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Uzbekistan: EBRD Should Require Human Rights Progress FREE    Join the HRW Mailing List 
Letter to EBRD Executive Directors from HRW and CEE Bankwatch Network
On the Adoption of a Country Strategy for Uzbekistan

March 6, 2003

Board of Directors
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
One Exchange Square
London EC2A 2JN
United Kingdom

Dear Executive Directors,

We write in advance of your March 10 discussion of the Bank’s new country strategy for Uzbekistan, to urge you to ensure that it accurately assesses Uzbekistan’s shortcomings to comply with article 1 of the Bank’s founding agreement. We also hope that the strategy will call for specific, meaningful reforms to advance democracy and human rights, and link these reforms to the annual meeting scheduled to take place in Tashkent in May.

As you will recall from our discussions in London last month, Uzbekistan’s human rights record remains one of the worst in the region. The past year in particular has been marked by a series of serious setbacks. Through its Tashkent office, Human Rights Watch documented the deaths of seven people arising from suspicious circumstances in custody. Religious persecution continues unabated; we gathered materials on the trials of 167 individuals on charges based on their religious practices and affiliations. An amnesty decree issued in December 2002 may provide for the release of some of the thousands of religious prisoners, but the government can be expected to create obstacles similar to those prevalent in last year’s amnesty process, resulting in many who are eligible not being released. In the past year, the authorities also arrested seven human rights defenders, five of whom remain in custody. All but one human rights group remain unregistered, as do opposition political parties. The government continues to harass and imprison individual opposition activists and censor the media.

A series of arrests last month is the most recent indication of the government’s continued intolerance of criticism. On February 17, police arrested Ergash Bobojanov, a member of the opposition movement “Birlik” (Unity), at his home in the Fergana Valley, beat him and charged him with criminal defamation for newspaper articles critical of the government and raising issues of local government corruption, published in 1999 and 2001 respectively. He was later released under a presidential amnesty, but we still consider him at risk. On February 22, police in Tashkent detained Oleg Sarapulov, an assistant to an independent journalist who publishes his material on the Internet, and held him for two days without access to a lawyer or family and friends, questioning him about two articles critical of the Uzbek government in his possession and accused him of distributing them to others.

We hope that you will take advantage of the unique opportunity provided by the adoption of a new country strategy on Uzbekistan, coming as it does at this critical moment for the Bank’s engagement with the country, to convey to the Uzbek government clear demands for progress. We also hope that you will make clear that implementation of these reforms should begin before the annual meeting in May.

Specific areas in which urgent progress would be needed include:

  • Follow-up on the Uzbek government’s implementation of the recommendations by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture. In this regard, one of the most important and straightforward safeguards against torture that the Bank could help promote would be to include in its country strategy a call for the introduction of habeas corpus (judicial review of detention) into the Uzbek criminal procedure code.

  • Lifting of restrictions on the operation of civil society groups. We encourage you to include a call in the country strategy for the Uzbek authorities’ to cease denial of registration for key civil society organizations, such as the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, Ezgulik, Mazlum, and the Committee of Legal Assistance to Prisoners.

  • Bringing an end to harassment and arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders. We urge you to include a call in the country strategy that arbitrarily detained human rights defenders be released immediately pending an independent review of any charges against them. Two defenders, Elena Urlaeva and Yuldash Rasulov, were released in December and January respectively, following intense pressure on the part of the international community, but at least five defenders remain in detention, such as Tursunbai Utamuratov of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan.

  • Decriminalization of legitimate religious activities. As a first step toward improving the legal climate for religious freedom, we hope you will encourage the Uzbek authorities to reform Article 5 of the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations, and its corresponding Article 216-2 of the Criminal Code, with the view toward decriminalizing proselytism and other missionary activities.

At the conclusion of its January 27 Cooperation Council meeting with Uzbekistan, the E.U. sent a strong message to the Uzbek authorities, urging them to “demonstrate to the international community further political and economic changes” in advance of the annual meeting. We hope that you will reinforce this message by calling for improvements in the above areas in the country strategy and linking them the upcoming annual meeting.

Thank you for your attention to our concerns. We wish you a productive discussion, and look forward to learning about the outcome.


Elizabeth Andersen
Europe and Central Asia Division
Human Rights Watch

Petr Hlobil
International Oil and Climate Coordinator
CEE Bankwatch Network

cc: Jean Lemierre, President, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development