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Uzbekistan: Concern about EBRD Decision on Tashkent   Français
Open Letter to EBRD President Jean Lemierre
To join this year-long campaign please send an email to Veronika Leila Szente Goldston, Advocacy Director, Europe and Central Asia Division.
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16 May 2002

Jean Lemierre
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)
One Exchange Square
London EC2A 2JN
United Kingdom

Dear President Lemierre,

We write to express our deep concern about the selection of Tashkent, Uzbekistan as the location for the EBRD's 2003 Annual Meeting and to request that the venue be changed unless the Uzbek government makes substantial progress towards fulfilling the principles in Article 1 of the Bank's "Agreement Establishing the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development" (hereinafter "the Agreement").

In the decade since joining the EBRD, Uzbekistan's transition from communism has produced an authoritarian government profoundly hostile to democracy. The Bank's most recent Country Strategy, adopted in March 2001, found that "[t]here has been little change in the political transition in Uzbekistan since the adoption of the last country strategy in 1998." It noted that economic reforms are slow or stalled and that "[t]he pace of democratic transition is also slow, and serious concerns remain regarding development of genuine multi-party democracy, pluralistic society and respect for human rights."

The Uzbek government committed itself to adhering to Article 1 of the Agreement but has prevented the emergence of multiparty democracy and has stifled the voices of pluralism. In the year since the adoption of the 2001 strategy, these trends remain unchanged. Opposition political parties are banned, their activists and leaders exiled, jailed, harassed, or beaten, in Uzbekistan and abroad.

Elections are empty exercises. For example, 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. Most recently, Uzbekistan's parliament on April 5 voted to confirm the current extension of President Karimov's term to 2007 and possibly make him eligible for a subsequent seven-year term.

The EBRD's March 2001 Country Strategy stated that the August 2000 "incursion of armed Islamic militants […] strengthened the conviction of the authorities that internal stability was threatened and they introduced measures to cope with external security threats. It is essential, however, that such stability is not reached at the expense of diminished respect for democratic process and the rule of law."

The government has not observed this principle. It has apparently ignored the Bank's concerns and the U.N.'s recommendation to decriminalize unregistered religious organizations that it perceives as hostile to government policy. Rather, the government has used the insurgency as a pretext to harass and jail 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. During trials that could hardly be considered fair, judges routinely ignore allegations of torture and have sentenced the accused to fifteen to twenty years in prison for possession or distribution of unsanctioned religious literature, membership in unofficial religious organizations, and adherence to religious ideals deemed hostile to the state. The government has not relented in this campaign; in the past two months alone, at least fifty people, including family members of religious prisoners, were in detention, on trial, or recently convicted in Tashkent and Ferghana city, solely for their religious affiliations and practices. 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.

When it joined the EBRD, Uzbekistan committed itself to upholding the rule of law. The most troubling example of the government's failure in this respect is the widespread use of torture throughout the Uzbek criminal justice system. In a December 2000 report, Human Rights Watch documented dozens of cases of torture, and fifteen deaths in custody that apparently resulted from torture. In the past year, we have documented seven deaths in custody allegedly due to torture. The Uzbek government has failed to hold police and security forces accountable for acts of torture, and even tacitly encourages torture through its broadcasting of political prisoners' public "confessions" as tools of political propaganda. While a landmark decision of January 30, 2002 by a Tashkent court sentenced four Uzbek police officers to twenty years of imprisonment each for torturing a man to death in October 2001, numerous other police and security officers whose actions warrant the same kind of scrutiny remain at large and continue to serve in their positions. A number of international monitoring bodies, including the U.N. Committee against Torture, have also expressed concern about the large number of complaints of torture or maltreatment in Uzbekistan and the lack of accountability for such abuses. Furthermore, while a number of political and religious prisoners have been released in recent months, we have received many reports that prisoners must sign apologies renouncing their convictions and faith, and that those who refuse to sign have been subjected to increased torture and retaliation.

A critical institution in a democracy is a free press. But in Uzbekistan, the government tightly controls the media through Soviet-style pre-publication censorship. 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. Civic organizations cannot exist genuinely independent of the government.

In such a stifling environment, Uzbekistan's human rights defenders are often the only source of information on the government's practices with regard to pluralism and the rule of law. However, human rights activists have been under threat. In recent years, the government has incarcerated at least three activists; one died in custody in July 2001, after having been tortured; two were released. Last spring, another defender was held against her will in a psychiatric hospital, a chilling reprise of Soviet practices. In March 2002, after five years of repeated requests, the government registered the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan, but several other groups continue to await registration.

At last year's EBRD annual meeting, you observed that transition and sustainable growth have "been most effective where democracy has taken root best," and that "it is essential for all countries to nurture the mechanisms that give real application to the principles of democracy." Human Rights Watch believes that rewarding Uzbekistan with the 2003 Annual Meeting would raise serious questions about the Bank's commitment to these principles, embodied in Article 1 of its Agreement. It would also undermine the efforts of those within Uzbekistan and the international community who have been seeking to send a coordinated message to the Uzbek government about the urgent need to abandon authoritarian practices and uphold the rule of law. Without the Bank's insistence on compliance with Article 1, the government could use the prestige of hosting the meeting to fend off criticism of its record, which would further delay the prospects of sorely-needed positive reform.

The materials enclosed with this letter provide detailed evidence of the government's noncompliance with Article 1. Unless the situation improves considerably, we strongly believe it would be counterproductive to hold the meeting in Uzbekistan. In the interim, the Bank should use this opportunity to seek meaningful reforms from the Uzbek government.

We appreciate your attention to these concerns and would welcome an opportunity to discuss the benchmarks the Bank should set for the Uzbek government in order for Tashkent to be an appropriate venue for the annual meeting.


Albanian Helsinki Committee
Association "Green Alternative," Georgia
Azerbaijan Journalists Confederation
Azerbaijan Journalists' Trade Union
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law, Kyrgyzstan
CEE Bankwatch Network
Center for Democracy and Pluralism, Uzbekistan
Center for Environmental Public Advocacy, Slovak Republic
Center for Legal Analyses-Kalligram Foundation, Slovak Republic
Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Russia
Centre for Democratic Initiatives, Uzbekistan
Civic Assistance Committee, Russia
Clubul Ecologic "Transilvania," Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Committee of Juridicial Assistance to Prisoners, Uzbekistan
Counseling Centre for Citizenship, Civil and Human Rights (Poradna), Czech Republic
Czech Helsinki Committee
Energy Club Hungary
Environmental Policy Centre, Russia
Environmental Press Center, Macedonia
ETK, Hungary
European Roma Rights Center
Ez'gulik, Uzbekistan
Finnish Helsinki Committee
Friends of the Earth International
Friends of the Earth, Estonia
Friends of the Earth, United States
Greek Helsinki Monitor
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia
Hnuti Duha/ Friends of the Earth, Czech Republic
The Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan
Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan
Human Rights Watch
Hungarian Helsinki Committee
Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
International League for Human Rights
Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law
Landmines Struggle Center, Egypt
Legal Aid Society, Uzbekistan
Mazlum, Uzbekistan
Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia
Memorial, Russia
National Association for Rural Development of Moldova "Oikos," Moldova
National Ecological Centre of Ukraine
Netherlands Helsinki Committee (NHC)
NIMFEA Environment and Nature Conservation Association, Hungary
Nonprofit PR-Centre "Citizen," Russia
Proaktiva, Macedonia
Romanian Helsinki Committee (APADOR-CH)
Union of Independent Journalists, Uzbekistan
The World Organization against Torture (OMCT)
Youth EcoCenter of Tajikistan

To join this year-long campaign please send an email to Veronika Leila Szente Goldston, Advocacy Director, Europe and Central Asia Division.