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Benchmarks for Progress in Human Rights that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) Should Set for the Uzbek Government to Fulfill Before the 2003 Annual Meeting in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

May 16, 2002

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The EBRD will hold its 2003 annual meeting in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, a country with an atrocious human rights record that makes it a poor symbol for the Bank’s commitment to “fundamental principles of multiparty democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and market economics.” On May 16, 2002, more than fifty nongovernmental organizations from twenty-four of the EBRD shareholder countries sent a letter to EBRD President Jean Lemierre, calling for the Bank to insist on concrete progress in human rights before next year’s annual meeting.

In the decade since joining the EBRD, Uzbekistan’s transition from communism has produced a government profoundly hostile to human rights. It keeps tight control over all media and other forms of expression, and harasses and imprisons human rights advocates and dissidents. There are no independent political parties or social movements, and since the end of the Soviet era there has not been a single election that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe found to be free or fair. The government continues to press forward with a campaign of unlawful arrest, torture, and imprisonment of Muslims who practice their faith outside state controls or who belong to unregistered religious organizations. Torture remains rampant in police precincts and prisons. In the past year alone, at least seven people have died in police custody allegedly due to torture.

Without significant progress in human rights, it would be counterproductive to the Bank’s founding principles to hold the meeting in Tashkent. The government would be left to use the prestige attached to holding such a meeting as an endorsement of its repressive policies. The Bank should set the following benchmarks as minimum requirements for progress in human rights, and use the upcoming year to press the Uzbek government to fulfill them:

  • The registration and unfettered operation of opposition parties, human rights and other civil society groups: Civic organizations cannot exist genuinely independent of the government. In March 2002, after five years of repeated requests, the government registered the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan, but other groups continue to await registration.

  • Genuine legal reform, including the introduction of judicial review of detentions; the repeal of the provisions in the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations that criminalize certain religious literature and affiliations; and the introduction of penalties for the use as evidence of confessions coerced under torture.

  • Access to Uzbekistan for United Nations human rights monitors, in particular the Special Rapporteur on Torture, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Representative to the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders.

  • National elections that are considered free and fair by domestic and international observers: Elections in Uzbekistan are empty exercises. Eight years after Uzbekistan joined the EBRD, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe refused to send observers to the 1999 parliamentary elections because they were neither free nor fair. Instead, they featured five pro-government parties that voiced no disagreement with government policies; even President Karimov admitted that he could not tell the difference between them. The sole candidate in the 2000 presidential elections permitted to contest the vote was a public supporter of the president’s policies and leadership, and was quoted during the campaign as stating that he intended to vote for the incumbent, President Karimov. On January 27 this year, while hosting a high-level delegation of U.S. officials visiting Tashkent, President Karimov had his term in office extended until 2007 through a referendum that once again made a mockery of the country’s democratic process.

  • The functioning of a free media: Soviet-style pre-publication censorship keeps tight control over the media. Criticism of government policy, corruption, waste, unemployment, the crackdown against independent Islam, and other topics is not tolerated. Those who print or distribute unsanctioned newspapers or bulletins are subject to heavy criminal penalties.

  • An end to the persecution of independent Muslims, their families and those who advocate on their behalf: The government has harassed and jailed thousands of people for practicing Islam beyond the confines of government-regulated religious institutions, and for their affiliation with unregistered Islamic organizations. Human Rights Watch has documented more than 800 such cases since 1999. The accused are often held in secret detention, tortured, and denied access to counsel. Government security services have also detained and harassed the family members of those accused, sometimes subjecting them to Stalin-type hate rallies to ostracize them from their communities.