure that those quotas are fulfilled. Children as young as 10 pick cotton for up to two months a year. They live in filthy conditions, contract illnesses, miss school, and work from early morning until evening daily for little or no money. Hunger, exhaustion, and heat stroke are common. In addition, Human Rights Watch is aware of several cases in which local authorities have harassed and threatened activists who have attempted to document the use of forced child labor.

  • Fully align its election processes with OSCE commitments, ODIHR recommendations and other international standards for democratic elections, especially with a view to the Parliamentary elections on December 23, 2009

Opposition political parties cannot operate freely in Uzbekistan and there has not been a single election since Uzbekistan's independence in 1991 that the OSCE has found to be free or fair. While the government hailed the December 2009 parliamentary elections a success, the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) Election Assessment Mission (EAM), which sent a limited monitoring mission to observe the elections, concluded that "[t]he December 2009 elections took place in a tightly controlled political environment characterized by a lack of respect for fundamental freedoms central to any democratic election."

In its final report issued in April 2010, the EAM noted that "most previous OSCE/ODIHR recommendations remain unaddressed." These recommendations include addressing "restrictions on freedom of expression and association which compromise genuine democracy" and allowing domestic civil society organizations to conduct election monitoring. On September 12, 2009, human rights organization Ezgulik applied to the Central Election Committee for permission to monitor the elections. However, the organization never received an official response.

Another indication of the government's failure to adhere to international standards was its treatment of members of political opposition members and human rights activists in the weeks leading up to the parliamentary election. In an apparent effort to thwart any civic or political activism, local authorities across Uzbekistan temporarily detained activists to keep them from meeting in groups of as small as three. They also placed dozens of activists throughout the country under de facto house arrest, warning activists not to leave their homes until after the elections.

For example, on November 11, 2009, Mamir Azimov, a human rights defender based in Jizzakh, was detained and beaten by the police after he met with members of Birdamlik. The police forced Azimov to stand with his legs shoulder-width apart and hold a chair over his head for about an hour and threatened to continue beating him if he lowered it. On that same occasion, another Jizzakh-based defender, Bakhtior Hamroev, was punched in the face by a man he believed to be a security agent.

Undue Praise

Over the last several years, the European Union has hailed a number of "improvements" in Uzbekistan's human rights record, such as the introduction of habeas corpus and the abolition of the death penalty. These developments have been used to justify weakening and ultimately lifting the sanctions the EU imposed on Uzbekistan after the Andijan massacre.

While Human Rights Watch recognizes the positive nature of some of these developments, it is our view that they cannot be appropriately characterized as "substantive steps to improve the rule of law and the human rights situation on the ground," as set out by GAERC. Viewed in the context of the pervading abysmal human rights situation on the ground, it becomes clear that many of the steps taken, while positive, amount to little more than politically expedient gestures made by the Uzbek government with no real practical impact and are not indicative of a genuine and sustained effort by the Uzbek authorities to address human rights abuse in Uzbekistan.

 "The release of some human rights defenders"

Human Rights Watch of course welcomed, and has duly recognized as positive, the release in past years of several wrongfully imprisoned human rights defenders. However, we remain concerned that these defenders' politically motivated convictions remain intact and that authorities set strict conditions for their release, including, for example, having to regularly report to police officers, maintain a curfew, and sign statements promising to abandon any human rights activism.

We are further deeply concerned that the authorities have continued to target others for arrest in retribution for their human rights activities, sentencing many to long terms in prison. As mentioned above, at least 14 human rights defenders are currently serving extended prison sentences, two of whom were newly convicted in the last year.  At least two others, Anatolii Volkov and Tatyana Dovlatova, are currently under threat of criminal prosecution.

Also as noted above, authorities routinely target defenders already serving prison sentences with additional punitive measures, such as accusing them of violating the prison regime to keep them ineligible for the government's annual amnesty. In the last few months alone, prison authorities accused at least two defenders serving long prison sentences, Habibullo Okpulatov and Norboi Kholjigitov, of committing violations of internal prison regulations in advance of the annual amnesty announced this year on August 28.

"Efforts to improve detention conditions' and ‘Resumption of ICRC Prison Visits"

Uzbekistan's prison system remains notoriously abusive. As noted above, Human Rights Watch continues to receive worrying, credible reports that several imprisoned activists whose cases we follow closely are suffering severe health problems as a result of poor conditions and ill-treatment, and that religious prisoners are subject to particularly harsh treatment.

For example, members of Akzam Turgunov's family told Human Rights Watch after seeing him in the first half of August that he has lost more weight since their last visit, and that both his legs continue to cause him pain, exacerbated by the hard labor he is subjected to at the brick factory where he is forced to work.

Yusuf Jumaev's daughter Feruza Jumaeva reported after her visit on July 19 that her father looked emaciated and that his legs were swollen. During their visit, Jumaev told Feruza that he is having trouble seeing out of one of his eyes, as if there is a film covering it. He also described to her how, in June, he was placed in a cell with a group of men who regularly beat him. On June 12 he was subjected to a particularly harsh beating by men who kicked him in the chest and head, causing him to bleed from one of his ears. Jumaev said that he repeatedly appealed to the prison administration to be moved to a different cell, but that all his requests were ignored.

The harsh treatment of religious prisoners was most recently evidenced by the suspicious death in custody of a religious prisoner - Shavkat Alimhodjaev, age 37 - whose body was returned to his family from Navoi prison on July 20. While the death certificate given to the family indicated anemia as the cause of death, Alimhodjaev's body reportedly bore marks of ill-treatment, including a swollen eye and bruising around his mouth. The family was pressured to bury the body only several hours after it was returned to them and police officers reportedly attended the burial.

Family members of prisoners are also often subject to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment while visiting their relatives in prison. Relatives are frequently made to wait for days in locations where there are no hotels and where they must endure extreme temperatures before they are permitted visitations. Nor is it unusual for a multiple-day visit to be cut short by prison authorities, or a two-hour visit to last only 15 minutes. A recent example is political prisoner Yusuf Jumaev's daughter Feruza, who was made to wait approximately 10 days at Jaslyk prison before the authorities permitted her a two-hour visit with her father on July 19. Then, after about 15 minutes, prison officials interrupted their conversation and lead Jumaev away.

Finally, while Human Rights Watch notes the positive step Uzbekistan took by allowing the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to resume prison visits, ICRC appears not to have unfettered access to all prisoners in accordance with their general practice. We are deeply troubled by reports by family members of imprisoned human rights defenders that their relatives in prison were transferred to alternative places of detention in advance of or during ICRC prison visits in December 2009 and January 2010. This concern was similarly raised by the UN Human Rights Committee in March 2010.

"Continuation of judicial reform" and "Introduction of habeas corpus"

Human Rights Watch continues to receive credible and consistent reports that the rights of detainees are violated at each stage of investigations and trials, despite the government's claim of ongoing judicial reform and implementation of habeas corpus amendments that went into effect in 2008. Torture remains rampant in Uzbekistan, a clear indication that the habeas corpus reform as implemented has failed to serve as a crucial safeguard against torture and ill-treatment. Human Rights Watch has continued to document cases in which suspects are not permitted lawyers of their choice; defendants are not permitted to review case material; convictions are made on the basis of forced confessions; defendants allege ill-treatment; and authorities refuse to investigate allegations of abuse.

It is Human Rights Watch's assessment that the habeas corpus amendments that were introduced in 2008 are neither fully effective nor compliant with international human rights law and that it is vitally necessary to give real effect to these reforms, including by ensuring the independence of the judiciary, which is sorely lacking in Uzbekistan.

The current law provides that an individual who has been accused of a criminal act be presented before a judge for a pre-trial hearing to determine whether the defendant be remanded to custody. However, the judge does not consider the grounds for detention, nor does the law stipulate that the hearing be made open to the public or that the defendant be represented by a lawyer at the hearing, which undermines the defendant's due process rights. Additionally, the new legislation does not prohibit the same judge who presides over the pre-trial detention hearing from later considering the case on its merits.

Furthermore, the habeas corpus amendments in Uzbekistan do not extend to the accused the right to challenge his or her detention at any time or to bring allegations of ill-treatment before a judge. The prosecutor's office remains responsible for overseeing the investigation and representing the state's interest in court.

According to Uzbek lawyers interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the habeas corpus reform remains largely a formality with little practical effect on the rights of the defendant, and it fails to serve as a mechanism for preventing or ending torture and ill-treatment in detention. As one prominent lawyer in Tashkent told Human Rights Watch after habeas corpus reforms were introduced: "nothing has changed after adoption of the so-called habeas corpus amendments. The accused is always presented before the judge, but this is purely formal because the judge does not listen to the side of the defendant. Although formalities of the law are being followed... these changes do not have any actual impact."

During its review of Uzbekistan in March 2009, the UN Human Rights Committee also voiced concern about the judiciary's lack of independence and the fact that the much-hailed habeas corpus reform has not had the desired effect of protecting detainees from abuse. In its conclusions, the Committee urged that habeas corpus legislation be "fully applied throughout the country, in compliance with...the Covenant."

Conclusion

As this memorandum shows, the Uzbek government has continued to defy EU calls for human rights improvements. This failure underscores the additional need for an honest, critical assessment of EU human rights policy toward Uzbekistan. We call on EU member states to embrace this dual challenge and ensure an EU policy that is truly focused on securing the human rights improvements the EU has repeatedly called for. The EU needs to make clear that the human rights criteria will remain valid until they have been met, and give real meaning to last year's welcome commitment to making the EU's relationship with Uzbekistan directly dependant on the Uzbek government's fulfilling them.

Following are the specific steps the EU should call on the Uzbek government to take:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release all wrongfully imprisoned human rights defenders, journalists, members of the political opposition, and other activists held on politically motivated charges;
  • End the crackdown on civil society and allow domestic and international human rights organizations to operate without government interference, including by promptly re-registering those that have been liquidated or otherwise forced to cease operating in Uzbekistan, and issuing visas and accreditation for staff of international nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch;
  • Take meaningful measures to end torture and ill-treatment and the accompanying culture of impunity, including by implementing in full the recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and the Committee Against Torture;
  • Ensure genuine media freedom, ease harassment of journalists and allow domestic and international media outlets, including those that have been forced to stop operating in Uzbekistan, to register and grant accreditation to foreign journalists;
  • Allow unhindered access for independent monitors, including UN special procedures that have been unable to visit due to the government's refusal to issue the required invitations, and implement recommendations by independent monitoring bodies, including UN treaty bodies and special procedures.
  • End forced child labor in the cotton sector; allow independent monitoring and involve independent nongovernmental organizations in assessments of child welfare, particularly as they relate to the cotton sector;
  • End religious persecution, including by decriminalizing peaceful religious activity and ending the imprisonment of thousands of people for their nonviolent religious expression.

[1] See Conclusions of the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council, 2971st Council Meeting, Oct. 27, 2009,  http://www.consilium.europa.eu/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/pressData/en/gena/11....

[2] For more detailed descriptions about these defenders' cases, please see http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/05/03/uzbekistan-s-imprisoned-human-righ....

[3] Conference Committee on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (ILCCR), "Examination of individual case concerning Convention No. 182: Worst Forms of Child Labour, 1999 Uzbekistan (ratification: 2008)." International Labour Organization, 2010,

http://www.ilo.org/ilolex/cgi-lex/pdconv.pl?host=status01&textbase=iloen... (accessed September 8, 2010).