Europe and Central Asia

European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Annual Meeting in Uzbekistan, May 4-5, 2003
Incentive for Progress or Endorsement of Repression?

Background on the Campaign

The EBRD’s founding document gives it a mandate to promote development in those countries in the region that are committed to the “fundamental principles of multiparty democracy, the rule of law, human rights and market economics.” Uzbekistan satisfies none of these criteria.

The Bank faced significant criticism for its decision to grant the Uzbek government the political prestige and financial benefit of hosting its annual meeting, attended each year by some 2000 finance ministers, government officials, bankers, and businesspeople. A broad campaign by non-governmental groups, launched a year ago by Human Rights Watch and over fifty partners, cautioned the EBRD that going ahead with the meeting without requiring any reforms in advance would leave the Uzbek government to use it as an endorsement of its repressive policies.

The Bank proved reluctant to heed these calls and press for specific reform in advance of the meeting. Its president, Jean Lemierre, repeatedly emphasized that the meeting is “not an endorsement,” but “an incentive to make progress.” Yet the Bank failed to translate this statement of principle into a requirement of practical steps toward reform before the meeting convenes. As a result, it squandered valuable time and leverage. In just the past twelve months, while Bank officials dithered about linking the meeting to reform, at least eight prisoners were killed, apparently from torture, and seven human rights defenders were detained for peacefully promoting reform.


Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan and was selected as the site of the May 2003 annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). The EBRD was established in 1991 to promote private sector development in countries of the former Soviet bloc. The Bank’s founding document specifies that it is intended to engage those countries of the region that are committed to the "fundamental principles of multiparty democracy, the rule of law, human rights and market economics." As an informed survey of Uzbekistan's human rights record reveals, the Uzbek government falls well short of those standards.

In May 2002 Human Rights Watch joined fifty-three other non-governmental organizations in writing to EBRD President Jean Lemierre to express concern about the impact that holding the meeting in Tashkent could have on respect for human rights in Uzbekistan and on the Bank’s credibility as an institution committed to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. The letter is part of a year-long Human Rights Watch campaign to promote reform in Uzbekistan in advance of the 2003 EBRD meeting. To join this campaign please send an email to Veronika Leila Szente Goldston, Advocacy Director, Europe and Central Asia Division.

Tashkent, Uzbekistan: An Interactive Guide

The following is a reproduction of an "alternative map" of Tashkent that Human Rights Watch prepared ahead of EBRD annual meeting.

Download a PDF of the map 1.1 Mb

History and Sights

Uzbekistan is the most populous country in Central Asia, with a climate of long summers, relatively cold winters, and a geography that includes deserts to the south, grasslands to the east, and broad river valleys along the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers. The Fergana Valley in the east borders on mountainous Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan; to the west are Kazakhstan and the Aral Sea. Uzbekistan is one of only two doubly landlocked countries in the world, along with Liechtenstein.

Tashkent, the capital city, is located in the northwestern part of the country, in the valley of the Chirchik River. It is one of the largest transportation centers in Central Asia, with railroads linking it to other Central Asian states and Russia. Tashkent is also home to many theaters, cultural centers, and museums of Uzbek and pre-Uzbek culture, several universities and institutes of higher education, as well as sporting facilities and public gardens.

Although much of Tashkent was destroyed in the 1917 revolution and in an earthquake in 1966, a few of the old monuments remain, particularly in the “old town,” to the west of downtown. The rich archeological history of Uzbekistan is accessible in the Silk Road cities Bukhara and Samarkand. Some of the old mosques in Tashkent itself are being restored as museums.

Government and Politics

Uzbekistan gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Its president, Islam Karimov, came to power in the Soviet period and employs many of the methods of political repression and social control it inherited from that era.

The government stifles all opposition, banning independent political parties, strictly censoring the media, and prohibiting the formation of independent news outlets. There is no freedom of assembly; police violently disband unsanctioned public demonstrations and arrest participants. Members of the secular opposition, human rights activists, and independent journalists have been threatened, physically assaulted, and driven out of the country.

Police routinely torture detainees through beatings, electric shock, asphyxiation, and rape. Courts regularly admit confessions coerced through torture into evidence, and convict on that basis. Police combine physical torture with threats of actions against detainees’ family members.

Since late 1997, the government has pursued a campaign against Muslims who practice Islam beyond state regulated religion. The campaign involves all levels of government, extending to the community level. Local officials closely monitor the religious practices and affiliations of community members and organize public “hate rallies” against independent Muslims and their families. Those affiliated with nonviolent independent Islam, which the government calls “anti-state activity,” suffer additional abuse in both pre- and post-conviction detention facilities.

Parliamentary and presidential elections in Uzbekistan have been widely dismissed as neither free nor fair. In the 2000 presidential elections, the only candidate ostensibly running against Karimov announced that he himself had voted for the incumbent president.

 EBRD Campaign

Human Rights Watch Documents on the EBRD Campaign

Background on the Campaign and Human Rights in Uzbekistan

Reactions, Responses, and Media Coverage

What You Can Do

More HRW Documents on Uzbekistan

Human Rights in Uzbekistan Photo Gallery