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(Washington, DC) – The United States, European Union, and other international actors should renew their calls for accountability by the Uzbek government 11 years after the Andijan massacre, Human Rights Watch said today. Uzbek government forces killed hundreds of mainly peaceful protesters in the eastern city of Andijan on May 13, 2005.

International entities and governments should also raise their concern about Uzbekistan’s abysmal rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council. They should challenge the Uzbek government’s persistent refusal to cooperate with UN monitoring bodies by creating a dedicated position for an expert to ensure sustained scrutiny and reporting on the human rights situation in the country.

“Eleven years on, the killings in Andijan and the government’s ruthless campaign against all forms of dissent in its aftermath define Uzbekistan’s atrocious human rights situation,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Washington, EU member states, and other capitals have yet to hold the Uzbek government accountable for the massacre, allowing the downward spiral in Tashkent’s rights record to become the norm.”

A local man gestures next to the bodies of the victims from the clashes between the government forces and local protesters displayed at the central square in the Uzbek town of Andijan on 14 May 2005. © 2005 Getty Images

Before dawn on May 13, 2005, armed men broke into the prison in Andijan, a city in the Fergana Valley in eastern Uzbekistan. The gunmen freed 23 local businessmen who had been sentenced for “religious extremism,” and took over local government buildings. Throughout the day, thousands of unarmed peaceful protesters flocked to the town’s central square to speak out against poverty, unemployment, and government repression. Government forces in armored vehicles and snipers fired indiscriminately on the crowd, blocking off the square as people attempted to flee, killing hundreds. Government troops then moved through the square and executed wounded people where they lay.

Uzbekistan’s international partners, including the US and EU, should make clear that unless the Uzbek government makes measurable improvements in human rights, they will impose targeted restrictions such as visa bans and asset freezes against Uzbek government entities and individuals responsible for grave human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said. They should also seek to establish a special rapporteur devoted to Uzbekistan’s human rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

There has been no discernible improvement in Uzbekistan’s rights record in the last year. The government, led by the authoritarian president, Islam Karimov, has imprisoned thousands of people on politically motivated charges, including human rights and opposition activists, journalists, religious believers, artists, and other perceived critics. Many are in serious ill-health and have been tortured, and their sentences have been arbitrarily extended in prison.

The US State Department’s annual country report on Uzbekistan recognizes a wide spectrum of human rights abuses by the government. But the US administration, along with the European Union, has preferred a policy of private dialogue, without any serious policy consequences for the abuses. At the same time – and without any commitment for meaningful change – the US has re-engaged on certain elements of military cooperation.

For a decade, the State Department has designated Uzbekistan a “country of particular concern” due to its crackdown on religious freedom. But the White House has not imposed sanctions, citing national security grounds. While the designation itself is significant, it has not kept pace with the scope and severity of the abuses in Uzbekistan. Nor has the full spectrum of diplomatic opportunities and tools been tapped to raise concerns or press for redress.

While the Uzbek government allowed a long-serving political prisoner, Murod Juraev, to leave prison in November, 2015 at the end of a 21-year term, it refused to disclose the whereabouts of two other political prisoners, Akram Yuldashev and Nuriddin Jumaniyazov. The refusal to provide, or concealment of, information on the fate or whereabouts of a person deprived of their liberty constitutes an enforced disappearance – a crime under international law – and is prohibited in all circumstances.

In January 2016, Human Rights Watch learned that the 52-year-old Yuldashev, one of Uzbekistan’s most prominent religious figures, had died in prison in 2010 of tuberculosis. He had been due for release in February 2016, but no one knew of his death because the authorities had refused to provide information about his whereabouts or fate since 2009.

Among those imprisoned for no reason other than peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression are 14 human rights activists: Azam Farmonov, Mehriniso Hamdamova, Zulhumor Hamdamova, Isroiljon Kholdorov, Gaybullo Jalilov, Nuriddin Jumaniyazov, Matluba Kamilova, Ganikhon Mamatkhanov, Chuyan Mamatkulov, Zafarjon Rahimov, Yuldash Rasulov, Bobomurod Razzokov, Fahriddin Tillaev, and Akzam Turgunov.

Five more prisoners are journalists: Solijon Abdurakhmanov, Muhammad Bekjanov, Gayrat Mikhliboev, Yusuf Ruzimuradov, and Dilmurod Saidov. Three are opposition activists: Samandar Kukanov, Kudratbek Rasulov, and Rustam Usmanov. Seven others are independent religious figures and perceived government critics: Ruhiddin Fahriddinov, Botirbek Eshkuziev, Bahrom Ibragimov, Davron Kabilov, Erkin Musaev, Davron Tojiev, and Ravshanbek Vafoev, and one, Dilorom Abdukodirova, was a witness to the Andijan massacre.

One immediate step the US, EU, and other countries should urge the Uzbek government to take is to end its longstanding denial of access for the UN’s own rights monitors. None have been granted access to the country since 2002, and the government of Uzbekistan has ignored the requests made by 14 of the rights monitors to visit Uzbekistan to monitor its human rights situation.

Members of the UN Human Rights Council, including the US and EU member states, should publicly and privately insist that Uzbekistan fulfill core human rights commitments as a condition for maintaining bilateral relations, Human Rights Watch said. The Uzbek government should:
  • Free all imprisoned human rights defenders, journalists, and political and religious prisoners;
  • Allow unimpeded operation of nongovernmental organizations in the country;
  • Cooperate fully with all relevant UN monitors for various human rights issues;
  • Guarantee freedom of speech and of the media;
  • Carry out the conventions against forced and child labor, including fully cooperating with the International Labour Organization (ILO); and
  • Fully align its election processes with Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) standards.

“Uzbekistan is skilled at exploiting the desire of its negotiating partners to see progress, while giving no ground,” Swerdlow said. “The governments that cooperate with Uzbekistan should change this dynamic and respond in a substantial way to Tashkent’s abuses.”

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