Human Rights Watch also urged Uzbek authorities to take immediate steps to meet the specific human rights benchmarks set by the EBRD.
“The bank has justified the choice of Tashkent as an incentive for reform,” said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. “But talk of future improvements will be empty if at the same time the Uzbek authorities are harassing, beating and arbitrarily detaining people.”
In April, a police official approached a human rights defender and threatened her not to be involved in any protests. On April 17, police detained six people on their way to a protest in front of the Presidential Administration and held them for several hours. On April 10, police detained three activists on their way to another protest, also in front of the Presidential Administration, and beat one of them.
As bank officials and international media have begun to arrive in Tashkent, police have modified their tactics. Peaceful protests held on April 29-30, demanding the release of detained rights advocates and redress for abuses, have drawn a large police presence but so far have not been dispersed.
In the lead-up to the EBRD meeting, police have also stepped up persecution of relatives of religious prisoners. Several female relatives of religious prisoners have told Human Rights Watch and other human rights advocates that police have recently held them under house arrest or remained outside their homes, questioning them about where they are going when they leave the house. National Security Service officers have come to the homes of other relatives, demanding that they sign statements promising to stay at home and not to protest or make complaints about their imprisoned relatives.
“The Uzbek government has a long record of cracking down on peaceful dissent,” said Andersen. “These recent incidents confirm our fears that Uzbekistan could not provide an open and free environment for holding the EBRD meeting.”
Human Rights Watch sent a letter to President Islam Karimov yesterday calling for progress on human rights in the follow-up to the EBRD annual meeting. Human Rights Watch today also released a briefing paper on human rights defenders, “Persecution of Human Rights Defenders in Uzbekistan," describing ongoing imprisonment and harassment of human rights defenders.
Human Rights Watch also called on the bank and its shareholder governments to use the annual meeting to identify specific reforms expected as a condition for further engagement, and after the meeting is over, to monitor and insist upon Uzbekistan’s compliance.
“The bank squandered important leverage by not making the need for human rights improvements a condition for the meeting,” said Andersen. “Bank officials should speak out about human rights concerns at the meeting and engage in serious and sustained follow-up after it.”
On March 16, the Bank published its country strategy on Uzbekistan, which made clear that unless progress were made in several key areas, its investment in the country would be limited. In its letter to President Karimov, Human Rights Watch highlighted the following benchmarks for progress:
- Implementing the recommendations made by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture following his recent visit to Uzbekistan, including in particular the introduction of judicial review of detention, accountability for torture or ill-treatment of detainees, and inadmissibility of evidence obtained by torture;
- Registering independent human rights organizations;
- Releasing imprisoned human rights defenders;
- Inviting the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General on human rights defenders, as requested by that office, as well as other relevant U.N. human rights mechanisms, to visit the country;
- Registering opposition political parties;
- Decriminalizing legitimate religious activities.
The briefing paper, “Persecution of Human Rights Defenders in Uzbekistan,” outlines government persecution of defenders in Uzbekistan over the last year, including the arrest of seven defenders, four of whom remain in prison. Other incidents described in the paper include temporary detention and police beating, police threats to defenders’ physical safety, and deportation. Human Rights Watch calls upon the Uzbek government to end these practices, immediately release the four imprisoned defenders, and allow for registration of local, independent human rights organizations.
The briefing paper also calls on the international community to make the requirement of unfettered operation of human rights groups an integral part of their relations with the Uzbek government, and ensure that visiting delegations meet with local rights defenders to demonstrate their support.
To read Human Rights Watch’s briefing paper, please see: http://hrw.org/backgrounder/eca/uzbek050103-bck.htm
To read the letter to President Karimov, please see: http://www.hrw.org/press/2003/05/ebrd050103-ltr.htm