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Without dramatic change in the coming months, Uzbekistan’s parliamentary election, scheduled for December, will not take place in the context of pluralism. For this reason, we ask the OSCE not to send an election observer mission to Uzbekistan.

Dear Messieurs,

Human Rights Watch values the OSCE’s efforts toward promoting free and fair electoral processes in member states. In its many years of promoting human rights in the region, the OSCE has consistently emphasized pluralism as the starting point for free and fair elections and as the backbone for guaranteeing human rights.

Without dramatic change in the coming months, Uzbekistan’s parliamentary election, scheduled for December, will not take place in the context of pluralism. For this reason, we ask the OSCE not to send an election observer mission to Uzbekistan.

We agree with the OSCE’s three-tiered approach to election observation —full observation, limited assessment, or no presence, depending on country conditions. When the OSCE refrains from sending a full observer mission to an election, it sends an important message: that a full observer mission is appropriate only for those countries in which systemic conditions hold out the promise of a fair election. Under current conditions, Uzbekistan’s elections will not be fair. Current conditions in Uzbekistan do not warrant even a Limited Assessment Mission. Should you nevertheless decide to send such a mission, we hope that you will send a clear message to the Uzbek government and public that this decision was in spite of the fact that the conditions fall far short of OSCE standards and cannot ensure a fair electoral process.

The government has not registered a single opposition party; its refusal to register Birlik during the summer was blatantly arbitrary. Opposition political parties cannot function without fear of interference, harassment, confiscation of materials, and detention and ill-treatment. There are therefore no grounds for a genuine political contest.

The government has attempted to stifle institutions and activities of civil society that are essential for an open political process. Media freedoms and open public debate are crucial to free and fair elections, but media in Uzbekistan operate under tight government restrictions. Media freedom is severely limited by an unofficial censorship regime in which critical ideas are excised from publication, and journalists are pressured not to write critically. No independent local media outlets exist. In the past two years, the government has closed or threatened to close at least four prominent nongovernmental organizations engaged in monitoring and reporting in Uzbekistan.

The government also forbids peaceful public assemblies in which citizens express their political views. This summer, the authorities broke up several peaceful demonstrations, arbitrarily detained political activists and their children, and stopped demonstrators from reaching protest sites by preventing them from leaving their homes.

Civil society groups that would in other circumstances seek to uphold transparency of the electoral process cannot function in Uzbekistan. Even the activities of international groups such as the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute are severely limited because of tight government restrictions. They are banned from working with unregistered parties. Even their least-political activities are hindered or shut down: Recently IRI tried to hold a seminar on voter education for youth, but the hotel canceled the seminar because of government pressure. These groups cannot even reimburse food or transportation costs for training participants (even of registered parties), which further limits the work they can do. The government has denied registration for all but two local human rights groups, and harasses and persecutes human rights defenders.

Although the election campaign officially began at the end of September, potential voters have no information on the candidates or their platforms or even how the new, bi-cameral body will operate. There are no avenues for public discussion or debate.

The decision you are making now is crucial, and has repercussions in other international institutions. The OSCE’s decisions on election monitoring and its comprehensive election reports are invaluable and authoritative tools in assessing how governments in the region promote pluralism and human rights. The European Union, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and other bodies rely on them in order to evaluate whether Uzbekistan has made progress in fulfilling the terms of its relationship with these key institutions.

Sending any kind of observer mission to Uzbekistan under current conditions would send the mistaken message that its electoral system and the government’s respect for civic freedoms meet OSCE standards. Past experience shows that the government will use even a Limited Assessment Mission to legitimize, both before the international community and the Uzbek people, what is essentially an empty exercise. This can only discredit the work of international institutions in the eyes of the Uzbek people and undermine the importance of OSCE standards for other governments in the region.

We thank you for your kind attention to the concerns expressed in this letter.


Holly Cartner
Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia division

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