Gulnara Karimova, Uzbekistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations and ambassador to Spain, was slated to present her clothing line, “Guli,” on September 15.

(New York) – The decision by New York Fashion Week to cancel a show by the daughter of Uzbekistan’s abusive ruler sends a message to the Uzbek government that its appalling human rights record is of global concern, Human Rights Watch said today.

IMG, the organizer of New York Fashion Week, announced on September 9, 2011, that it was canceling the show of Gulnara Karimova, Uzbekistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations and ambassador to Spain, who was slated to present her clothing line, “Guli,” on September 15.

“Enslaving children and torturing dissidents is never chic,” said Steve Swerdlow, Uzbekistan researcher at Human Rights Watch. “We’re glad Fashion Week will not showcase a designer who represents such a repressive government. They’re sending the message that abusers shouldn’t be allowed to launder their image at the expense of human rights.”

Human Rights Watch has reported on widespread human rights violations in Uzbekistan under President Islam Karimov, including systematic torture, forced child labor, and the severe repression of civil society. Numerous journalists and human rights activists have been imprisoned.

Human rights organizations have documented the government’s widespread use of forced child labor. Each year the government requires up to 2 million children to leave school and spend two months picking cotton in difficult and dangerous conditions for little or no pay. That cotton is sold abroad – except to the 60-plus retailers, including Gap and H&M, who have pledged not to buy Uzbek cotton because the harvest is so abusive.

IMG first responded to concerns about Karimova’s role in Fashion Week and the human rights situation in Uzbekistan by telling the New York Post on September 8, “We’re horrified by the human-rights abuses in Uzbekistan…We also hope to work hand-in-hand with Human Rights Watch …to challenge those in power in Uzbekistan to take action immediately.”

Human Rights Watch urged the corporate sponsors of Fashion Week, including Mercedes-Benz, to support IMG’s principled stance by disassociating themselves from Karimova and making clear she will not be invited to their events again so long as the human rights situation in Uzbekistan remains poor.

Sponsors should also publicly pledge to put in place measures to prevent government officials or others associated with human rights abuses from gaining prestige or benefits from an association with them, Human Rights Watch said.

“Fashion Week’s actions show that everyone can play a part in improving human rights, even in faraway places,” said Swerdlow.  “Other companies should follow this precedent, even if it means criticizing the emperor’s new clothing line.”