In a letter and fact sheet submitted to the EBRD in advance of its first high-level visit to the Uzbek capital since the annual meeting it held there in May, Human Rights Watch outlined numerous incidents of harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders who had used the event to speak out against abuse.
The fact sheet also highlights a number of serious setbacks to human rights that have marred Uzbekistan’s human rights landscape since the annual meeting, including two deaths from torture in state custody and politically motivated arrests of two human rights defenders. The visit, to be carried out by the Bank’s newly-appointed Secretary-General, is scheduled to begin on July 21.
“The Bank has trumpeted the annual meeting as a success without any acknowledgment of the shortcomings that took place,” said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division. “It is time to recognize that while some things went right, a lot of things went wrong and need to be addressed.”
As a first step, Human Rights Watch called on the EBRD to firmly condemn retributions targeting human rights defenders who attended the meeting or organized peaceful protests in conjunction with it, and to intervene publicly on behalf of those who face reprisals for speaking their minds at the meeting. Among such cases is that of Akhmadjon Madmarov, a defender whose imprisoned son was placed in solitary confinement after Madmarov spoke out about persecution of his family.
In another incident, several weeks after the annual meeting, anonymous callers began asking Dilobar Khudoiberganova of the nongovernmental organization Mothers against the Death Penalty and Torture, why she participated in meetings and conferences. A National Security Service officer subsequently called Khudoiberganova’s father, threatening to arrest one of his sons if Khudoiberganova continued her human rights activities.
“Developments in Uzbekistan since the annual meeting certainly don’t make for a pretty picture,” said Andersen. “The Bank should not seek to downplay the repercussions that people are now facing for speaking out. These brave individuals deserve recognition and public defense, even if that means the annual meeting doesn’t go down in history as an unqualified success.”
Human Rights Watch urged the EBRD to formulate specific steps for reform that the Uzbek government needs to undertake in order to satisfy the three human rights benchmarks set in the Bank’s country strategy, adopted in March. The strategy identified three areas in which progress is needed, and set a one-year deadline for compliance. They are: (1) greater political openness and freedom of the media; (2) registration and free functioning of independent civil society groups; and (3) improvements in the country’s human rights record, including through implementation of the recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.
In its letter to the EBRD, Human Rights Watch suggested twelve specific steps that would constitute progress in meeting these benchmarks, including legalization of all Uzbek nongovernmental organizations registered to participate in the annual meeting.
Human Rights Watch further urged the EBRD to take an active role in establishing a coherent and transparent follow-up process, involving the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United Nations, Tashkent-based embassies, and civil society organizations. In order to sustain the momentum for reform, Human Rights Watch called on the Bank to conduct multiple visits to Uzbekistan in the course of the year, and to issue periodic public assessments of the government’s progress in meeting the benchmarks.
“We don’t want the Bank to use the benchmarks simply as a basis to declare failure next spring, but to see it actively push for their fulfillment throughout these months ahead,” said Andersen.
To read Human Rights Watch’s letter to the EBRD, please see: http://hrw.org/press/2003/06/ebrd062003-ltr.htm
To read Human Rights Watch’s fact sheet on the EBRD meeting in Tashkent and its aftermath, please see: http://hrw.org/press/2003/07/ebrd-factsheet.htm